I get nervous anytime my wife asks what would help me relax—and she asks this question a lot.
There are two big reasons for my anxiety. The first is that lately, I don’t know how to answer the question. I realize how this sounds—how hard is it to think about ways to decompress? To be fair, this question was easier to answer when I was single, had total control over my time and money, and was free to binge-watch “Breaking Bad” while eating copious amounts of Taco Bell in my downtime.
Days off looked different after I got married, partly because I wanted to spend time with my wife and also because I didn’t want her regretting her life choices when I returned home with yet another bag of burritos for the fourth meal. But we also established early on in our marriage that we would make time for rest, both together and by ourselves. Admittedly, we both have a tendency to overwork or spread ourselves too thin. But because we believe in and try to follow God, who says in the Bible to make taking a day off, a “Sabbath,” a priority, we tried to follow suit.
And then, we got pregnant. Which means we now have a baby.
Our new daughter, Evie, has been an absolute blessing to our family that we wouldn’t trade for anything. But we’re also exhausted, physically and emotionally, and we’re not always sure what to do about that.
As with all other new parents, my wife and I are slowly learning to navigate sleep deprivation, diapers, daycare schedules, the physics of car seat installation, and determining how long after an infant starts pooping their diaper it’s safe to change them. Tip to new parents: Wait 10 minutes. At least. We’re also learning that our time and money are less our own than ever before. Before we plan a trip—be it to the grocery store or out of town—and before clicking “Buy Now” on Amazon, we have to consider how our choice affects the baby.
Which brings me to the second reason I can’t relax: Guilt. I can’t afford to slow down. If I slow down, that means my wife has to pick up the slack changing, feeding, and playing with Evie, and I know she’s just as tired as I am. What’s more, the lawn is not going to cut itself. The basement needs to be cleaned. I still need to figure out why the car is making that clanking noise on the passenger side. And when was the last time I deep-cleaned the grill? The list goes on.
Between work, learning to be a father, and re-learning what it means to be a loving husband while raising a child, the concept of slowing down feels not only impossible but irresponsible.
This tension isn’t unique to parents. It’s easy for jobs, hobbies, and relationships we care about to consume us, regardless of whether we’re married, single, or raising families. How can we step away from something we care about, that we’re investing ourselves in, for a few hours, let alone a full day?
This is what I tell myself, anyway. Interestingly, God tells us to find a way to take a break.
God modeled taking a day of rest after creating the heavens and the Earth. I have no idea whether or not God was exhausted. I wouldn’t judge if He was, having just created an entire planet and all, but what’s significant to me is that rest was important enough to Him that He modeled it Himself. He doubles down on this a chapter later, in Exodus, attaching the importance of observing the Sabbath with other commands to live by including not lying, stealing, or killing, and keeping your eyes off your neighbor’s wife.
It’s tempting to believe the lie that we’re so busy with our obligations to work and family that we can’t afford to stop and take time for ourselves—that slowing down will do a disservice to those we care about. The irony is, not slowing down is what’s ultimately harmful.
When my wife asks what I can do to relax, it’s usually because I’ve become so stressed or tired that I’m unpleasant to be around. I default to terse, one-word answers to questions and sigh whenever I’m asked for help. In these situations, it would be better for her if I wasn’t there as all I’m doing in those moments is causing her more stress—the exact opposite of what I want.
My pride tells me that real men don’t need to slow down, that it’s honorable to work through physical and emotional fatigue. But I have to remember that rallying without stopping makes me a less effective husband, father, and human. To take care of my family, I have to take care of myself. And as a follower of Jesus, I get to receive the gift of rest He wants for me. So does this mean we must take an entire day off, doing absolutely nothing for 24 hours? Not necessarily.
In the New Testament, Jesus observed the Sabbath, but he also made a point to heal the sick and gather food with his disciples on the designated day of rest. When confronted by the Pharisees, who were always looking for ways to find Christ in violation of God’s law, he asks whether the Sabbath is a day meant for doing good or doing evil. He also says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
God isn’t interested in having us live according to an incidental set of rules. He wants us to thrive, and as our designer, He knows we need time for ourselves. It’s not a rule meant to oppress. He commanded it to help us be healthy, joyful, and free. Our challenge is trusting Him by taking Him up on it.
We’re still figuring out what this looks like at our house. We’re making peace with the fact that laundry, yard work, cleaning, and other tasks will always be there, but that at least one day a week the to-do list can wait. Despite our worst fears, the house has never fallen apart because we failed to dust.
We also look for ways to give the other person time to recharge. Some days that means I watch the baby so my wife can go to brunch with her best friends. Then we trade, giving me time to go for a run or to the movies, during which time I think about absolutely nothing of consequence.
If it’s been a week or more since you’ve taken any time for yourself, stop and think about what would refuel you. Maybe it means planning a meal out with friends or on your own. Try exploring a new nature trail. Give yourself permission to order some comfort food and catch up on Netflix (if you go this route, be sure to allow time for breaks so you can see other people, the sun, etc.).
This doesn’t mean you’re being careless with your time. On the contrary, this is you making the most of it.