STOP: Getting Off The Gerbil Wheel

The old question, “What is the chief end of man?” is now answered, “To dash around the world and add to the din thereof.
— A.W. Tozer

[music of the soul series]

The island of Rapa Nui (better known as Easter Island) is famous for its 887 huge stone face statues called moai. In its heyday, the remote Polynesian island boasted a population of 15,000 and an advanced technology, carving and transporting their statues across great distance. By 1877, however, its population had diminished to a mere 111 inhabitants. The cause? Essentially, they worked themselves to death.

Blind ambition and fierce competition caused the Rapa Nui people to ravage the island of its natural resources, cutting down virtually every tree in their architectural obsession. It brings to mind the ancient story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11, and it has a thing or two to teach us today.

Busyness is the drug of choice in modern America. We complain about it while running on its fuel. When we need to feel validated, we hold our busyness up as a trophy. A backhanded self-congratulation. It’s a never-ending gerbil wheel: we’re not really getting anywhere but it feels good trying.

What we don’t always realize is that busyness is toxic to the spiritual life. So the very first spiritual practice is simple. STOP. Stop and be.

“Be still, and know that I am God!” proclaims the Psalmist. No stillness, no knowing of God. Stillness means clearing out the mental clutter so you can listen and just be with God.

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” records the gospel of Mark. Silence and solitude seem to be high on God’s agenda…and God knows a thing or two about what the human soul craves most.



Often dismissed as the domain of white-haired professors, there is a revival of the idea of sabbaticals in contemporary culture. This is because we desperately need it! Our natural resources of soul are dangerously low…but they can be replenished with a bit of planning and intentionality. Here are a few applications to consider:

  • Practice the Sabbath. Earning a spot on God’s Top 10 List of All-time Best Practices (Exodus 20), spiritual health is virtually impossible without taking a day of rest each week. Quaint? Idealistic? Legalistic? You decide, but Sabbath is the gift few seem to want. And no extended sabbatical will make up for the loss of weekly renewal.
  • Push it to a weekend. Consider a personal retreat once a quarter, and get out of your home space into a new environment—one that inspires freedom and avoids distractions. Mountains, beach, or lake are good options. But the point is getting still. Letting activity spin down so your spiritual senses can come out of hiding.
  • Revise your vacation. Often people take a break from working hard so they can go play harder…and come home more tired than when they left. Don’t get me wrong, recreation can be life-giving, but it’s important to know what your soul needs most. Sometimes its physical and spiritual rest more than lines and tours.
  • Every seventh year. Part of God’s rhythm of spiritual refreshment for the Israelites was a sacred rest—for them, their workers, livestock, and the land itself—every seven years. No planting for the entire year. So what’s the twenty-first century application of that? Well, that’s a question worth asking!

Maybe your first step in the practice of “stopping” is simply to set a firm time to close the door of your office and go home each evening. Whatever step you choose, open your heart to the life God offers as an alternative to the gerbil wheel. Let’s ratchet back our obsession with productivity, learn from the Rapa Nui, and not work ourselves to death.

What’s been your experience with the gerbil wheel of frenetic activity? Share your story and insights with other readers.

Posted on February 16, 2015 .