White paper first published by the Christian Economic Forum in 2022.
We live at a fast pace. It is enjoyable and invigorating. Due mainly to technological advances, the opportunities to increase our productivity seem endless. And as our ability to measure outputs likewise increases, the scoreboard is instant and visible.
What are the implications? More specifically, how should we view the need to balance the allure of work with rest?
An increasing awareness
I founded an investment company and a Foundation 15 years ago. And we all know that a new company is similar to a new baby – demanding. To say to the dedicated parents of a newborn that they should have a more balanced lifestyle or sleep more is simply not realistic. There are certain realities associated with particular life events.
Startups (and turn-arounds) are, by nature, demanding, almost necessitating an ‘unbalanced lifestyle’. But as these companies grow and excel, achieving one milestone after another, how do we protect ourselves from the potential habit-forming drug called ‘performance’?
About two years ago, I started to think about the concept of rest more often. It was not a specific event or a sudden revelation that triggered it – it was simply an increasing awareness that the cumulative effect of a 15-year sprint may call for an intervention of some sort. Yes, I did notice that my emotional capacity was at times lower that I had been used to – becoming less patient and more irritable when things did not work, being less able to embrace unproductive time, and laughing less often. But by and large, things were ticking over pretty well.
As it happens (and as often used by God) when we do start to dwell on a topic, we become more aware of related events and information. At the 2021 CEF conference, for instance, the name of the book Sacred Pace by Terry Looper came up several times. Then I received a note from a friend early this year containing his Top 10 lessons learned in 2021, and it included “the difference between rest and leisure.” And more recently, I listened to an excellent sermon by Tim Keller on “Work And Rest”. These are but three examples of many aha moments that I have chosen to elaborate on.
Sacred Pace by Terry Looper
“By his mid-thirties, Terry Looper was living the dream – married to his high-school sweetheart, father to two precious girls, and a multi-millionaire fast-tracking toward even greater entrepreneurial success. Then one day, his fast-lane life came to a screeching halt, catapulting him into a crisis that nearly destroyed him – and then completely changed him.
Out of this worst-to-best experience came an intense desire to live differently – to live according to God’s will and God’s pace rather than Terry’s own. And out of that desire emerged not only a new and slower way of doing, but a new and more mindful way of deciding. He calls it a sacred pace.” (back page of Sacred Pace)[i]
I read Sacred Pace. It resonated with me. I gave copies to some close friends to read. We discussed it. The gist of it is that in making significant decisions, one should “get to neutral.” As Terry writes, “…wait until you’ve gotten to neutral. Wait until you clearly know in your heart that you want His will more than your own. That’s when God’s answer is likely to come.” That’s easy to understand, more difficult to implement.
As I pondered on the concept of getting to neutral, I realised that I have found it increasingly more difficult to get to that quiet still place where it is just me and God, and where I have an uncontaminated desire to understand and do whatever He desires from me, regardless of what it entails. In my life, I have often referred to it as the ‘Secret Place’ (as per Psalm 91).
I can honestly say that getting to neutral (to that position where I have no personal agenda and am willing to go into any gear and drive in any direction based on God’s guidance) was the most natural thing to me from a very early stage in my life and throughout most of my career. But in the last 5 to 7 years, it has become more difficult. Instead, it has all too often been no more than the conventional relationship of asking God to confirm His approval of my carefully developed plans and requesting His help with the successful implementation thereof, rather than being in neutral and inviting Him to do whatever He wishes to do.
So I began to wonder what the role of rest could be in my own rehabilitation. Could it be that the years of always putting the business first and not being disciplined on rest caused me to lose some of the capacity I previously had to dwell in the Secret Place? That this struggle to regularly embrace the ‘unproductive’ time of being in favour of the ‘proven success recipe’ of doing was the result of neglecting biblical truths about rest?
10 Lessons learned
If the above awareness was about starting to understand the consequences of not resting, the next awareness was to understand what rest is not.
At the beginning of the year (after the traditional break for the summer holidays in South Africa), I received an email from a friend, Joel Bryce, entitled ‘10 Lessons from 2021’. He explained:
“Every year, I capture the top lessons I’ve learned over the course of the prior 12 months – they mix a bit of personal and professional reflections. I’ve found that sharing these with people I’ve connected with provides both a great way to stay in touch (rather than a standard newsletter), and perhaps selfishly, sharing them serves as a form of social accountability, so I continue to do so despite the vulnerability required. I’ve found this exercise to be an incredibly cathartic experience to force myself into capturing just 10 lessons I hope to have internalised.”
I also include Lesson 9 on Joel’s list below (with his permission):
Rest and leisure are most definitely not the same. Leisure is about disconnecting, while rest is about recharging. I don’t know why it’s taken me 38 years to learn this (Relearn? Partially learn?), but I’ve realised that most of my weekends and holidays have been about disconnecting (embarrassing to admit, but see #6) – drinking a decent amount of alcohol, mindlessly scrolling social media, watching a movie late at night with a Reese Fast Break in hand (I mean, once you’ve had one, you’ll never go back to Snickers).
