How important the meanings of the words we use are. How disastrous when we embrace and employ mistaken meanings. Here I consider “rest”. It is is either the activity that moves one closer to the state rest or it is the state of being rested achieved.
The initial problematic understanding of rest comes from its negative definition. Negative definition itself is not wrong but incomplete and wrong if taken as complete. “Not work” would be a quick, off-the-cuff effort at insight into rest. It would not take long to problematize such a woefully inadequate description. Getting drunk, staring at the screen late into the night, and eating a second bowl of ice-cream are all not work. But they are hardly rest.
What I need is a concept for that which is not work but makes my work better. And, I need a good conception of my work to boot. The work I will say is primarily virtue. To elaborate would quickly expand my work into the commitment and obligations I have to the others such as wife, parent, child, sibling, friend, neighbor, citizen,etc. That was easy. The question now is what is a preparation for the work, that is in some sense not the work, but increases the capacity for the work to be done well?
Adequate sleep must be protected. This involves discipline in the arena of sleeping and waking, and even attention spent on the preparation for sleep. One should not do the budget, engage in argument, or become emotionally disturbed thirty minutes before bed. Since it is the body that needs the sleep, and the body is into routine, enabling the body to expect and be satisfied in regularity improves rest.
Adequate nutrition must be met. Here eating must be measured by health. BMI is not a bad, if imperfect, indicator for a modern individual living in a secure society where no extra store of calories can be a store for future scarcity. Let me say it again. Eating must be relative to and measured by health. To treat it in any other way is to destroy the capacity for work. Added to adequate nutrition is the daily movement of the body to keep the internal fluids moving more than much of our sedentary lives require. I will not say more about this part of rest except to say that mistaken relation to eating may be the most deadly failure in the understanding of rest plaguing our contemporary society. The death toll is staggering. Simply search for “top ten reasons people die in the US” and ask how many of the top ten are related to the act of moving calories to mouth.
Adequate social interaction must be met. The human animal is a pack animal. It does not do well alone. The emerging studies of loneliness in our communities are increasingly alarming. I recommend finding an imperfect person and starting to learn how to bear with one another for the long haul. The social rewards are incalculable. Then I recommend the production of new humans under good secure conditions. Children enrich the daily social environment in a way that is hardly replaceable.
It is the most fun to engage with new adults (college students) on this topic and the almost necessity of family for their future well-being. They are coming out of family and feeling the freedom of independence and aloneness. They have no clue what aloneness is like after ten, twenty, thirty years, how busy “friends” become during the hurried middle state of life. Finally, given their woefully inadequate long-term planning and thinking about their future selves they can hardly conceive of the difficulty of decay, weakening, and the care needed in the latter years. They neither have looked at the studies on loneliness in the latter years, nor have they thought about how the young will come up behind them out competing them for work and leaving them forgotten. It is family that is the best insurance against these challenges. I must move on, but there is so much more to say about the cost to society of the single individual who refuses to tie himself in deep and meaningful long-term relations with others. More importantly to the individual should be the cost that he will bear. How many foster children come from stable strong marriages?
Finally, one needs the exercise of the essential human capacity: intellect. Note, that the disciplined restraint required for the three above areas should with stimulation engage the intellect in budgeting, measuring, and adequately structuring life (sleep, nutrition, social relations). But if extra stimulation is needed I recommend learning an instrument or reading a book (a good book, a challenging book). These both exercise the intellect playfully and have other excellent side effects like not habitualizing the intellect to passive reception of the flicker of a screen. The intellect is surprisingly vibrant when fed on activity. What are its limits?
There is rest. Done. Rest should support work. If the activity is not work, and does not support work through restoring energy and maintaining capacity, it is not rest. If it drains energy or reduces capacity in a way that makes work worse, it is not rest.
Not done. The sage Jesus says something like, “Come to me all you who are burdened and heavy-ladened and I will give you rest.” What is this that the sage promises? What does it mean to come to Jesus? I tell you dear reader the only rest that Jesus promises is the rest that comes from virtue and righteousness. Otherwise there is only trouble. You can take that to the bank. There is no rest in Jesus except in righteousness.
The trick is that things often appear different. Who whispers in the ear that vice, sin and unrighteousness (we could start with the seven deadly sins for an easy elaboration) is where rest is? This is the lie. But given a history of bad choices it takes some effort, commitment and determination to fight the temptation to view rest inadequately. But if you and I will persists we will find rest in righteousness.