Super chill book review part 1: Rest Is Resistance by Tricia Hersey

Hi friends,

My general goal is to post here weekly-ish, so I kind of wanted to get a “super chill book review” of Tricia Hersey’s Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto (Little, Brown Spark 2022) out last Friday. 

But then I was tired. There’s been a lot going on. And I thought, if I’ve learned anything at all from this book, it is that it’s okay to rest. It’s good to rest. So I didn’t push it. 

That felt like a small win: a small way of putting into practice, hopefully, what I’m reading and learning. And I certainly have much to learn from Tricia Hersey, aka The Nap Bishop. 

Here are a few thoughts from her book that are sticking with me:

  1. We don’t rest just (or primarily) because it helps us be more productive.

This definitely resonated as something deeply ingrained within me, both from our broader capitalist society and from Christian teachings on Sabbath. You take Sundays off to recharge so that you can work hard in the week ahead, right?

Hersey says, no, not really. “The Rest is Resistance framework,” she writes, “does not believe in the toxic idea that we are resting to recharge and rejuvenate so we can be prepared to give more output to capitalism” (62).

Interesting. We don’t rest so that we can give more. We don’t rest so that we can produce more. The point is not to increase output.

After all, “what we have internalized as productivity,” Hersey continues, “has been informed by a capitalist, ableist, patriarchal system. Our drive and obsession to always be in a state of ‘productivity’ leads us to the path of exhaustion, guilt, and shame. We falsely believe we are not doing enough and that we must always be guiding our lives toward more labor. The distinction that must be repeated as many times as necessary is this: We are not resting to be productive. We are resting simply because it is our divine right to do so” (62).

Well, that certainly feels similar to what the Hebrew scriptures actually say about Sabbath. (Not what white male Protestants in the last few hundred years have wanted them to say.)

We rest because God rested (Exodus 20:8-11). We rest because we are God’s image bearers. We rest because God invites us to rest. Or, as Hersey puts it, “because it is our divine right.”

Rest does not need to be earned. And it doesn’t need to be justified in terms of productivity.

  1. Rest is not just (or primarily) for the privileged.

I thought this point was key, and Hersey does a great job of bringing it front and center. When preachers or other Christian speakers talk about Sabbath, I often wonder what that looks like for people for whom it isn’t economically easy to take a whole day off every week. People working two jobs, struggling to make ends meet.

Personally, I’ve never really been in a place financially where I felt that I couldn’t take a day off and still make rent. But I still bristled, sometimes, back in the day, to hear people talk about it when their lives were financially cushier than mine. 

I remember a speaker at a women’s retreat, a pastor at a church where pastors were paid pretty well. At the time, I was a “ministry intern,” working full-time for, well, much less than a pastor’s salary. 

Her job had generally normal, stable hours, while mine revolved around college students’ strange schedules. (Did I really start a Bible study at 9:30 pm? That feels like a lifetime ago.)

So I’ll admit that I felt a little salty when I heard this pastor talk about rest.

Hersey is clear, though, that rest is not reserved for those with nice work schedules or a decent salary. It is a sacred right for us all.

“Treating each other and ourselves with care isn’t a luxury,” she writes, “but an absolute necessity if we’re going to thrive. Resting isn’t an afterthought, but a basic part of being human” (61).

Hersey addresses the real questions of affording to live:

“Many times, I’ve offered resting as an alternative to grinding and the immediate response from a traumatized exhausted body is: ‘How will I be able to pay rent? How will I be able to eat? That sounds amazing but that’s not for certain people. It sounds like a dream. It’s not realistic.’ I am grateful to not be realistic and for the legacy of imagination and trickster energy shown to me by my Ancestors. I am grateful that Harriet Tubman was unrealistic when she decided to walk to freedom, guided by the stars, her intuition, and God” (184).

Rest might not seem realistic. But it is necessary. And maybe its very unrealistic-ness can call forth imagination. 

Hersey also shares that her own life experience has been far from financially privileged: 

“When I started resting to save my life and connect with my Ancestors, I was a poor, Black, queer woman in graduate school on student loans with thousands of dollars in debt. I had been unemployed and underemployed since I was a full-time student. I had a job as a student worker in the archive library on campus barely making $12 an hour for a few hours weekly. I was also working for free as part of an internship for my studies while taking a full load of classes and caring for a six-year-old child. I am and was a first-generation adult graduate student with a child and a husband who was working fifty-plus hours a week to pay our rent while I studied. Once I finished my program, I couldn’t find work in my field even after going on countless interviews. I remember sitting on the side of my bed crying because I had negative $25 in my bank account, no car, and no savings. This is not a movement created by a person speaking about rest from some sort of position and privilege outside of being traumatized from capitalism and white supremacy. I am telling you it’s possible because I am the poster child and witness. Rest saved my life” (183-4).

This is powerful. In a world that often shames people for struggling financially, I appreciate Hersey’s courage to open up in this way.

And, in so doing, she bears powerful witness to the reality that rest must not just be for the privileged. Rest must be for everyone—and especially for those who have been most “traumatized from capitalism and white supremacy.” Rest is part of our healing from this trauma. Rest saves us.

  1. Sleep deprivation is not noble.

I once had a very part-time job transcribing interviews with high school students. Interviewers asked these students all sorts of questions about their lives. And then I listened to the recording and wrote it all down. 

In one interview, the (adult) interviewer asked a high schooler how much sleep they got on a typical night. The student answered, usually around 6 hours. The interviewer replied with something like, oh cool, that’s pretty good.

I heard this exchange and thought, what? That’s nowhere near enough sleep for most teenagers. Why is the interviewer responding with positive affirmation? (Never mind the fact that the interviewer probably shouldn’t be expressing value judgments at all…)

Maybe we’ve all normalized a certain level of sleep deprivation. Maybe we even see it as a sign that someone is living a full, interesting, ambitious, or productive life.

Tricia Hersey is not here for it. “Sleep deprivation,” she argues, “is a public health issue and a spiritual issue” (18).

“We ignore our bodies’ need to rest,” she reflects, “and in doing so, we lose touch with Spirit” (12). Hersey calls us to wake up this reality—to heal, to rest, to “no longer be a martyr for grind culture” (12). 

I think this is easier said than done. But it will certainly not be done by encouraging one another’s sleep deprivation—and especially not by affirming young people’s sleep deprivation.

We can choose, Hersey insists, to rest. And to encourage one another to rest.

  1. We rest before we get burned out.

I don’t know about you, but this strikes me as something that’s true and good but not easy. I’m not always aware of my need for rest until I’m exhausted. 

But maybe if we build rest into our lives as a regular practice, we can avoid burnout in the first place?

Doing so would involve a lot of mental shifts. We have to internalize these truths: “You are worthy of rest. We don’t have to earn rest. Rest is not a luxury, a privilege, or a bonus we must wait for once we are burned out…Rest is not a privilege because our bodies are still our own, no matter what the current systems teach us…Our bodies and Spirits do not belong to capitalism” (28). 

Our bodies are our own. We do not belong to capitalism. We rest because we are worthy of it. It isn’t a bonus; it’s meant to be part of our regular rhythms of life. 

There are so many good things in Hersey’s work. But this post is getting a little long. So, I’ll let you *rest* from reading. And I’ll be back with more soon.

Peace and rest to you this week,


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