How Christians Can Relax Without Feeling Guilty

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Do you ever get that nagging feeling when you’re trying to take a break? “I should really be working.” I’m willing to bet that if you’re reading a productivity blog, you’re someone who feels guilty when they relax. I want to show you one method for how to relax without feeling guilty that’s worked for me.

Working in college and campus ministry, I have had discipleship relationships with many young men over the years. And one question that frequently came up was, “How can I get more organized?” And I continue to get this question now that I run a blog with productivity in the title. But, I always give the same answer: Schedule your day. And I’ve actually made a free PDF that gives a simple way to block out the time of your day. But whenever I suggest this seemingly obvious solution, I always hear the same response.

“That’s too restrictive!”

When I dig a little deeper, I often find that the objection is specifically about scheduling free time. Instinctively we feel that free time ought to be, well, free. And if we put a start and finish on it, it will somehow be less free. But I want to argue the exact opposite. Scheduling your free time is not only not restrictive, it’s freeing! And when you schedule your free time, you are able to relax without feeling guilty.

Procrastination’s Lie

The idea that scheduling out your free time is restricting is simply not true. It’s a lie procrastinators tell ourselves.

“I’m a free spirit, I must flllyyy!” Okay, birdman, flap away but don’t complain to me when your life is in freefall, spiraling out of control.

Sure, I get it, writing “unscheduled fun time” on the calendar sounds like something a sociopath would do. But be honest with yourself, when you procrastinate and participate in a leisure activity instead of doing what you know you ought to be doing, you never really fully enjoy it do you? That nagging voice in the back of your head just won’t shut up.

Procrastination’s lie is that I will feel less stressed and more relaxed if I put off duty and substitute unbound recreation in its place. But such delay only compounds stress, as now we have less time to do what we need, and that’s when the guilt starts to rear its ugly head. But if we deliberately plan breaks during our days, days off during our weeks, and vacations during our months, we can enjoy a more sustainable rhythm of work and relaxation. And the relaxation we enjoy can actually be more relaxing!

Made to Take Breaks

It’s a common refrain of the so-called workaholic, “I feel guilty when I relax.”

The self-congratulatory reason we give for these pangs of conscience is that we are just so dedicated that we just can’t turn off our loyalty to hard work. Christians might even quote Proverbs 13:4, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” But God built us to need rest, too.

The Lord set the example of rest when after creating the universe and all that is in it in six days, and on the seventh day He rested (Gen 2:1–3). In the Law, Yahweh required that the people of Israel rest from their work on the seventh day of the week (Ex 20:8; cf. Deut 5:12). This was stridently kept by the Jews to the degree that other specific man-made laws crept in around this command to protect it from being violated, so much so that these legalistic requirements actually began to make this command to rest become a burden. This is why during His earthly ministry the Pharisees asked Jesus why He was so cavalier in regards to their specific Sabbath requirements, his response was “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

All that is to say, that dismissing rest is a foolish and prideful thing to do. Every God-given weekend should be a reminder to us that we are merely human and need to take a break. And it should be viewed as a unique and precious blessing from our sympathetic Maker who knows our weakness.

Guilt-Free Free Time

When the robots take over, they won’t need to take breaks. But until then, remember that you are a human and you must rest. You don’t need to feel bad about it.

Work-life balance does not have to be a nebulous concept. You can have a work-life balance, but you simply need to plan it on your calendar and keep it. This isn’t being lazy, or negligent, it is being disciplined. And making time for your family or for yourself is part of being a human.

When you know you have scheduled for yourself ample time to perform your duties, and you have scheduled time for your free time as well, you don’t have to feel guilty when you relax. You aren’t avoiding anything, you aren’t dropping the ball, everything is simply going according to schedule.

That is tremendously freeing. You can finally relax without feeling guilty about it!

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