Pursuing rest over the last 8 months has been slow and pain staking. I haven’t found a manual on how to do it, and it hasn’t been as easy as I expected to find books or sermons or expert opinions; it’s been a clumsy process of asking around, experimenting, and trial and error. I’ve discovered no magic bullet, much to my dismay. That said, I’ve encountered so much grace; when I’ve told my friends, I’m sorry—I don’t have much capacity in this current season of pursuing rest, I’ve been met only with grace upon grace, kindness and love and support. I’ve been met with friends asking how they can love me and how they can care for me and my family. I feared that withdrawing for a season would mean that I might lose friends, but so far, I’ve only experienced a deepening of relationships in which their concern has cocooned me and kept me safe.
I do get a lot of questions as I talk about pursuing rest. Mainly, What IS rest, anyway? What does that mean? What does that look like?! And I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that almost every single person I’ve told that I’m pursuing rest right now has asked me those questions. It’s caused me to face the reality that rest is not valued or taught in our culture, but our souls are curious and needy for it. The ridiculous thing is that 8 months in, I still can’t answer those questions well; however, I have gotten to the point where I can articulate what rest is not.
1. Rest is not accidental. Rest doesn’t happen by chance. It doesn’t just happen by accident as I’m going about my day. I have to not just be intentional about planning rest, but super intentional. Plus, it’s not just a matter of planning time for rest, but planning exactly what I’m going to do during that time; if I just set aside a block of time for rest but don’t plan what I will do during the time, I will fill it other ways. I’ll end up on social media or planning the week’s meals or reading my book—anything except resting. And this might mean that I have to sacrifice something else in order to protect that time. If I’ve scheduled rest time while Ann is at preschool Thursday morning, and then a friend asks me for coffee during that block of time, I have to be willing to tell my friend that I’m sorry, I have other plans and can we schedule for another time. I have to be willing to make rest a priority.
2. Rest is not the opposite of busyness. This was one of the first lessons I learned. When I first was having health issues, my doctor and PT told me I needed to cut back on my schedule as much as possible. But when I looked at my calendar, it wasn’t really that full—definitely not any fuller than any other mama. I did it anyway, even closing my piano studio, which near broke my heart. Suddenly having a bunch of free time to think revealed something important to me: it doesn’t matter how much or how little free time I have to rest. What matters is that I am using the rest time effectively! If I have a full schedule and only have 30 minutes every Monday to rest, am I using that time productively or am I squandering it? Before I started on this journey, I can honestly say that I not only had sufficient time to rest, but that I was definitely squandering it.
3. Rest is not escape. This is how I was squandering my rest time: instead of using my rest time to actually rest, I was using it to escape. Rest requires engagement of the soul, even if the physical body is inactive—resting acknowledges the state of the heart and the need for its decompression. Perhaps for some people this will be a more active physical practice than for others; this is where the definition of rest differs for everyone. I have learned that for me, I find rest in yoga, tapping, meditation, taking walks, sewing, and crying.
[Yes, crying, and this is how I do it, if you’re interested: I ask the Lord to give me a 2-3 word prayer, often Lord, have mercy. I then sit quietly before the Lord in a dark space, take deep breaths, and pray the prayer in tandem with my breathing. I allow myself to feel the implications of my prayer—why is this a prayer of my heart? Why do I need God’s mercy? What are the areas of my soul that are desperate for his mercy? And as I search my heart and draw near to God in this simple prayer, the tears inevitably come. I allow them to fall until I feel finished, cleansing my soul as it pours out its groans to Jesus. When I’m done, I feel like a child who has had a good cry. When I first started this, I would feel tired, but as I grow in the discipline of rest, I don’t feel as tired anymore—simply refreshed and restored, at peace and grateful for God’s care. I do this weekly.]
I know some people find rest in being very physical—running or mountain biking or hiking, for example. Maybe some people find rest in watching tv or reading or listening to podcasts, but for me, these things are distractions that lead me to escapism. I’ve learned this about myself, so during my scheduled rest time, I avoid my phone, computer, tv, books, or anything I know that will invite me to escape instead of invite my heart to calm down.
4. Rest is not sleep. As I type that, it seems silly to say, but what I mean is that while sleep is certainly necessary, sleep doesn’t provide the spiritual rest our hearts need. Soul care is so much more than a good night’s sleep. That said, I’ve learned that in order to offer my heart rest, I do need a good night’s sleep. If I am getting good sleep on a regular basis, I am more mentally focused and present and able to make good decisions. I am also able to be more emotionally available to my husband and children. But if you feel weary and are getting plenty of sleep, this is probably why—your soul needs rest. That rest is found in Christ, and he provides countless beautiful ways to experience it according to your design.
5. Rest is not easy. This season has been one of the most challenging spiritual seasons of my Christian walk. Americans don’t like to rest—we like to work hard and play hard. I feel like a weirdo telling people I’m looking for rest, and I feel like even more of a weirdo trying to do it. My faith is weak, and trying to trust the Lord in this has been so hard. Yet God is gracious, ever the kind shepherd, leading me to still waters, never letting me go, always meeting me where I am. As I clumsily take these tiny steps toward Jesus, I cling to Matthew 11:28-30 (Msg): Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.