Today I am speaking with Dr. Matthew Sleeth, author of the book 24/6: a Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life. Thank you for joining me, Dr. Sleeth.
Matthew Sleeth: Thanks for reading the book and interviewing me.
GT: You write, “The meaning of rest to the hungry is food.” What do you mean by this?
MS: I think the bigger question is “What is rest?” and that definition has changed. It means different things to different peoples. For instance, if I took somebody that was following Moses out of Egypt who had been a slave all of their lives and told them that they could come to our day and age. That they could rest by relaxing and getting on Spandex, and going out in August, and running five kilometers for fun. They would say “I do not know that I want too much of that rest.”
If we said, “You could come to our day and age and work.” We took them to a modern office. Somebody was quietly sitting in front of a computer screen tapping a few keys. We said that was work, they would say, “Give me some of that work.” That was to drive home the point that change is as good as a rest.
For some people who are idle throughout the week, perhaps gardening, and walking, or even 5K fun running is rest for them. Obviously the most fundamental need is hunger and to rest from hunger is to be given food. Of course, Christ uses food as a spiritual metaphor for it. With the bread that he gives us, we are always full.
GT: The Biblical Book of Nehemiah is frequently highlighted in church building campaigns. You write, “For a large part of my life I got stuck in the first few chapters of Nehemiah. I never stopped building the wall.” Now, what do you think is the real lesson of Nehemiah?
MS: People do use it as we should work hard, and work together, and be responsible for the push of the wall behind our house. That there is a portion of our life where we are building.
We are in school and building families. But, a very important of Nehemiah is what does the society do after they have got the walls secured? What do we do after we have our education? Their interpretation of that was to celebrate, to confess, and to turn from the mirror. To turn outward and to look at who needs help. Who is hungry?
We are very good at the work part. Or many of us are and at least I was. As a culture, we are very driven to work. But I think we are not as driven for those things that require not working. Sitting around the table and talking, relaxing, and just being a human being, and not a human doing.
I think we have a harder time with it. I think technology is making it harder for us to rest, relax, enjoy and have the extended time where we are not accomplishing something, but we are just enjoying the fellowship of each other or nature.
GT: You are a doctor. What is the connection between fast living and fast eating?
MS: I make a point in 24/6 that when societies take longer eating — I use the amount of time the French spend eating meals as compared to the U.S.— they tend to be thinner. They tend to enjoy their food more. There is an importance to fellowship. Whereas I have noticed even in restaurants and particularly restaurants that are in airports, they have split the difference between standing up and sitting down. Now they have very high stools that you are supposed to sit on and eat.
MS: It is like we are just ready to bolt in a second. Christ was frequently sitting down and sharing meals. He taught in John’s Gospel for five chapters over supper, his last supper. Important things happen when we take our time, and we eat. We tend to get overweight when we are “just fueling up.”
GT: What did the Blue Zones tell us about healthy living?
MS: The Blue Zone is a book, which examines cultures around the world that live longer and tries to find some common factors that they have. The author identified the Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California. They live about 11 years, as I recall, longer than the average person in the United States.
Some of the factors that were postulated that contributed to that were they have a diet low in animal fat. There is regular exercise. They are religiously active in their faith. They rest one day a week as a group. It is impossible to tease out which one of those results in the longer lifestyle. Sabbath keeping or stopping one day a week is by and large lost. We grew up with it, and it is gone for the most part now.
GT: How do we build a Sabbath refuge?
MS: For me, building a Sabbath refuge means that we — my wife and I have been married 31 years — have to do the work to make sure that we have a day off. We cannot leave a chore undone because the thing is we can all run to the store any day of the week now. We plan for that. We build some margin into our lives so that day we are not miserable thinking about the work we have not gotten done. We really plan for simple meals. We almost always go on an extended walk. Describing the Sabbath is like describing ice cream to somebody. If somebody has never eaten ice cream, you can describe it all you want. But the proof is in the big spoonful of Cherry Garcia.
MS: I remember, I have been able to give about a half a dozen children their first bite of ice cream. Being a doctor in a small town like I was then you could get away with stuff. People would put their babies in their lap. Lots of these children had been raised with perfect nutrition. Sugar was never going to cross their mouths. But when I put the spoonful of ice cream in, those children gave me a look like they would love me forever.
The Sabbath is like that. I can talk about it forever, but you have to try it for yourself. You have to try it more than once. In 24/6, I make the analogy of sit-ups. If we did some sit-ups one day, the next day all you are going to have is a sore belly. There is not much good that happens.
The Sabbath is like that, if you just take one Sabbath and try it out. You are not going to get the effect that you are going to have at least trying it for one month, every seven days and taking one day off. It is something that has to be experienced. It can only be described up to a point. I think the Bible is pretty clear about that. God tells people to do it, but they do it in order to experience it.
GT: You write that no group in our society labors harder than parents who raise children to serve multiple gods. What do you mean by this?
MS: Parenting is hard work. I have yet to find anybody who says it is not. It is naturally hard because each child arrives with his or her unique personality. They live uniquely different than their brothers and sisters even. You cannot have a book on parenting because every child is different. But if you try to meet every child’s unique needs, it can be a nightmare having that many children.
We look at people with large families. We sometimes marvel at how they can run a large family and yet people with one child are completely tied into knots by one child. When their god is sports, or the Xbox — all those needs have to be met for each child, each child has to have his or her own particular kind of food — it is miserable for the parents.
I believe that the Sabbath, when it is established as a family habit, says that this is the God we serve. Somebody other than even mom or dad is in charge of this family. These are the rules and this is what we believe in. That makes parenting easier. Of course, the most capricious God to have for children is for them to be God. We are all born selfish.
MS: Good parenting is saying, “No, you are not the center of the universe. Nor is mom or dad, either. God’s concerns are the center of the universe for us.”
First published in First Things in September 2012