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Making Time to Rest

Rest... this topic is not my forte. In fact, my motto has pretty much been: I’ll rest when I die.

It’s possible that this runs in my family. My brother’s saying every Friday is: Only two more working days until Monday.

Having said that, I’ll acknowledge this as a growing edge. My wife has been good for me and I slow down more than I ever have, I take time to enjoy more moments, and I stop to smell more proverbial flowers. But, doing and producing has always been more valued than resting and being.

Last week we talked about Jesus sending the disciples out in pairs to spread his message. This week they’ve returned and were bursting with stories of how it went. While they are trying to share all of this, people keep coming and going, presumably wanting something from Jesus and the disciples. Frankly, I'm surprised that Jesus didn't greet them with something like, "Thank God you're back, we're got work to do!" Instead, Jesus, being the good leader that he is, realizes that his disciples have poured out a lot of themselves and their energy over the past weeks (or months… who knows) and they need time to fill up again.

Jesus said to them, “Come away by yourselves to someplace more remote, and rest awhile.” For there were many people coming and going, and the apostles hadn’t had time to eat. So they went away in a boat to a deserted area. (Mark 6:31-32)

Unfortunately, they didn’t actually get to rest because the crowds followed them, but if they had, I picture them just chilling for a few days. Sleeping, going out fishing and enjoying some good fire-roasted fish together, laughing and talking, taking time to pray and to let Jesus fill them spiritually.

I once heard the definition of “burnout” as “giving that which you don’t have to give.” Trying to squeeze more hours into a day by cutting back on your sleep time, your relationship time, your exercise time. Trying to put on a happy face and dredge up some energy to give out, even when you’ve been burning the candle at both ends and are exhausted with really no energy to give. Trying to be the best parent, or caregiver, or partner you can be by being attentive and present and doing everything you can for that person without regard for your own needs or well-being.

My guess is that we’ve all done these things at one time or another. Rest becomes a pipe dream. But we all also know that rest (and I’m not just talking about sleep, because I believe it is more than that) is essential to our emotional, physical and spiritual well-being.

What is rest? That sounds like a silly question, but perhaps it needs fleshing out beyond taking a nap. Rest is non-productive time with no deadlines, no expectations and no pressure. Rest renews us body, mind and spirit. Rest gives our minds a break from worrying, planning, and fixing. It can be physically stopping, but it could also be something that fills you up like gardening, fishing, walking, knitting, or reading a book. 

Winter is coming. It’s nature’s time to rest. I’d like to say I’m looking forward to that, but I’ve already got a list of things I want to get done!

Author, Martha Beck, writes about the ebbs and flows in life and says that “humans are the only creature in nature that resist the pattern of ebb and flow.  We want the sun to shine all night, and when it doesn’t we create cities that never sleep.  Seeking a continuous energetic and emotional high, we use everything from exciting parties to illegal chemicals. But natural ebbs – the darkness between days, the emptiness between fill-ups, the fallow time between growing seasons – are the necessary complements of upbeats.”

When to rest?  Beck says, "when you feel totally stressed out, when it seems that everything is going wrong all at once, when all the easy things turn out difficult, when life is inviting you to sink into rest.  To some degree, you’ll feel blocked, tense, joyless, weepy, weak and hopeless (I'd add cranky, short-tempered).  Strangely, you’ll probably feel certain that simply resting – doing nothing when nothing works – would be disastrous.  This is the lie of the crazed human ego, resisting the natural peaks and troughs that define all nature.  See through it.”

We need a rhythm of rest in our lives.  Author Joyce Rupp wrote a book of reflections on her 450 mile walk down the Camino De Santiago pilgrimage trail in Spain.  And she talked about how resting is not an American trait and Siesta is not a part of our lifestyle.  Yet she and her walking partner (who were both around 60 at the time) learned to take a quiet pause of ten or twenty minutes every couple of miles and that little bit of time refreshed their bodies and spirits so that they could walk the extensive miles each day with greater ease and with less of a spirit of “grudging endurance.” 

I say this over and over again: the spiritual journey is a journey of awareness. We need to pay attention to ourselves, our lives, our physical health and recognize when we aren’t getting the physical, emotional and spiritual rest we need, and then make sure we take it. Only we can make resting and regenerating an important part of our lives. If we don’t, we burn out, start snapping at people, resent our obligations, don’t think as clearly, and are miserable to be around. Take an honest look at yourself. On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) how good are you at resting when you need to?

Wayne Muller, in his book Sabbath, writes about living in Santa Fe and learning the miracle of planting bulbs as a novice gardener. He spent hours pouring through bulb catalogues and ordering a grand assortment of bulbs that he planted in the fall. Well, sure enough, come April those flowers were poking up little green leaves through the cold ground. Unfortunately, two days later they were all gone, eaten down to the ground. Someone had neglected to tell him about the jack rabbits. The same thing happened for the next two years, and he graciously philosophized that rabbits are God’s creatures as well and were benefitting from his garden. Then he decided to build a fence.

The local nursery told him that a small, ten inch fence would be enough to deter them. Even though they could jump right over it, they would most likely choose to eat the abundant grasses and weeds without going to the work of jumping the fence. It worked. The next spring he had a beautiful spring garden bursting with a multitude of colors.

We’ve all probably justified our constant doing by saying that the “jack rabbits” needed us, that only we could do whatever needs to be done, that it has to get done now, only to push and push through until we wore ourselves out, depleted ourselves energy, and got sick, or burnt out. Perhaps we need to put a metaphorical fence around our resting time and keep those darn jack rabbits from eating our flowers before they get a chance to bloom. We deserve to bloom just like everyone else.

Jesus was smart enough to encourage the disciples to take a break, take care of themselves for a bit. We can learn from that example. I know that when I do take time to stop, relax, breathe and enjoy, I feel better for it.

Love & Light!