Kaye appeared in the office as winter was fading into the expectations of spring. At 52, her olive skin showed few wrinkles. Her intelligent green eyes shone with a tint of anticipation as she began telling me the reason for her visit to the mountains of eastern Tennessee, far from her home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. At five feet eight inches in height, she boasted an athletic build. One would never know she’d been ill for many years.
Kaye had a strong family history of heart disease. She experienced her first bypass surgery at 43 and a repeat performance at 50. As I looked through her well-organized records, I noticed she’d already seen some of the most respected cardiologists in the country. She was receiving every possible scientifically proven treatment. Kaye was coming to me, as many patients do, for a second opinion to see if I could offer anything else to improve her condition.
As we visited, I discovered a bit more about her. She’d smoked cigarettes throughout her 20s. She operated a very successful business, which kept her traveling much of the time. Her two children attended college, and her husband, an attorney, maintained an equally demanding career. She admitted that she rarely did anything “just for Kaye.”
She was on all the right medications at the correct dosages. Her blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and diet were exemplary, and she exercised for 45 minutes a day.
Finally, to make sure all the bases were covered, I began to explore how much time she spent in rest. She seemed puzzled and a little surprised as I probed this aspect of her life. Sensing her unspoken questions, I began to explain why.
The hidden culprit
God has given His created universe certain laws that govern its operation. These laws keep things in order. Sir Isaac Newton was the first to clearly explain the law of gravity, which dictates that if you jump off a cliff, whether or not you believe in this particular law, there will be some rather severe consequences.
God has also given laws that govern the body; one of which is the law of rest. Whether you believe this principle or not, there are consequences if it’s compromised. I explained to Kaye that the body’s chemistry is not static but changes constantly. Rest is an important factor in the optimal functioning of the body. Without adequate release from tension and the everyday stresses of life, one’s body chemistry changes for the worse.
As I continued, I could tell that I’d sparked Kaye’s interest. She was especially intrigued by my question, “Would you rather take a prescription medication to change your chemistry, or would you like to learn how to rest and accomplish that and a whole lot more?”
The God of the universe worked six days when creating the earth and rested the seventh day. Yes, He rested. He could have worked one day and rested the next, or worked four days and then rested. But God chose to rest on the seventh day. He even blessed it, setting it apart for a special purpose. I then reemphasized that when we violate one of God’s laws, whether we believe the law exists or not, our body chemistry is altered. After all, the Creator knows how His creation is supposed to operate. When we fail to rest, our chemistry, as expected, changes for the worse. As a result, stress is placed on all the systems of the body.
Cycles of life
I went on to explain that God created the day-night cycle. This is called the “circadian rhythm,” and we all operate under its steady cadence. The body is hardwired to slow down at night and speed up during the day.
In today’s world, this law is often violated. Think of the late-night eating that doesn’t allow our gastrointestinal system to rest. Stimuli such as television, the internet, iPods, and cell phones constantly bombard our systems long after the sun goes down. When this day-night cycle is compromised, our chemistry is altered.
I asked Kaye, “Have you ever been sleep deprived or worked a long time without rest?”
“Well,” I continued, “under those conditions, the physical, emotional, and cognitive functions of the body are damaged. Stress is placed on the system.”
I explained that just as chronic pain, dehydration, and even depression will compromise one’s system, lack of rest will also harm the body. The stress chemicals, including epinephrine and cortisol, rise. These chemicals alter other chemical reactions in the body. If this condition goes on long enough, the body is actually damaged. This could lead to a heart attack, anxiety, ulcers, poor digestion, tight muscles, high blood pressure, palpitations, headaches, strokes, a weak immune system, and a host of other pains—all related to chronic stress being placed on the system. In fact, most chronic diseases have stress as a major cause.
Anyone can test this quite easily. Try staying up all night and see how you feel the next day. Then imagine doing something similar day after day, week after week, month after month, and even year after year. That’s what prolonged lack of rest will do to the body.
At this point, I asked Kaye rather bluntly, “Have you been violating the natural law of rest?” I went on to gently suggest that by making some small changes, her chemistry could greatly improve. Additional rest could be something new to add to her treatment regimen, and it just might penetrate to the very core of her problem. After all, why would the God of the universe mention rest if it weren’t important? “Kaye,” I said “don’t you want the best for your children?”
“Of course,” she responded emphatically, unsure of why I’d asked that question.
“Well,” I said, leaning forward slightly, “God wants the best for you too.”
After a short pause, she looked at me with genuine interest. “Dr. Marcum, how do you rest?” she asked.
I explained that I try to rest at night as well as keeping the seven-day cycle that God designed. On the seventh day of each week, I try to get more rest, both physical and mental. I sleep longer and try not to even think about work. I spend time worshiping and listening to God. I plan special activities for the family, which might include a nature adventure, a special meal, spending time with friends, helping someone in need, or giving extra love. I attempt to break my everyday routine.
How people rest, I explained, is personal and depends on their definition of that word. The key is to learn how God wants you to rest and realize that it’s vital to optimal health. Sane, simple rest is necessary to prevent as well as treat disease.
I went on to explain how to create better rest at night in this sensory-overloaded world. Among my suggestions were no caffeine, adequate water and exercise, no heavy food at least four to five hours before going to bed, keeping the bedroom dark and quiet, and avoiding as many stimuli as possible.
Rest allows worn-out cells to be renewed. Since we spend up to one-third of our lives in bed, we need to learn how to use this valuable time as God intended. He created these circadian rhythms to allow us to recover from the activities of the day. We can’t keep up the “rat race” day in and day out without an adequate break.
As my session with Kaye neared its end, I once again explained that when we live in harmony with God’s laws, our chemistry improves, stress is relieved, and healing occurs. Then I shared one of my favorite Bible texts with her. It’s an invitation given by Jesus to anyone struggling with a restless heart: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,” Jesus said, “and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). To me, the
“burden” He spoke of is the stress I had been discussing with Kaye. True rest, healing rest, is a powerful and gracious gift from God.
On that late winter day, I believe Kaye added a new treatment to her regimen, one without adverse side effects but filled with eternal benefits. She left my office with a fresh understanding and a desire to learn more truth from the Bible.
Her healing had already begun!
Dr. James Marcum is a cardiologist practicing with the Chattanooga Heart Institute in Tennessee and is the speaker/director of Heartwise Ministries.