Rest. It shouldn’t be counter-cultural, but in today’s world, it is. We can think that the times have changed, and we can pine for a time when rest was something that people regularly did. But rest has always been elusive for the American culture. It is evident in our “pull yourself by your own bootstraps” mentality. Collectively, we praise those who over-work and give side looks to those who aren’t pulling themselves up. (Even as we ignore the fact that many of those we give side looks to don’t have bootstraps to pull.)
“The number one enemy of Christian spiritual formation today is exhaustion,” writes Jim Smith in his book The Good and Beautiful God. This is a bold proclamation, but I believe it is right. We are tired and worn out – and we aren’t even aware of it.
Surely the need for rest is not a new development, nor is the instruction from God to rest a new instruction. God commanded the people: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work…” (Exodus 20: 8– 10 NRSV).
If I may be honest with you all, this is a command that I have a hard time obeying. Not because I want to rebel but because I want to work. I want to do all that I can. I want to be available for everyone and help when I can.
At the end of the day, we are not defined by our work. When we work all the time, when we fail to take the time to rest, it can and will be detrimental to our health and well-being. Not just physically but also emotionally, mentally, relationally, and spiritually.
I think we often fail to consider that we must choose to rest or else we’re likely to have rest forced upon us when we are exhausted to the point of physical, mental, or emotional distress. Have you ever found yourself forced to your bed after pushing yourself too hard? Me, too.
Mark 4 records the story of an evening when Jesus and his closest followers set out across the Sea of Galilee by boat. Tired from his time with the crowds of people, Jesus is lulled to sleep by the rocking of the boat. When a heavy storm arises, his friends are filled with fear, and in their frightened state they question Jesus’ motives. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” they demand (Mark 4:38, NRSV).
What they don’t realize is that Jesus’ sleep is a sign of his trust and confidence in his Father. Jesus understands that God has power over everything, including nature itself. Jesus’ word to the wind and waves is also his word to his followers both then and now, “Peace! Be still!”
There will always be more work to do, just as there will always be storms. When we practice the discipline of rest, others may question us, and we may doubt ourselves. But at its heart, practicing the discipline of rest is an act of trust: a statement of confidence in God.
Will that work pile up while we rest? Perhaps.
Travis Segar, Pastor for Care and Community