Arming Yourself Against Depression: Down Time

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While a healthy body isn’t absolutely essential for a healthy mind, it certainly helps. Many people have been cured of minor depression by taking brisk walks, getting more sleep, and switching to a healthier diet. Remember that when Elijah was down in the dumps and devaluing everything he had accomplished, the first things God gave him were food and a nap.

Naps, and vacations, and days off that are truly days of rest, are frequently scorned in our culture. Have you seen the comic strip (there are dozens of versions) where a kid spends the first 90 percent of panels working or playing hard; then, as he finally settles down for a break, some adult happens by and mutters, “kids are so lazy today, they just lounge around doing nothing”? That’s an apt picture of our societal attitude toward down time: prejudged worthless even in small doses. And if the kids get dirty looks, adults who dare to be seen relaxing may be risking their reputations or even their jobs.

But what does God say about down time? First, He definitely does not condone laziness:

  • “Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise! Though they have no prince or governor or ruler to make them work, they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter. But you, lazybones, how long will you sleep? When will you wake up? A little extra sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit; scarcity will attack you like an armed robber” (Proverbs 6:6-11).
  • Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper” (Proverbs 13:4).
  • “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the [Father] who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work” (John 9:4).
  • “Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically” (Romans 12:11).
  • “If [people receive easy welfare when they could provide for themselves], they will learn to be lazy and will spend their time gossiping from house to house, meddling in other people’s business and talking about things they shouldn’t” (1 Timothy 5:13).

Yet neither does God want us to spend all our time frantically striving to accomplish more and more–even in His service. Before any of the above Scriptures were written, He gave the Sabbath commandment of Exodus 20:8-11: “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.” In Moses’s time, working on holy days was unhealthy in more ways than one: it was considered an act of serious disrespect to God, bordering on blasphemy and punishable by death (cf. Numbers 15:32-36).

Significantly, the Scriptural commands against laziness were given to people who were relatively well off and tempted to take down time for granted, while the original Sabbath commandment was given to people who had just escaped a slavery-driven society where labor-free days were virtually non-existent. Work and rest are both good things you can get too much of. We who take freedom of opportunity for granted can enslave ourselves to fear of lost opportunities, always “doing” and “doing” lest success get permanently ahead of us (and awareness of our own limitations catch up with us). In fact, incorporating down time to reduce “I can never do enough” pressure may initially make us feel more depressed–like the person who decides to quit drug addiction and can look forward to being seriously sick for several days before the worst of the dependence is out of her system and she gets on the road to feeling permanently better. Constant motion is an addiction to the “high” of accomplishing tangible things and to the pride that tells us we can be like God.

If you’re already exhausted and miserable and can’t remember the last down time you had aside from nightly sleep, try reserving your next few Sundays for true Sabbath time. Eliminate all chores and screen time. Take a long walk or a nap. Get in an extra hour of prayer. Listen to worship music. Share this commitment with as many of your family and friends who will join you, and don’t quit after the first time when you feel you’re going to freak out. After a month or two, you’ll be surprised how much closer you’re drawn to God (and others), and how much less stressful and depressing you find life overall. You will be truly blessed!

And with that, I take my own advice and put aside blogging for a month to get some extra down time. See you again on August 2!

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  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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  • About Me

    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at www.PositiveContentFactory.com.

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See http://www.biblegateway.com/ for copyright details.
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