The Challenge of Sunday Rest

Relaxation is not something I do well, but lately I’ve been trying to honor the commandment for Sunday rest. I told my oldest daughter about it and she said sarcastically, “Oh, yes, I’ve heard of that concept, Mom; most people call it a weekend!”

It’s not that I do my doctor job on Sundays – I stopped that a long time ago – it’s that I don’t necessarily rest. Neil used to ask me regularly to sit down and relax, but there was always something that had to be done. Sometimes people ask me now, “How can you have so much to do? You live by yourself most of the time when the girls are at school.” That’s true, but there’s even more to do around the house now that I am the only one doing it!

Armed with the plan to accept Sunday rest as a gift from God, I made a list of all the things I could do to relax. I’ll read all those journals on my bedside table, take a walk, call my mom, write some letters. Then it occurred to me that making a list wasn’t really embracing the spirit of rest. Ok, I thought, no list. No plan whatsoever, I’ll just see what the day brings.

I set up the coffee the night before and made sure the alarm clock was turned off. I woke up leisurely at about 8:30 with the cats purring at my head and the dog cuddled against my back. Then I set out to rest for the whole day.

The morning went pretty well. I drank coffee, read a few magazines in bed (no medical journals) and browsed the internet. I sat on the back deck for a while and watched several fawns play in the yard.

By now, it felt like late afternoon, but it was only 11:00. Hmm…..I’ve already done so much resting today. I’d gone to church the night before but toyed with the idea of going again just I could do something. Nope, I told myself. You are not even getting dressed today.

I made another pot of coffee and strolled with a cup through my garden. I found some lovely wild flowers and brought them inside to make a bouquet. In the process, I spilled some coffee on the floor. Without a second thought, I mopped it up, and then noticed the flower petals had blown all over the kitchen counter. I wiped them off and sprayed some all-purpose cleaner. As I admired the clean counters and the lovely wildflowers, I saw some streaks in the kitchen window and gave it a quick cleaning spray, too. For some reason, that reminded me of a patient’s lab tests I meant to check, and before long my plans to rest were forgotten. While I was on the computer, I looked over the list of patients for the upcoming week, and made little notes to remind myself what we need to work on. I squeezed in a grocery list and checked my kitchen drawer to see  if any of the coupons stashed there were still good. I threw away the ones that were outdated and  took a load of trash outside.

I was just about to throw a load of sheets in the washer, when the text came from my daughter: How’s your restful Sunday going?
Oh no, I forgot all about it! With a sigh, I sat down to figure out what went wrong.

First of all, I am quite obsessive. Everything has a place and belongs in it. I find it hard to relax if something is out of place or messy instead of neat. Fair enough, but will it really kill me to ignore a few streaks on the kitchen window or stray flower petals on the floor? I reprimanded myself. No, I guess not, I conceded. And the other chores, and patient charts, can’t they wait too?

So, the next weekend, I planned ahead. On Saturday, I scrubbed toilets, washed floors, vacuumed carpets, changed the litter box, took trash to the dump, and even wiped off the kitchen cupboard doors. Nothing is going to distract me from tomorrow’s rest!  I went to the grocery store and did the prep for the week’s meals. I watered the plants and paid a few overdue bills. I went to the library and checked out enough books to have plenty to read the next day. I fell into am exhausted sleep by the time I went to bed.

The next morning, I slept till 11. I rested that day to be sure, but it was only because I was too tired to do much else. And despite all my prep work, I forgot to buy coffee so I had to go back to the store, and one of the cats got sick in multiple rooms, so I had to do the floors all over again.

Here, I realized, was another problem. I believed the philosophy that you shouldn’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Deep down I’m convinced that if I do just this last chore, or one more chart, or one extra load of laundry,  I’ll be caught up and will truly be able to relax. Unfortunately, that simply isn’t true. No matter how much I do today, there will always be more that needs to be done tomorrow.

