Health, rest, sabbath, sabbatical

The Sabbath Principle

The Sabbath Principle

© 2006 Wellness Clubs of

I am concerned about a friend. He is one of the most dedicated, hard working individuals it has been my pleasure to know. He cares deeply about people and gives unselfishly of himself in service to others. My life would be diminished if he were not a part of it.

I am concerned about my friend. He is typically the picture of health, but over the past few months has been having difficulty shaking colds. He appears tired and the usual exuberance is missing from his personality.

I have observed this pattern many times over my medical career. There is only one solution to the challenge he is facing. There comes a point at which nutritional supplements are not enough to restore and maintain health. A time arrives when no herbal formula, no rejuvenating tonic, no pharmacist’s compound will result in a return to wellness. There is a point at which only a prolonged rest will provide the body with the energy it needs to repair and rebuild.

When an individual arrives at this point he or she has two choices. He or she may take a voluntary break from the demands of daily living or choose to move forward apace as though nothing is seriously wrong until a major breakdown forces a period of rest and recuperation. Too often, hurting people choose to ignore the messages their body is giving them and decide to “tough it out” until a major health challenge forces them to the sidelines.

Why, when faced with the choice of a relaxing time of restoration pursuing enjoyable activities or a time of protracted illness during which they are unable to do the things they treasure and in which they find pleasure, do most people choose the latter? I believe that it is due to our nearly infinite capacity for denial.

“I’m O.K. It’s not as bad as it seems. I’ll be better tomorrow. This too shall pass. I can work through it. I’ve got too much to do right now. Too many people are counting on me to be there.”

Denial, however, is not omnipotent. A day of reckoning inevitably comes. A period of forced inactivity allows the body to begin the healing process. When the individual is well enough to return to their usual activities he or she inevitably finds that the world has survived in their absence. Life has gone on. People have survived. Some have even grown and blossomed as a result of the need to step in and assume additional responsibilities.

The principle of choosing a period of voluntary rest or enforced rest is a Biblical one, but it is overlooked by many. It is, in fact, one of the primary themes of the history of the nation of Israel. I call it “The Sabbath Principle.”

You are undoubtedly familiar with the commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” It speaks of the need to observe a regular day of rest from usual activities each week. It is an aspect of the Sabbath Principle, but it is not the feature to which I am referring when I speak of the need to provide a tired body with an extended time to rest and rebuild. That is found in the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth chapters of the book of Leviticus.

The Israelites, having left Egypt, were heading for the Promised Land. They set up camp at the base of Mount Sinai, which Moses ascended to receive instructions from the Lord. One of the directives he received was to allow the land God was giving them to lay untilled and non-harvested every seventh year. If the people would do this, Moses was told, they would enjoy prosperity and dwell undisturbed in the land. If, however, they did not let the land rest every seventh year they would be forcibly driven from the land so that it could receive the rest it required.

The Israelites chose to ignore the admonition to allow the land to rest and restore itself every seventh year. As a result they were taken into captivity and not allowed to return until the land had enjoyed the number of years rest due it.

While farmers have learned to rotate crops and occasionally allow a section of land to go untilled for a time in general people have never applied the Sabbath Principle. As a result farmland around the world is seriously depleted of essential nutrients. The result has been a dramatic rise in the incidence of human illness. The body has marvelous innate healing mechanisms, but they are incapable of functioning properly without the full spectrum of nutrients their complex systems require.

This principle may refer to farmland, but in my experience it is equally applicable to individuals. The human body requires periods of rest and restoration. If these respites are not given voluntarily they will be taken by force. You can retreat from the cares of the world at intervals enjoying times of gentle healing or ignore your body’s cries for rest until a major health challenge stops you in your tracks. It’s up to you. Just remember the sage advice of Woody Allen, “Sudden death is your body’s way of telling you to slow down.”

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