In defense of rest

It’s midsummer. How is your resolution to rest, relax and restore coming along? Are you feeling rejuvenated, refreshed and revitalized? Not so much?

 

Me neither. I confess; I’m a terrible at rest. I’m not good at creating rhythms of rest, nor am I good at the hurry-up-and-rest imperative of vacation. The only thing I have to offer in my defense is that I live with someone who is even less competent at intentional rest than I am.

 

Rest requires margin — white space in our days, our weeks, our months and our years. Vacations are especially helpful in inspiring rest because the change in geography forces us onto a new canvas, presumably blanker than the one we left at home. (I do admit I’ve seen vacations that look more like paint-by-numbers, where the plan is to color every space just so.)

 

Rest — both the vacation kind and the kind at home — is a kindness we pay to our souls. I’m resisting the overused, ironically tired, term “self-care,” and opting instead to remind myself that rest is an answer that most comes to mind if I ask myself the question I so often ask others: What can I do for you?

 

That is the question God asks me every day, if only I still myself and quiet my inner monologue enough to hear His voice. He wants me to articulate my need to rest. It’s right there; He’s asking me to ask Him. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). The simplicity startles me out of my weary stupor. Just ask, He says, I’ll show you how.

 

I wonder. What would it look like to ask for rest in the same way I ask prayers of protection over my children, prayers for healing over my father, prayers of gratitude over news of new life? What would it look like to prioritize rest in such a way that I acknowledge the need for divine intervention to make it happen? And what if, instead of relegating rest to a week at the beach in July (which regretfully isn’t even going to happen this year), I were intentional about the rhythm of rest? What if rest plans were penciled into my planner the way meal plans and workout plans are? What if I insisted that rest and genuine recreation (not the soccer practice and dance rehearsal variety) become a part of our family culture?

 

Even for the most driven person, rest makes good sense. If we are rested, we are more productive. That’s a universally accepted truth. So, even from a purely productivity-driven perspective, rest should be a priority. People who run without resting are depleted. They are part of a workforce that is not functioning at its optimal efficiency.

 

Christians who run without resting are out of sync with their Creator and His design for them.

 

When we sit to plan our days, we don’t usually think about when we will be still. When we plan our weeks, sadly, we rarely consider that a whole day should be designated for Sabbath rest. When we look over the intentional rhythms of our lives, we rarely considering that a life that depletes us. A life dictated by incessant motion and productivity — dries out our souls and withers our spirits. Time to “waste,” to breathe deeply, to listen well seems to lack value in the economy of our time management. We value time relative to productivity. We value worth relative to work rate.

 

I am reminded that God’s economy is the inverse of the world’s economy. In God’s economy, there is true value in stillness. God “works” in the silence. St. Teresa of Calcutta noted that “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in the noise and restlessness. God is a friend of the silence.”

 

Genuine rest affords us opportunity to pay attention to what God is stirring in our souls. To that end, we need to be intentional about planning small periods of rest into our daily lives and larger periods of rest into the rhythm of our year. We have to overcome our resistance to being still and “unproductive” and we need to be open to God’s plan for genuine leisure time. Being attuned to our bodies’ cues is imperative. If only we can acknowledge we are tired, then perhaps we can avoid the startling wake up that comes with crashing burnout.

 

Not only is it acceptable to have empty time, it’s highly desirable. Time that is not full of the cares of this world lies waiting, expectant. It is time that God can fill with goodness and beauty. It is time made available for His nurturing and His consolation. Rest is very good thing.

 

I know I need some. I’m guessing that you might, too.

 

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

@elizabethfoss