Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Down TIme

This is a Newspaper Column for the end of September...

I made a mistake this summer. OK, to be honest I probably made many mistakes this summer. But there is one I made, one I constantly make, that I really know I shouldn't.

I checked my e-mail.

More specifically, while I was on holidays I repeatedly checked my work e-mail (sometimes everyday). Even though I know that there is no real need to do so (and very good reasons to NOT do so), I routinely check my work e-mail when I am on study leave or vacation. And I have to stop it. Because Down Time is mandatory for my health, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you...Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)

There it is, right in the “Big 10”, the commandment to take down time. Because we aren't slaves and we can choose, we are to take down time. In the words I skipped to conserve space we are also told to ensure that those around us have the chance to take it as well. Down Time is important. So why don't we take it?

 I am sure I am not the only person in town who has trouble fully separating from the workplace on my day off or on my vacation time. It is just so EASY to say “well I'll just quickly check my e-mail” (or voice mail), or “swing by” on the way to something else. The gift of modern communication is that we can always be in touch. The curse of modern technology is that we can always be in touch. Are we becoming enslaved by the ease of having work with us whenever we want?

The problem, for me, with those little contact points is that I never fully find myself “off”. I check e-mail on vacation and I make myself think about work. So I don't get the break that is intended and I don't get the refreshment I need. And who suffers?

Well without that down time, without that break for refreshment, my energy level sinks lower. I may feel it physically. I may become more short-tempered (just ask my family). I may not be able to focus well. I may start to feel drained, that the reserves are gone. I may start, unconsciously, to feel resentful. And how can I perform well at my tasks (whatever those tasks may be) if I am exhausted?

This is not what God wants for us. God wants us to live balanced lives. Which, I believe, is why God commands that there be down time in the rhythm of our lives. Not for God's benefit. For ours. Jewish thought is clear that the commandments in Torah are a gift from God. The commandment to rest is a gift from God.

When the people of Israel were slaves they could not choose whether to rest or not. Are we slaves or can we choose?

Can we choose to shut off the cell phones, to not click on the webmail link,to not check the voice mail? Can we choose that for a day or a week or longer we will not work, not talk about work, not think about work (admittedly for some of us that last one is REALLY hard)? Can we choose to take down time? Well yes, we can. Maybe the real question is will we? Maybe the choice is not so much if we have the option (as any moral employer will ensure we have the option of taking down time – and the really good ones will encourage us to do so) but actually letting/making ourselves do it.

God knows that we are not meant to be “on” all the time, so God instructs us to take down time. Somehow it has become a status symbol in come circles to brag about working all the time, about always keeping in touch with the workplace. Somehow we have bought into the idea that we always have to be productive or else we are “wasting” time.

God knows that to truly be productive we have to have time where we are not being productive. God knows that few of us are so important or irreplaceable or wise that our workplace will sink if we are gone for a while. God knows that we need a break. God wants us to be physically, mentally emotionally, and spiritually healthy. Taking Sabbath Time, or Down Time is a big part of how we care for our health.

Do we have the wisdom to listen to God's call for Sabbath?

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