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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On the Edge of Exhaustion

Last Tuesday was a gorgeous morning in Houston. A flock of cedar waxwings thought so too; for three hours they teemed in the trees outside my door, gorging themselves on berries, whistling in chorus, flashing their ebony masks and lemon bellies in the sun. They made a breathtaking picture of the glories of Creation.

And I battled mixed feelings about their visit.

As a freelance writer I do most of my work on a home computer, in a room within easy view and earshot of the outdoors, in a second-floor apartment that belongs to a complex beautifully landscaped in trees and flowers and much favored by neighborhood birds and other wildlife. I should rejoice in the blessing of being surrounded by God’s natural beauty. But when an especially striking example of His work (such as the waxwing flock) pays an unannounced visit while I’m in the middle of something (such as the addiction-treatment blog post I was struggling with most of Tuesday morning), my typical reaction is less along the lines of “Thank You so much, Lord” and more like “Will you please leave, bird, and quit tempting my attention away from work?”

No idol holds a stronger fortress in my life than the idol called completion. Projects finished, schedules kept, and lists checked off in full are my primary sources of satisfaction; interruptions and delays flood my heart with resentment. Meanwhile, I create articles that advise others to trust God’s grace, accept His peace, and choose rest and prayer as life priorities over active “achieving.” I could be poster child for Paul’s scolding words in Romans 2:21a: “Well, then, if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself?”

Sad to say, at this stage in life I seem to have cast down most of my fleshly cravings for idleness, only to replace them with equally fleshly cravings for success through achievement. A week into Lent 2016, I haven’t even held consistently to my promise to set aside extra mid-day prayer time for the duration of the season. In fact, for months I have treated prayer and meditation as time-eating luxuries I could ill afford.

No wonder I feel close to exhausted most of the time. No wonder I yearn for the weekend and don’t enjoy it when it arrives. My soul is fatigued from undernourishment.

The need to nourish one’s soul is in fact the subject of my church‘s 2016 Lent Bible study, based on the book Soul Keeping by John Ortberg. Early on, Ortberg introduces the reader to a quote from his mentor Dallas Willard: “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Ortberg admits that when he first heard that, his impulsive answer was “Okay, got that down, now if you’ve got any other advice tell me quick, because I’ve only got a few minutes!” He remembers Willard, however, as a man who genuinely lived the principle: who inserted regular long pauses in his speech; who ignored ringing phones with genuine indifference when an in-the-room person had his attention; who instinctively understood through and through that the most important things in life were reverence, love, and character.

Could I ever hope to come close to that ideal? I, who haven’t even been able to write this far without chewing the inside of my mouth in nervousness over whether I’ll finish in time to get to my lunch meeting on schedule? I, who continuously (grammar fans, that literally means “without ever pausing”) let hurry run my life, not only in work and transit time, but in supposed leisure time by fretting over how long it will take to finish a book or crossword puzzle–and mentally, too, trying to will computer files to download faster and traffic lights to turn green?

Many’s the time I’ve thought that if I could spend Lent exactly as Jesus did–alone in Creation with no material interruptions or duties to think about–I would finally get over this spiritual-growth hump for good. (I should have known better, after reading of the Temptation that went with that original Lent, than to think that spiritual breakthroughs ever come easy.) In recent months, though, I’ve come to realize that no “time off” (neither an ordinary weekend nor a year’s sabbatical) will change my life unless I allow it to change me. Not change in the form of mastering a new habit or two, planning goals better, or finding the perfect daily-schedule template. Change that goes deep to my core, that stays in constant touch with God, that is naturally inclined to praise, that never feels the need to hurry because it trusts God as primary Manager of my time (interruptions, setbacks, and all).

Change to the point where a typical day is energizing rather than exhausting. To the point where I can be grateful for how far I have come rather than fretting about how far I have to go. To the point where I can find equal joy in serving the world in my unique niche, and in responding wholeheartedly to Christ’s invitation: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29, NIV).

Is it possible? I can only trust in the words of Jesus from Matthew 19:26: “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”

Laying the full weight of responsibility on myself can only lead to an exhausted soul. Trusting in God to take responsibility will prove the secret of soul rest.

One more thing. Tuesday morning wasn’t the first time I’ve seen the waxwing flock up close. The first time was Monday of the week before, when I was rushing off to a dental checkup and once again tense with worry about running late. As I reached my car, the flock gathered in the tree overhead, colorful and lively, so close I could practically touch them.

I paused in admiration. I heard once again the words of Jesus (Matthew 6:26): “Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?” And I made my appointment on schedule.

To me, those waxwings will always be God’s messengers, sent as reminders to trust Him for everything, including my time. Soon enough they will fly north for the spring, but I pray that their message will remain rooted in my heart.

  • 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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