Stop Day

From Matthew Sleeth, at

CNN: You write about incorporating a “stop day” into your weekly schedule. How do you think that can extend and enrich your life?

Sleeth: A “stop day” is a day you really cease from your labors. This really comes in Western cultures from the Ten Commandments. The fourth commandment tells us to remember the Sabbath. The word “Sabbath” simply means “to cease” — to cease from your labors.

Now, the definition of labor has changed over the centuries and the millennia. For some people, resting from their labors might mean resting from their sedentary job that they have, putting on tennis shoes and going for a run. For those who work physically, that would mean coming to rest.

In the book “24/6,” I don’t try to define what rest is for a person, but I ask you to figure out what work is for you, and don’t do it one day out of the week.

CNN: You go as far as to say that going full-throttle 24/7 is an illness. How do you recognize the signs?

Sleeth: I find that there’s a growing epidemic, really, of depression. We’re the most depressed country in the world.

The World Health Organization says somewhere between one in nine and one in 10 Americans are being treated for depression. We tend to work more hours than any other country in the world; Japan is second closest.

When we’re constantly going, we pour out chemicals to try to meet those stresses. We have short-term stress hormones like adrenaline, and longer-term hormones like the steroids that we pour out. Those chemicals constantly being “on” are bad for us, and they lead to anxiety and depression and to, I think, diabetes and being obese.

It’s interesting that if I took somebody in the emergency department and gave them a big slug of adrenaline, you’ll find that an hour later they’re just wiped out, and that’ll really persist throughout the day. I think that’s what we’re doing to ourselves. We’re constantly bringing stress into our life, and the idea of having one day a week that I can count on to stop is very reassuring.

Even if on Monday I’m very, very busy — and that proceeds throughout the week — if you know you have a habit of a weekly day of rest, of stopping, then you always know that’s out in front of you. A lot of people “go” and never know when it is that they’re going to come to rest.

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  • Phil Miller

    One irony I’ve found is that many times the people who have a hardest time actually taking a day off during the week are pastors or other people who are involved in “ministries” associated with the church. I know some pastors will take Monday as a day off, but how many of them actually get to rest on their day off?

    Regarding other ministries, I’m sometimes surprised at how much time churches demand from volunteers. I’ve been involved in church music all my life, and it just seems like it’s gotten worse. I think it’s because of the proliferation of more popular worship bands. Everyone wants the church band to be really polished. The church we’ve been attending asks musicians to practice from 9am to 1pm on Saturday, and then they have to be there from 7am to 1pm on Sunday for the three services. That’s a huge chunk of time. They do rotate musicians, so it’s not everyone plays every week, but, still… I just think churches in general need to start emphasizing the importance Sabbath again, but not in a legalistic way.

  • Diane S.

    I personally don’t believe that depression and anxiety are caused merely by not getting enough rest or time off from a stressful job, though this could contribute to the worsening of both. Mental illness is a much more complex issue, as well as one that the Church at large is way behind the times on.

  • beth

    @phil as a pastor’s wife, I couldn’t agree with you more.

  • andrew

    Re the music teams: I wonder whether in the old school days, just having an organist or pianist who could sight read the hymnal and a congregation that didn’t come expecting a “performance” made it easier on those involved in the service.

    I think i’ll try to have a go at a few “stop” days. I can’t see it being anything but beneficial to my mental health.

  • Phil Miller

    Re #4. Yeah, I think that would be the case. That being said, though, I still prefer the use of modern worship music most of the time (or blended), but I think it needs to be a servant to the service and the musicians, not a master. Most modern songs aren’t that difficult, and it shouldn’t take four hours of rehearsal a week to get them down. One thing I think that happens is that worship leaders feel the need to constantly introduce new songs, so musicians are always having to learn new arrangements and stuff.

    In the grand scheme of things, the time commitment I mentioned above might not sound like a whole lot, but that can be a large chunk of a weekend. It’s not that I don’t think we shouldn’t expect some sacrifice from people in churches. It’s just that I think we need to re-evaluate what our priorities are when it comes to asking those things. Another large church in my area says they expect musicians to dedicate about 30 hours a week if they’re on one of their worship teams. That just seems ridiculous.