By Laurel Willingham-McLain
-Director of Faculty Development and Teaching Excellence at Duquesne’s Center for Teaching Excellence
As usual on Sunday mornings, I had turned on WQED’s Sunday Baroque. And then, in the background, I could hear the clunk clunk clunk of my old washing machine loaded with a fall blanket.
It reminded me of the importance of Sabbath, of a rhythm of rest. When I don’t get this rest I get off balance, and my whole being seems to start clunking.
I know that, but I sometimes forget. Recently, I got up early on a Sunday morning to write a recommendation letter for someone I really admire – a joyful task. My plan was to work quickly and get it out of the way. But I didn’t finish in the early morning hours. All through my day of “rest,” I let this task hang over my head, a constant nagging presence.
It was the first time in a long time that I had devoted Sunday time to doing office work. I thought I could break my personal Sabbath rule to no ill. But once again I was reminded of my need to have a complete change. A different kind of day. A day where I focus on being rather than doing. On receiving rather than being producing.
But this feels risky. It can feel like I’m giving up control of the quality I seek in my work – just think how much better it could be if I worked on it every day! Wouldn’t my Monday go better with preparation the day before?
Not really. Rest rejuvenates my work and family life, and replenishes my whole being. But how dare I say that when most academic colleagues face limitless demands? Where the expectation can seem to be work first, dissertation first, teach and research all the time, and dare to commit to a partner and children if you really think you have extra time and energy.
There are few boundaries if any on what we are asked to do – and perhaps more pertinently – on what we ask of ourselves. If we want a balanced life, we have to prioritize practices that are sustainable and life giving.
For several years now I have been adopting a rhythm of taking a few minutes each day, a day each week, and a day-long retreat every few months to re-center. To remember who I am and what I believe. I have come to long for these times.
Back at the university this greeting plays over and over:
Hey, how are you?
And I think ,“no self-respecting middle-class American would dare say otherwise.”
As Robertson (2003) says, “working to the point of being overtly and chronically stressed
has become an indicator of a serious and dedicated professional” (p. 29). And “perhaps a pernicious norm has evolved: anyone not complaining about being overwhelmed is suspect. We act as if we have no choice” (p. 1).
But we do have a choice. Robison notes that we don’t manage time – time isn’t in our control. But we do manage life. For me, being intentional about Sabbath rest is one way I have chosen to manage life.
Sabbath is a rich faith tradition for me. Rhythms of rest, however, take many different forms and certainly don’t just involve Sunday. What’s key is change from work routines, and time to focus on being instead of the need to produce.
Are there opportunities in your life for you to create more space for breaking away from work routines? What might times of being and receiving look like for you? What have they looked like in the past?
Robertson, D. R. (2003). Making time, making change: Avoiding overload in college teaching. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press
Robison, Susan. (2013). The peak performing professor: A practical guide to productivity and happiness. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.