Who Was Right – The Tortoise or The Hare?

Editors Note – In keeping with the theme of this post, we will be changing our posting rhythm for the summer months.  We will post just once in July and August as we work on some other writing projects and enjoy some rest.

Remember Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare?  The traditional moral of the story is that the tortoise’s approach – slow, steady and persevering – is the right approach.  However, this “just-keeping-going-never-stop-to-rest” approach doesn’t hold up well under biblical or empirical scrutiny.

From a biblical perspective, God intentionally punctuates life with different rhythms.  He created the rhythms of night and day.  He designed the body to function on a rhythm of waking and sleeping.  He made different seasons of the year.  He established the rhythm of rest, renewal and worship through Sabbath.  He instituted the rhythm of feasts, festivals and ordinances for His people to gather, pause, celebrate and worship.

Empirical evidence also indicates that people function best in a rhythm of activity balanced by rest and renewal.  Unfortunately, North Americans are buying into the tortoise approach (minus the slow part) and trying to live a non-stop 24/7/365, ever-connected, ‘always on’ lifestyle.  One example of this approach is not taking vacation time.  In The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working Tony Schwartz notes:

  • On average, Americans now fail to use 439 million paid vacation days a year
  • In 2008, one-third of Americans said they intended to take no vacation at all
  • Another 33 percent planned a vacation of seven days or less
  • Only 14 percent scheduled a vacation of at least two weeks in 2008

The consequences of not taking vacations are sobering.  In addition to missing the opportunity to create lifelong memories with family and friends, there are physical costs including a significantly greater chance of heart attack and premature death.  On the psychological side, those who took vacations twice a year were half as likely to be depressed as those who took a vacation once every two to five years.

The answer isn’t for everyone to take luxury vacations.  The needed response is for a counter-cultural approach to rest and recovery.  Taking time to unplug and seek rest and recovery not only has health benefits, it also reminds us that God is God – and we are not Him.  We are also reminded that the world can and does continue without us.

Here are some practical application steps for Christian leaders:

  1. Develop some practical rhythms and commitments to Sabbath – weekly, monthly, and yearly.
  2. Consider how you could punctuate your day with rhythms of rest and renewal. This could include a morning, midday and evening time of prayer or  a morning work-out followed by a mid-afternoon walk to re-energize.
  3. Concede to the 7-8 hours of daily sleep that multiple studies conclude you do need.
  4. Plan vacation time a year (or at least six months) in advance. Taking a “stay-cation” or a simple vacation has many more benefits than no vacation.
  5. Engage a hobby or activity that brings you life. It could be a long-lost pastime of music, art, crafts or fixing cars.  Whatever it is, it can bring renewal that impacts all of your life.
  6. Identify clear boundaries around connectivity to technology.

In a recent article in Fast Company, Baratunde Thurston, an author identified by his friends as ‘the most connected man in the world’ reflected on his self-imposed twenty-five day vacation and withdrawal from social media.  He wrote, “The greatest gift I gave myself was a restored appreciation for disengagement, silence, and emptiness. I don’t need to fill every time slot with an appointment, and I don’t need to fill every mental opening with stimulus. Unoccupied moments are beautiful, so I have taken to scheduling them.”

Back to Aesop and the fable. The hare’s arrogance shouldn’t be replicated but his approach of activity followed by rest and renewal is something we dismiss at our own peril.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” Psalm 23:2

To The Point,

Dr. Steve Brown