Enough: the power of rest, rhythm, and “no”

My recent vacation was a gift in every way.  Seeing our oldest daughter in her world was a gift.  Being in the places I travel for work, without working (and without snow), was a gift.  Receiving the vacation as a gift from the church I lead was deeply encouraging.  Enjoying fellowship with close friends who live in Europe was a gift.  And, significantly, there was the gift of a lesson learned….

We live in a world of objectives where success is defined, often, by “how much”:  How much work can you get done on your shift?  How many pages did you write today?  How many sales contacts did you make? How many things did you check off your bucket list this year? I set my week up by naming the roles of my life (teacher/writer – leader/visionary – shepherd – family – personal well being) and filling each of those boxes with goals that will move me forward in my life calling.  That way, it’s rare for me to find myself sitting around saying, “what should I do today?” I just look at the list, and BOOM!  I’m off to do something.

I took this mindset into my vacation.  Bike through vineyards in France.  Hike from hut to hut to hut in the Alps.  Climb in the Dachstein on a Klettersteig.  Paraglide on the last day with my friend.  There – that ought to maximize my time in Europe!

Well, things didn’t exactly work out that way.  Instead of biking through vineyards in France, how about cornfields in Germany?  Klettersteig day?  Rainning.  Not possible.  We spent the rainy day sleeping in, wandering shops, visiting friends, reading, and taking our daughter out for supper.  Paragliding?  Again, it was raining and too cold, so we enjoyed a day hike to a hut, where we drank cocoa and bonded with mountain sheep.

In summary, the trip was less than I’d planned, but perfect in every way.  God the weather maker imposed a marvelous rhythm on our time, and it taught me something priceless:  I don’t need to do everything. I don’t need to “maximize” my life by driving myself to accumulate: experiences, possessions, influence.  In looking back, not only at vacation, but at the sometimes “type A” way I approach life, I began to see some important truths:

1. My drive is too often born from fear and insecurity rather than obedience – I’m afraid of missing something, afraid that if I don’t do, I won’t be significant.  Somehow this trip reminded me that I won’t do everything, and that I’m significant not because I do, but because God loves me.

Over breakfast one morning a friend was saying, “Did you know there’s a 33 day ‘hut to hut’ trip from Lucerne in Switzerland to Venice, straight through the Alps?”

Of course my first thought was, “When do we go?”, but right on the heels of that, my mind reminded me, “but you want to hike the Pacific Crest trail from Canada to Mexico, and climb all the Pacific Volcanoes, and…”  On the train later that morning, I realized how unhappy I make myself when I set random lofty goals, goals I’ll never reach, goals that, when I don’t reach them, will make me feel lazy.  I learned, that day, to stop this nonsense.  I’m finite.  I don’t need to climb every volcano, let alone hike to Venice.  Like Martha, I’ve grown “concerned about many things”:  church life, teaching at Bible schools, investing time in developing countries with pastors, writing, becoming best friends with all my neighbors, hiking from Canada to Mexico, and now from Switzerland to Italy. And then I said to my insecure, ambitious self:  “STOP!  YOU ARE KILLING ME!” – And I did.  I moved from the many things of Martha back to where rest can be found, which is learning again to become occupied with the “one thing” of Mary.

2. Life is infinite. One of things that’s liberating is the reminder that we don’t need to miss out on anything.  My moment of perfection in Alps (that’s the picture above) was sort of like a movie trailer; a reminder that’s there more, and even better, yet to come.  Life’s not finite basket of heartbeats that we’re going to use up and then we decompose.  Life’s eternal and “the greatest hits” will be there later.  I can, perhaps hike to Venice in eternity, and if not, there’ll be something so much better than I won’t even miss it.

3. Saying no is liberating. When we woke to rain on that planned day of climbing, I couldn’t understand why I was so relieved.  This was, of all things, the “highest” (pun intended) on my list.  What I learned that day is that my lists are often random rather than thoughtful, lustful rather than purposeful.  My lists are sometimes borne of my desire to be infinite, rather than my humble “yes” that comes in response to God’s promptings.  I needed, not a challenging climb up a rocky ridge after 3 days of hiking/scrambling/climbing in the Alps; I needed a shower, and a book, and the maturity to say “enough”.

And that, as much as anything, was a gift (tariff free) that I’ve brought home from vacation.

O Lord of all rhythms;

Thanks you for day and night, winter and summer, sleep and activity, work and rest.  Teach us to listen for your voice, that we might learn the rhythms of grace, and so display your beauty, hope, creativity, and rest, in the precious gift of the days you’ve given us.  Amen

Here are some highlights, if you have 10 minutes.

 

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • sp

    oh man…you’re making me thirsty. I love that part of the world. Spent 6 weeks in Schladming in ’89. Love it.

    So glad you could have this time, Richard. Love your message here.

  • sp

    oh man…you’re making me thirsty. I love that part of the world. Spent 6 weeks in Schladming in ’89. Love it.

