In 2016, at one of the lowest points of my life, I listened to this radio program called Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. I heard an interview with TV personality Norman Lear and the host Peter Sagal asked him a simple question to which he gave a simple, yet profound answer that has stayed with me and framed how I view life, rest (sabbath), and the future. Here it is with an audio clip and transcript:
SAGAL: Did – I have to ask you something. You are, as we speak, 93 years old.
LEAR: I’ll be 94 next month.
SAGAL: Ninety-four next month.
SAGAL: So do you have any tips for those of us who would like to arrive at 93 as spry and as successful and happy as you are?
LEAR: What occurred to me first is two simple words…
LEAR: …Maybe as simple as any two words in the English language – over and next.
SAGAL: Over and next.
LEAR: And we don’t pay enough attention to them. When something is over, it is over.
DICKINSON: Oh, my God, I love that.
LEAR: And we are on to next.
LEAR: And if there were – was to be a hammock in the middle…
LEAR: …Between over and next, that would be what is meant by living in the moment.
DICKINSON: That’s brilliant.
SAGAL: That’s pretty good.
DICKINSON: That is brilliant.
LEAR: I live in this moment.
I heard this at a point in my life when I was desperate for what I was going through to be over and anxious for whatever might be next, and there was no hammock in sight. It was a horrible place to be in and you want to avoid those places and times in your life. It was self imposed and I am finally at a place where the “next” is a reality – or at least the beginning of the next is in place.
In the years since I have heard that statement I have pondered the value of its wisdom. The creation narrative in the book of Genesis speaks with this template in mind. After God finishes his work of creation and here is the wording in Genesis 2:1-2:
“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. By the seventh day God completed His work which had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all the work which He had done.”Genesis
I had often defined “rest” as simply the ceasing of activity. But this isn’t what the text emphasizes. It emphasizes the rest of God coming after the completed work of God. I find that I can’t rest until things are completed. I like to finish something before I rest, otherwise I don’t completely rest.
The reason I couldn’t rest in the moment I heard this interview with Lear was that I hadn’t completed anything at that point, in fact I had just done the opposite. I had just finished destroying my life, marriage, career. There was no “over” until I repaired the damage I had created. I wanted to rest in the midst of emotional pain, but there was no resting until I had moved on to the restorative work of rebuilding.
Now I am anxious to reestablish the pattern Lear talks about and that is rooted in the very nature of things as evidenced by the ancient testimony. It speaks about structuring our work in such a way that it has purpose and completion which can be followed up by a hammock period where we can rest and from that place of rest our next emerges.
When you think of rest, don’t simply think of sleeping, or lounging – as good as they are and as appropriate they are – begin to think of other words to attach to rest.
Celebration is one of those words. When you finish something, when your efforts reach milestone levels, build in Sabbaths of Celebration. Rest in those moments, live in the moment. Don’t move on to “next” too soon. Let the hammock have its perfect work.
This pattern: WORK (over) – REST (hammock) – WORK (next) has value at every level of your planning and productivity. It works in the micro (90 minute blocks followed by a break, affirmation, followed by the next 90 minute block) to the macro (project completion – party/break/vacation – what’s next?) and the in between, like the classic week described in the Bible description: week/weekend/week. This is a valuable framework for planning and productivity, life and health.