The Life-Changing Wisdom of the Cheetah

“Speed Racer” by Jason Kotecki. 30″ x 40″. Oil on canvas.
Original is SOLD. Prints available here.

The cheetah is known for being fast.

Really fast.

It’s the fastest land mammal, achieving running speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. But what most people don’t know is that the cheetah can’t maintain those speeds for long. In fact, a cheetah spends very little of its time running. It needs to recuperate and build up energy for the next hunt.

Obviously, if a cheetah doesn’t run, it cannot eat. But if the cheetah doesn’t rest, it cannot run. If the cheetah spent all its time doing what it does best, it would die.

The rest is just as important as the chase.

How much there is to learn from the cheetah! Oh, we have the running part down. We’re good at racing from one commitment to the next. Meetings, grocery shopping, clarinet practice, yoga, daycare drop-offs and pick-ups, baseball tournaments, birthday parties…the list goes on. 

But the resting part, that’s where we falter. Slowing down is counter-cultural. We declare, “I’m so busy!” as if it’s a badge of honor. It’s a boast disguised as a complaint.

We celebrate hustle but are afraid of the hush.

We need to be more like a cheetah. Taking a reprieve from the hectic pace of modern life may seem pretty revolutionary, but it’s as old as human history. It even has a name, albeit an old-fashioned and highfalutin’ one: Sabbath.

The word itself conjures up religious overtones and maybe even an image of Charlton Heston holding a couple of stone tablets. Indeed, the concept of “Sabbath,” which means to stop or to rest, does have ties to every major world religion. But the truth is, the Sabbath has never really been for God. It’s for us. The idea of taking a day to stop our frenzied activity is as relevant today as it ever has been.

Many people — maybe even you — think of such an idea as impractical or even impossible. After all, weekends are packed with athletic events, church activities, work commitments, and family get-togethers like birthday parties, baptisms, and weddings. You’d love to have a day off, but it’s not like the world is going to let you take one.

No, the world might not be too keen about you dropping off the radar, but you know what?

It’s not the world’s choice. It’s yours.

I have friends who completely challenged my thinking about what’s possible when it comes to taking a Sabbath. Early in their marriage, they committed to taking one every week. It starts with church in the morning, after which they return home and have leftovers for lunch. Then they just hang out, taking naps, playing board games, or watching old Andy Griffith reruns. And they get pizza delivered for dinner (no cooking for Mom!)

When I first heard of this, I was as intrigued as I was perplexed. “But what if your kids have a baseball game? What about youth programs at your church? What about the obligatory birthday parties of friends and family?” Knowing that the husband spoke at churches where Sunday evening programs are common, I added, “What about people that want to hire you on Sundays?”

“We say no,” they said simply.

They admitted it was challenging at first. Communication was key. They told potential clients that their Sabbath was vital to the health of their family, and the churches simply booked him on a different day. They were up front with the coaches of their kids’ sports teams at the beginning of the season about their inability to participate in games or practices on Sundays. Even extended family members eventually got on board and respected their wishes.

“And you know what the most amazing thing is?” they added. “The kids look forward to it more than we do! They love the downtime and the reprieve from the busy week at school.”

I was blown away by the audacity of this family to disregard the concept of what a typical weekend is “supposed” to look like. Their example helped me to see that the idea that we are “obligated” to go to all the athletic, church, and family activities going on is another one of those rules that doesn’t exist.

Believe it or not, you get to decide what a weekend is “supposed” to look like. (For YOU, at least.)

Since then, Kim and I have taken a Sabbath almost every week. (There have been a handful of times when we’ve gotten complacent, thinking we could operate without one. Big mistake. We always notice it the following week and we always regret it.) We started before we had kids, but it’s become even more important now that we have three. I can’t tell you how much it has contributed to the overall health and happiness of our life. Just like anyone, our weeks are busy and contain their share of potholes and emergencies, but they are so much easier to deal with when you know you have a light at the end of the tunnel: a day to stop and get refreshed.

Even though some faith traditions consider certain days of the week as the “official” Sabbath, the important thing is to take one day a week as a time out, to slow down and reflect in gratitude about the blessings in our life. Here are a few guidelines we follow:

  • We take a Sabbath once a week. Absolutely NO exceptions.
  • Because of our flexible schedule, we don’t always take our Sabbath on the same day each week, so we have to mark them on the calendar a few months out. After all, if you don’t plan it, life has a way of making plans for you.
  • We don’t do any chores. Zip. Zero. Nada.
  • I usually cook dinner, but only because I like to cook.
  • We give ourselves permission to pig out, be lazy, watch tv, or do whatever we want.

You might choose to do things a bit differently. Nobody’s life is the same, but there are two constants:

First, a Sabbath is doable for everyone. If you think you’re the exception, you’re wrong.

Second, the world isn’t going to offer you a free day once a week without a bit of effort. It will take a little creativity, sacrifice, and communication. You will probably have to say no to some good opportunities in order to say yes to the best ones. But in the end, it will be SO worth it.

A respite from the cacophony of voices and choices, from the harried busyness that wears down our immune system, is not a luxury. It’s an absolute necessity. If you don’t make time to rest, life has a way of forcing you to, and it might not be in a manner you’d prefer.

We need to model the rhythm of the cheetah. She knows that she can’t run all the time, even if it is the thing she does best. 

Like the cheetah, we all need time to physically and mentally rest. To catch our breath. To just be. 

And to make sure life doesn’t speed by you before you’ve ever had the chance to figure out where you want to go.

A version of this article first appeared at


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