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I’ve been thinking a lot about rest this year. It can be hard thinking about rest when we live in a society that’s so ultra-focused on productivity, getting ahead, and working as hard as possible. But after spending the last few years watching colleagues work themselves into the ground and seeing Americans push through a pandemic like nothing is wrong, I’m convinced it’s one of the more pressing issues we’re facing.

Is it the Protestant Work Ethic? Is it capitalism? Is it a twisted version of the American dream and the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps myth? Whatever it is, most Americans I know value productivity and work more than most other things. Sure, some of us are pretty good at resting, but do any of you also sometimes feel crippling guilt when you dare to take that time off or spend your weekend watching TV or getting caught up on sleep rather than catching up on chores and errands? Why are Americans so bad at taking vacation time or sick days? Why doesn’t our culture value things like paid family leave, and especially leave for new parents? No, instead we are expected to work, work, work and avoid all appearances of being lazy or unproductive.

In my own quest to deal with exhaustion and burnout, I recently read Devon Price’s Laziness Does Not Exist. Price challenges the Laziness Lie, which he says tells us that our worth is tied to our productivity and that there is always more we could be doing. Rather than treating laziness as a personal or moral failing, Price says we should treat it as a warning sign–that we are burned out or on the verge of burnout and that something needs to change. Price also argues that rest is not only necessary for our physical and mental health, but that it also allows our brains the space and time to process and work through problems in our lives.

I unfortunately spent a good chunk of the year dealing with a back injury, leading to several months of forced rest with a lot more downtime than I’m used to. But a period of forced rest gave me clarity on a bunch of life issues. Once I was forced to rest, I was forced to take care of myself. And once I was taking care of myself and truly focused on resting, my brain had time to sort through things that I’d put on the backburner for months. I think in some ways the early days of the pandemic did the same for many people. Once you’re forced to slow down, you have time to reflect and take stock of your life and what you really want out of it.

We need and deserve rest. Work is not everything, despite what our culture might say. And though we live in a society that says our worth is tied to our productivity, we can resist and we can rest.

Photo by EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA on Pexels


Allison Vander Broek

Allison Vander Broek is a historian of American religion and politics. She recently graduated from Boston College with her doctorate in history. Her dissertation, Rallying the Right-to-Lifers: Grassroots Religion and Politics in the Building of a Broad-Based Right-to-Life Movement, 1960-1984, explored the origins of the right-to-life movement in the 1960s and its rise to national prominence.

2 Comments

  • Jack Ridl says:

    Yes yes YES!!!!!

    Thank you.

    And now I’m gonna take a nap.

    As soon as I finish . . .

  • Travis M West says:

    I couldn’t agree more, Allison. The Sabbath is the Bible’s answer to our culture’s self-destructive fetish with productivity and ceaseless work. The Sabbath teaches that rest is a birthright to all of creation—not just humans, and not just privileged humans, but all of creation. Kind of a remarkable claim. Certainly counter-cultural. Just like what this author is suggesting. Your blog reminded me of a really interesting op-ed in the NYT a few months ago on laziness and chronic illness written by a Rabbi titled “The Most Valuable Thing I Can Teach My Kid is How to Be Lazy.” He didn’t mention sabbath, that I recall, but I have to imagine it informed his approach. Here’s the link if you’re interested: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/20/opinion/teach-children-to-be-lazy.html

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