Stephen Covey’s 7th habit is called ‘Sharpening the Saw.” His point is that if we are too busy cutting to take time to sharpen the saw blade, it gets dull and takes more effort to accomplish the task. Eventually the blade gets so dull, it becomes impossible to cut. Similar analogies are taking time to put gas in the car or oil in the lamp – refueling. The analogy’s meaning is to make sure we take care of ourselves and are recharging are personal batteries. That requires us to stop doing the task and invest in ourselves.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
– Abraham Lincoln, US President
The above paragraph has been on paper for months. Then one night while driving, I heard a classic song by Lionel Richie from 1983 (for those keeping score at home – the year I graduated from college) with the lyrics:
Well, my friends, the time has come
Raise the roof and have some fun
Throw away the work to be done
Everybody sing, everybody dance
Lose yourself in wild romance
I had heard this song, for years. In fact, I once dabbled as a volunteer DJ and played it often at dances. However, this time those first few lines struck a chord with me.
Sometimes life gets so busy that we forget to take care of ourselves. Our own mental, physical, and spiritual well-being take a backseat to the demands of life. Most of us respond to these rising demands by putting in longer hours and more effort. It is hardly news that inadequate nutrition, exercise, sleep, and rest diminish our basic energy levels, as well as our ability to manage our emotions and focus our attention.
The best athletes build rest and renewal into their routines. They know that it is not sustainable to keep pushing without allowing for recovery time. A study of the top violinists showed they practiced in intense, relatively short intervals, for no longer than 90 minutes, followed by a break. The best violinists regularly take a nap, averaging 20 to 30 minutes, and report that naps are among the most important things they do to improve as violinists.
We will accomplish more by working intensely for short periods and then refueling as opposed to working continuously over a long period of time. No one can operate continuously at peak levels for very long. Long periods of work or exertion will inevitably take a toll on us physically, mentally, and emotionally. This leads to more mistakes, declining levels of engagement, increasing levels of personal distraction, higher levels of dissatisfaction, and even rising medical costs. A dull saw is considered a safety hazard with an increased risk for injury.
I find it interesting that most large organizations invest in developing employees’ skills, knowledge, and competence. Very few build and sustain an employee’s capacity—their energy—which is typically taken for granted or assumed to be the burden of the employee. In fact, greater capacity makes it possible to get more done in less time at a higher level of engagement and more sustainable.
Energy is defined in physics as the capacity to work. Our energy comes from four wellsprings: physical, mental, social, and spiritual. In each, energy needs to expand and be regularly renewed. Physical with exercise and rest; mental with reading, writing and listening; social with service and family time; spiritual with prayer and meditation.
Everyone knows that on the seventh day God rested. He also “blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Genesis 2:2-3). In Mark (6:31) the apostles all gathered together and reported to Jesus all they had done and taught. His response was to them, “rest a while.” In Matthew (11:28-30) Jesus invites those who labor and are burdened by the ‘yoke of the law’, complicated by scribal interpretation of the Pharisees, to take the yoke of obedience to His word and “find rest.” Jesus puts great value in taking some time to replenish our souls.
Numerous studies have been done that show people – who regularly expand and renew their spiritual wellspring through prayer and regular attendance at worship services – live longer, live healthier, and recover from surgeries or illnesses more quickly. One study performed on elderly residents showed that those who were weekly worshipers were more likely to live on their own and be free of disabilities. People with faith at their core serve the community and typically have better habits (don’t smoke, exercise more), stronger social support networks, healthier marriages and lower levels of stress.
Many people spend their health looking for wealth; then later in life spend their wealth looking for health. St. Paul notes that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and should not be defiled. Having one’s spirituality at the core of everyday life is important. It will serve us well, when we need it most.
The season of Lent has just begun. I find that Lent is an ideal time to reexamine my priorities and routines. I have used Lent over the years to incorporate healthier choices for my body, mind, and spirit. My past Lenten observances have become part of my nature. For this Lent, I commit to a better eating routine (putting higher octane fuel in the tank), being more intentional around joy (raising the roof and having some fun), spending time each evening praying for those on my prayer list, and at the end of the day – finding rest.