    So glad you could have this time, Richard. Love your message here.

  • http://www.timthurmansblog.blogspot.com Tim Thurman

    So a few years ago, I was at Forest Home and this awesome speaker (yes, it was you) told us that the Christian life is not about striving — more about simply holding on to God’s coattails and letting him move us along. That is a poor summary, but that is one thing I remember you taught. It is so hard to do though. Why is that? Is it b/c the world tells us we constantly have to set goals to be successful? Is setting goals wrong? Or is it simply a matter of setting goals but being flexible with them b/c God might have a different agenda?

  • http://www.timthurmansblog.blogspot.com Tim Thurman

    So a few years ago, I was at Forest Home and this awesome speaker (yes, it was you) told us that the Christian life is not about striving — more about simply holding on to God’s coattails and letting him move us along. That is a poor summary, but that is one thing I remember you taught. It is so hard to do though. Why is that? Is it b/c the world tells us we constantly have to set goals to be successful? Is setting goals wrong? Or is it simply a matter of setting goals but being flexible with them b/c God might have a different agenda?

  • http://looktothenorth.wordpress.com/ Scott Sund

    RD:
    Love your quote, “Saying no is liberating.” It is awesome for you, as our leader, to empower us in the fine art of refusal. I, like you, am a guy who thrives on getting things done, rocking the to-do list, and going after the biggest goals. But there is a lot of SELF in my efforts where subconsciously I’m creating a reality where maybe I don’t need others if I can do enough on my own. And inadvertently I start to live with the false paradigm that somehow my faith isn’t the thing that sustains me, it is my ability to “do.” In this busy season of my life I was strengthened and encouraged by your words and reminded that my Father God wants me only to “be” with Him and He can do the rest. Nice words.

  • http://looktothenorth.wordpress.com/ Scott Sund

    RD:
    Love your quote, “Saying no is liberating.” It is awesome for you, as our leader, to empower us in the fine art of refusal. I, like you, am a guy who thrives on getting things done, rocking the to-do list, and going after the biggest goals. But there is a lot of SELF in my efforts where subconsciously I’m creating a reality where maybe I don’t need others if I can do enough on my own. And inadvertently I start to live with the false paradigm that somehow my faith isn’t the thing that sustains me, it is my ability to “do.” In this busy season of my life I was strengthened and encouraged by your words and reminded that my Father God wants me only to “be” with Him and He can do the rest. Nice words.

  • Erin Good

    What a beautiful and timely post! I’m approaching my three-month wedding anniverary and, after spending the past year planning a wedding and wedding-related events and activities, plus having a work trip thrown in, I’ve been having a hard time just taking this summer to rest and enjoy being a newlywed. I’ve felt agitated and restless, afraid that if I’m not planning something, I’ll just slip into years of boring routine. I’ve been having to give myself talks this week about embracing a period of rest and trusting that there will be new things to look forward to in the future.

    The part you wrote about setting up lofty goals and then feeling lazy for not accomplishing them also hits home. Every week, I enter the weekend with a to-do list that is far too long and then I go to bed Sunday nights feeling like a failure for not meeting my own expectations.

    This beautiful post is a topic I’ve been wrestling with lately so, to read it this morning is very appropriate. Thank you for helping me to give myself permission to just relax and enjoy the summer with my new husband!

  • Erin Good

    What a beautiful and timely post! I’m approaching my three-month wedding anniverary and, after spending the past year planning a wedding and wedding-related events and activities, plus having a work trip thrown in, I’ve been having a hard time just taking this summer to rest and enjoy being a newlywed. I’ve felt agitated and restless, afraid that if I’m not planning something, I’ll just slip into years of boring routine. I’ve been having to give myself talks this week about embracing a period of rest and trusting that there will be new things to look forward to in the future.

    The part you wrote about setting up lofty goals and then feeling lazy for not accomplishing them also hits home. Every week, I enter the weekend with a to-do list that is far too long and then I go to bed Sunday nights feeling like a failure for not meeting my own expectations.

    This beautiful post is a topic I’ve been wrestling with lately so, to read it this morning is very appropriate. Thank you for helping me to give myself permission to just relax and enjoy the summer with my new husband!

  • sarah

    So, so, so necessary for me to hear at this time in my life. I’ve felt listless and directionless in these last few weeks post-graduation, haunted by this nagging guilt that I don’t have an amazing job lined up or even a real sense of what I want to do in life.

    Recently, a dear friend gave me the word “interruption” and asked me to intentionally take a season to allow God to interrupt my to-do lists with HIS agenda for me–i.e., allowing myself to have an unexpected conversation, taking in the unexpected beauty of nature, etc. It has been difficult for this Type A personality, but I know God is refreshing me in ways I would not have experienced if I insisted on remaining frantically busy and accomplishing everything I think I need to accomplish to be happy and valuable. Thank you for being another, independent voice reminding us that such seasons (or even snatches of moments) are important for our spiritual health–not to mention they keep us humble before the wise and good will of God.


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