A local coffee shop in Princeton, N.J. sells a mug proclaiming “sleep is for the weak.” And while Nathan Stucky, MDiv '10, PhD '15, director of the Farminary at Princeton Theological Seminary, is the first to admit this is mostly a joke, the truth is that it’s also rooted in a strong cultural perception that sleep and rest are a necessary burden. According to Stucky, celebrating survival on as little rest as possible creates identities rooted in achievement and production. The Sabbath, on the other hand, points to an identity rooted in grace.
“Rest is not a burden. It is a gift,” Stucky says.
Patterns of work and rest take shape in a particularly powerful way for young people, as adolescents are encouraged to participate in sports, extracurricular activities, volunteer projects, and, at the same time, maintain a stellar grade-point average. “Their value as a human gets tied almost exclusively to the college they can get into, or what’s on their resume,” Stucky says. His research suggests that while high schoolers define rest as something that relieves their stress, actually participating in rest triggers new anxieties about losing productivity. “This points to the fact that young identities are already rooted in achievement and accomplishment,” he explains.
In an effort to make the case for Sabbath, Stucky authored Wrestling with Rest: Inviting Youth to Discover the Gift of Sabbath (Eerdmans, 2019). The book explores the challenges youth face in pursuing rest, and offers advice for parents, teachers, and youth ministers looking to reframe rest and Sabbath as gifts from God.
While true rest will be hard work for those used to living on the go, if they’re willing to try, he says, “there’s a possibility of wholeness and joy in ways we haven’t yet imagined.”