These things are fine and enjoyable, thus there is certainly some merit in that. But I need to be better about balancing it with effectively recharging. Recharging is proactive, unto something else – it feels intentional, looking back on my work, learning from mistakes, celebrating wins. Recharging is giving space to engage the things that are weighing on me. This exercise of capturing lessons learned is incredibly restful, but it’s certainly not leisureful.
It so happened that in the weeks before receiving the email from Joel, I had an experience that left me better prepared to understand his note. Days before going on our summer vacation, I tore my calf muscle to the extent where I found myself in a moon boot and on crutches during almost the entire vacation. Normally I would pack my vacation days with activities that can, in this context, be described as leisure – cycling at the crack of dawn, going for a swim in the ocean early morning, playing golf, fishing from our inflatable boat, having regular barbeques and family get togethers, etc.
So I could, in all honesty, respond to Joel’s email in the following way:
“Thank you Joel! A great idea and an excellent (albeit very challenging) list… I like all of them, and #9 especially rang true and relevant. I have been forced to slow down over December due to properly tearing my calf muscle, and whilst lying with an elevated leg often, I rediscovered a hint of rest/recharge… It felt like meeting an old friend I at first almost didn’t recognize, but then so enjoyed. I am determined to visit there more often…”
As a side note, and potentially far-fetched, although I have come to know God’s incredible sense of humour and His creative ways of talking to us – it also so happened that on the way to our vacation, my vehicle’s automatic gearbox began to malfunction. It turned out that the problem was the inhibitor switch, being the very part that allows the vehicle to be in neutral. Googling it rendered the following definition: “The neutral safety switch (also known as the inhibitor switch) is a safety device that prevents your car from starting if the transmission is not set to park or neutral.[ii] We had to replace the switch before we could return home.
Rest and leisure
Listening to Tim Keller’s sermon entitled “Work And Rest”[iii] helped me to better understand that the rest required is a distinctly different level of rest. It is resting in Him. So we are not talking about physical rest per se – not about the lack of deliverables and abundance of enjoyment (although that can be part of it). We are primarily talking about getting to that place where you find your total identity and peace in who you are in His eyes and enjoying the Father-child relationship with Him.
Tim, quoting Judith Shulevitz,[iv] says that we need to be free from that “eternal inner murmur of self reproach” – the idea that we need to be better and do more. God rested after the creation because He could say that what He did was good. We need to be able to rest and say what we have done is good. We can only do so if we fully realise that after salvation, our new identity is in Him, and as our Father, He sees us as good due to the price Jesus paid.
This does not mean we don’t want to be excellent. It doesn’t mean we have a lack of ambition. It simply means that we can distinguish excellence from performance. Below are a few cryptic notes taken from his message:
Tim provides some practical guidelines towards Sabbath rest that he calls inner and outer disciplines. I only list the two main inner disciplines he identifies in association with Sabbath rest here:
What will I do about this?
It is early days in the discovery process, and I have lots to learn and change in my life. It is clear to me, however, that I have neglected true rest over an extended period.
The challenging answer lies in incorporating rest into our schedules. It represents the only sustainable way to achieve change, to increase intimacy with Him, and to protect ourselves from prioritising outcomes in this life over eternal ones. This will be a challenging journey for me.
My makeup is that of an ex-turnaround CEO and now private equity investor, though, so when things go wrong, I like to make sure that I take immediate and decisive action and err on the side of overreacting. So I took a fairly drastic decision as a first step – I will take a 6-month sabbatical commencing September, a first for me. I felt a strong conviction to commit to it even though I am still in the process of discerning how to best use the time. It would have been easy to just draw up a spreadsheet with deliverables for the sabbatical – to have a bucket list of things to tick off, to aggressively project manage this puppy to make sure I squeeze out the maximum amount of measurable outputs.
Given the observations listed in this paper, I am acutely aware that time off, per se, is not the answer. The answer is a dedicated journey with God. The sabbatical is, therefore, only a transition to a modified lifestyle.
It is almost definitely premature for me to write this paper, since I am still discovering questions, let alone answers. I did, however, feel led to share some of my initial observations in the event that it may have relevance for anyone else and to also extend an explicit invitation to the rest of the CEF family to share any experiences, advice, best practice, or revelation you have in this regard with me. It will be most welcome.
Founder and CEO of the private equity firm SAAD Investment Holdings, Johan du Preez spent 15 years as a turn-around specialist for non-performing businesses, including Sanlam Health, Innofin, and Quince Capital. He also acted as the CEO of the then-JSE listed Cipla Medpro South Africa and during this time concluded a $450 million transaction with Cipla India that saw the delisting of Cipla Medpro. SAAD was established in 2006 as the investment arm of the Tree of Life group, with a mandate to steward capital by generating superior returns while impacting lives and communities.
[i] Sacred Pace: Four steps to hearing God and aligning yourself with His will. Terry Looper with Kris Bearss
[iii] Tim Keller sermon entitled ‘Work And Rest’ (23 March 2003) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ux0_5zctrsI&ab_channel=GospelinLife
[iv] Judith Shulevitz, New York Magazine, (2 March 2003) https://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/02/magazine/bring-back-the-sabbath.html