And when I admit that my to-do list is essentially endless, taking a day off to rest feels unwise, because if I don’t get everything done, I will lose control of my schedule and my time. Fear of losing control. Of course. How many time have I had to remind myself I am not in control, no matter how much I want to be? Here was yet another prompting.

I acknowledged that since God had commanded this day of rest, it must be something good. Fortified with this reminder and my new self-knowledge,  I approached the following Sunday differently. Things that made me happy – like writing or walking – were ok. But if it was something I wanted to do because I was afraid I’d fall behind, like charts or housecleaning, I skipped it.

And it went much better. At the end of the day I felt rejuvenated. I’d had plenty of time to pray and walk. I tried a new recipe that turned out great, and I even tuned up my ukulele. When Monday came I was ready to face it with enthusiasm. Being well rested made me more efficient and positive, and it lasted all week. Who’d have thought that giving up control one day of the week, would make the other six so much better? It’s unfortunate it took me so long to learn this lesson, but at least I’ve got it now.

Dear God, thank you for the gift of Sunday rest,
for reminding me that I need it,
and for helping me actually make it happen.


  1. Colleen, I had to smile reading your article! I liked it a lot, but also found that I was feeling a little anxious! Countertop? When is the last time I actually saw mine? Love, from your friend who avoids lists.

  2. Colleen
    This was interesting because I too struggle with compulsive never ending things to do. My husband and I are empty nesters as well but I never sit down. I get so frustrated sometimes that I never have time to do the things I want to do. I was talking to my sister on the phone yesterday about this very thing and told her it was my own fault for not taking time for me. I am a Seventh Day Adventist Christian and I also believe in “resting” on the Sabbath and keeping it Holy…..I’m a realtor and my phone is a constantly dinging with emails or text messages. It’s really hard for me not to respond to people promptly. Many attempts to Rest was fraught with anxiety over the unreturned phone calls and unanswered emails. I finally prayed about it and decided I would have to leave it in bigger hands than my own to deal with the end result of not working on the Sabbath. I determined
    to put my phone on Do not Disturb Friday night at sundown and not turn it back on until Saturday night at sundown. Surprisingly , I wasn’t haunted by the silence, it was actually very freeing. I spend my 24 hr period reading, lying in the hammock enjoying the view of my beautiful garden soaking in all the beauty of nature , long walks or a float on the river,visiting my parents.and thanking God for all His blessings. I too feel energized and ready to get back to the grind ( I actually enjoy the grind)
    My business hasn’t suffered because of my 24 hr hiatus, God had blessed my work abundantly and I’m thankful I can serve Him. He knows what’s best for us, most times we think we know it all, if we would just obey we could avoid a lot of stress. Thankful for rest and for blogs like yours to know there are other people who struggle with constant busyness and resting.
    Have a good day and keep writing and resting.

    1. Rona, over the summer I read a book called “Doing Busy Better” by Glynnis Whitwer. It had some great suggestions, and one of the things that really caught my attention was her comment that avoiding rest on the Sabbath sometimes shows a lack of trust in God – a lack of trust that He will help us get our work done in the other 6 days. Ouch. I love the 24 hour rest you have achieved and I am inspired to do the same. Thank you so much for reading and sharing your comments!

  3. Aunt Colleen, you never struck me as obsessive! I really identify with this, especially the constant lists and fear of losing control. Great reminder about the Sabbath… especially with little ones. I’m reading a book called “Simplicity Parenting” and while it is not specifically faith-based, it explores the importance of carving out time for rest/relaxation. My other take-away from this post: your patients are blessed to have such a dedicated physician. 🙂

    1. Kimber, It is important you take time for yourself- especially with little ones! Just like on an airplane when they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first in an emergency and then take care of your child, if you’re wiped out you can’t be your best self as a parent.
      And as for my very obsessive nature – it makes me a good doctor, but sometimes also just an annoying person! (Remember the show Monk? Yep, that’s what I’m talking about).

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