We all need adequate rest if we are to be the sort of people who attack life with verve and energy. Yet we are a culture on the verge of burnout—vacillating between overwork and overplay, and blurry-eyed from the latest Netflix binge watch.
Sandra Dalton-Smith, MD explores the purpose, the gifts and promise of rest which will enable us to live our ‘best life.’ Dalton-Smith is an internal medicine physician and a person of faith. In Sacred Rest, she weaves her understanding of what the research tells us about rest, with her experience as a believer.
Contrary to what you think, Dalton-Smith doesn’t simply mean getting more sleep (though if don’t sleep, you die). Nor does she mean taking a day off. When I picked up a Christian book on rest, I half-expected it to be another call to practicing Sabbath rest. However, Dalton-Smith doesn’t actually talk about Sabbath. Instead the book is about entering into the seven types of rest (physical, mental, emotional, social, sensory, creative, and spiritual). Her hope is that as you enter in and practice each type of rest, we will restore our work-rest balance and live a deeper, more satisfying life.
The book is divided into three parts. Part 1, “Why Rest?” introduces the topic and the seven forms of rest. For each dimension of rest (physical, mental, emotional, social, sensory, creative, and spiritual), Dalton-Smith uses a R-E-S-T method to delve into the topic:
- Recognize your risk
- Evaluate your current position
- Science and research
- Today’s application (31)
So, for example, in discussing physical rest, she discusses our human need for rest, evaluating our current need for rest (e.g. lack of energy for our to-do lists, tiredness and insomnia, weakened immunity, soreness, etc), evidence from scientific studies, and daily application (e.g. practice body fluidity, stillness, and preparing yourself for good night’s sleep). She follows this format in describing each of the 7 areas, illustrating her material with personal stories, and stories from her medical practice.
In part 2, she describes the gifts of rest naming 12: boundaries, reflection, freedom, acceptance, exchange, permission, cessation, art, communication, productivity, choice, and faith. While part 1, is kind of the substance of the book, this section is designed to encourage readers to enter fully into rest, and experience it’s benefits. This is also where Dalton-Smith weaves in more of her spiritual reflections on the nature of rest. One ‘gift’ I really appreciated was her discussion of the gift of art:
Art and creativity flourish from your time spent in creative rest. Seek out beauty and spend time in its presence. Not analyzing it but simply enjoying it. As you become refreshed and energized, move from experiencing art to creating it. Your artistic expression can take many forms, including painting, drawing, crafting, sculpting, cooking, baking, photographing, writing, doing spoken word, and acting. These activities are not rest, but they arise from a place of rest. They are the gift of art birthed from your rest. When your soul is allowed room to expand and grow, the resulting creativity can be surprising, leading you to express God in a way uniquely specific to your life’s journey. This world need the gift of your art, full of truth and beauty. (177).
Part 3, “the Promises of Rest” form a conclusion and is an exhortation to enter into rest so that you can live your best life. The book also includes a Personal Rest Deficit Assessment Tool.
The idea behind this book reminds me a little bit of Richard Swenson’s Margin (which argues that we need to create margin in our life, in order to thrive at life). Dalton-Smith has some great things to say, and her experience as a doctor does give her an empirical, evidence based understanding of rest, which I appreciate. This book is not theological deep (e.g., a book on rest that doesn’t explore Sabbath), and the ‘best life’ which Dalton-Smith images, is more about personal success and self-actualization than anything else. I think that’s good, but it is limited.
All and all, I think this is a helpful book for assessing our harried and frenetic life. I give it 3.5 stars.
Notice of material connection: This review is sponsored by #FaithWords. I received a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. Opinions are my own.