The good common sense of the Sabbath

“Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.”

Six days of work, and then rest.

I encountered the article that Anne Helen Petersen used as the basis of her book Can’t Even: How Millennials became the Burnout Generation, and something about her descriptions of burnout sounded, well, a little like me.

I am not a millennial.

But I recognized the symptoms and attitudes from my own experience and those of my (here comes a popular new bit of jargon) cohort. Petersen has discovered a malady that has always been there and assigned its discovery to her generation. That’s not a new phenomenon, of course — some people believe no one was anti-war until my generation discovered the idea in the 1960s.

(If you need further proof: Where do you think the expression “rat race” came from?)

I believe Petersen is on to something, though. This adulting stuff can be wearying to the point where the simplest tedious task seems overwhelming. When we’re doing something that’s supposed to be fun and relaxing, we feel bad because we’re not working on the to-do list, and when we’re working on the to-do list we feel bad because it’s not fun and relaxing. That’s a classic symptom of burnout — but it’s also just life, isn’t it?

I bristled reading the book blurb because it makes a passing reference to “unchecked capitalism” being one of the causes of rampant burnout (as if there is such a thing as capitalism unchecked if not throttled by a crushing maze of everyday regulation). Whatever the economic theory, I do feel the crusade to “do more with less” does contribute to what ails us — not just younger adults, but all of us.

I am a Christian, I believe in the Christ, but in my agnostic moments (people have those, you know), I think many of the rules and regulations ostensibly sent down by God had a practical purpose — the don’t-eat-ham thing, for example, could have grown from people getting sick from eating bad pork.

Another practical practice became “honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy” — rest every seventh day, and do nothing that day except contemplate the important stuff. It’s an instruction from God, but if you choose not to believe in God, you can consider it a suggestion from a wise person who saw people burning out after working day after day and week after week without a break. Six days on, one day off, seems like a healthier way to live.

I’m writing this on Saturday morning as I try to observe a day of rest. (My day-job deadlines mean I’d better work most Sundays.) I’ve already failed to make this particular Saturday a total non-work day — I’ve visited the internet twice on work-related errands, although just for a couple of minutes each — but I can feel weight lifting off my shoulders as I give myself permission not to work on work non-stop. The to-do list, that ever-present pile of tasks, will still be waiting tomorrow morning, but none of it will suffer by being delayed 24 hours while I rest and recharge.

OK, boomer. OK, millennial. OK, whatever group you’ve been lumped into. (I am not a boomer, I am a free man!) (”OK, Number Six.”) Pare this down to the universal basics: We need to rest sometimes. Best advice to address that basic truth: Honor the sabbath day and keep it holy. Have a weekly sabbatical, a sacred promise to yourself to rest for a day every seven days.

Pick a day out of every seven, and promise yourself to do no work that day. Six days a week is plenty of work time, and more important, you need the rest. You need to clear your mind and contemplate bigger things, regularly. It’ll keep you sane — or more precisely, it’ll restore your sanity after way too long on the treadmill.

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