Give it a Rest: a book review

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.
Sacred RestSandra 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.

Power Through Weakness (or Community, Rest & Mission): a book review

The Christian life is the empowered life.  In Christ we are set free to live life and face the challenges that come our way. But sometimes we feel powerless in the face of life’s obstacles. Kevin Harney, author of Reckless Faith and the Organic Outreach books has written a month-long daily devotional exploring how God’s presence empowers believers. Each week of Empowered By His Presence explores a different God-given source of strength which reveal God’s empowering presence. These include:

  • Suffering, loss & pain.
  • Community
  • Sabbath and rest
  • Mission

The daily devotional entires profiles a character from the Bible which explores their experience of God. Each week has a reading on Paul and Jesus, but the rest of the entries take you across the Old and New Testaments. At the end of each section in the book are a daily reading plan (which parallels the daily devotionals, suggestions for prayer, personal reflection questions and action steps. There is a discussion guide at the back of the book, designed to accompany a small-group DVD also available from Baker Books.

I really liked this book for a several reasons. First, this is a book about God’s empowering presence, but it isn’t esoteric or strange. Harney starts with the experience of grief and loss in Job, the persecution of Paul, Hannah’s sorrow, Joseph’s betrayal at the hands of his brothers, Peter leaving his nets and Jesus’ cry of dereliction.  Each of these people were met by God, but they came to experience his power through loss, grief and weakness. This isn’t a book about the ‘power of God’ that never enters into human suffering. Rather Harney posits that we meet God there!

The other sections are similarly thoughtful. Community is a Christian buzzword, but Harney draws attention to the ways we mediate Christ to one another. The chapter on the four friends and the paralytic is pure gold (chapter seven). He has good stuff to say about Sabbath and Mission as well.

Second, I think the format is perfect for a small group. I am suggesting it for a small group study at my church and will  likely be ordering the DVD.

Third, I appreciate the breadth of Biblical people profiled. Harney isn’t stuck in the New Testament or Old but gives us a nice cross-section of the communion of saints.

Finally, I loved how solid this is. Harney has keen pastoral insights and is judicious in his reading of the Bible. I don’t remember any specific passages where I felt like he fudged it

I give this book four stars and recommend it especially for use in small groups. It may also be read profitably as a small group resource. ★★★★☆