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‘In returning and rest’

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I am a goal-setter. I love the way hope unfolds on the pages of a new planner at the beginning of a new year. Everything seems possible. At least it did. For years and years, I’d stubbornly set goals and optimistically expect to achieve them. Many times, I did. I dreamed up big projects and then pushed through to see them to completion. I quantified fitness and then pushed to check all the boxes. I started the year striving and I kept striving. 

Last year was different, though. Last year, I set goals, and by March I didn’t even look at the goal-planning book anymore. So far off the course was I, that I didn’t have to look to know that those goals were going to remain unachieved. I was sick for most of last year, and I didn’t achieve work goals or home goals or fitness goals at all. But I did make spiritual progress to which I never aspired. So when I look over that goal-planning book, and I’m tempted to call the entire year a loss, I reconsider. Gains were made that could not have ever been quantified in my careful planning. And they were made when I surrendered to stillness.

Much of the “progress” (that’s the wrong word, but I can’t find another) is precious and personal and not for publication. There is something that should be recorded and shared, though. Rest is invaluable if one wants to grow. We are not a society that encourages or supports rest. That’s a shame because I have a sense that it is the people who understand the value of rest who are the ones who really are able to make genuine progress in any realm. 

The world rewards effort. It drives us to strive to do more, and when we do it rewards us with affirmation and acclaim. Our effort is rewarded in the public square. But that is not the Gospel’s message. God calls us to trust more, to surrender more, to rest more: “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Is 30:15).

Do we live as if we can find strength in quietness? In a culture that exalts productivity and self-promotion, can we believe that quiet trust will strengthen us? The human response when we fall short of the goals we set for ourselves — the accomplishment goals — is discouragement. The human response is to push harder and work more. The human response is striving. More than ever, we are encouraged to be more and do more. Social media and podcasts and cable television have reached a frenzied crescendo of voices telling us how to be the best parent or the fittest body or the most excellent worker or the best friend. There is certainly good advice to be had on any topic imaginable; there’s something for every goal. But there is also so much of it and it’s so loud, and very little of what is presented in any media truly echoes the voice of God.  

Can you hear him in the noise? He’s calling you to trust him, to rest in him. He’s calling you to reconsider the goals you set and re-align them with his purposes for your life. He is telling you that you don’t have to do it all, all by yourself. He wants to change the way you live.

God doesn’t want your accomplishments and he isn’t interested in your accolades. He wants your surrender. He doesn’t need you to orchestrate everything. He wants you to let him be the conductor of your life. He doesn’t want you to run hard and fast (and let’s be honest: scared). He is not about frantic pushing to the point of exhaustion. 

He wants you to repose in him. To trust. To be still and know that he is God (Ps 46:10). To genuinely trust in God is not a passive endeavor. Repose is not lazy. It is a conscious effort to lay down one’s illusion of control and one’s idolatry of activity and to surrender to a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity (1 Tm 2:2). Doesn’t that sound better than the alternative?

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, writes from Northern Virginia.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020