As a rule, I have traditionally been pretty bad at resting.
Not for lack of effort!
That being said, I am getting better at it, and am making it a much greater priority in my life.
Image via Pixabay
My troubles here cover a number of areas.
Since childhood, sleep itself has been difficult for me.
Even when I’m doing restful activities, I am not really resting.
A quiet night at home with my family is no guarantee of it truly being “down-time.”
As my wife once rightfully pointed out to me, “Even if you’re ‘present’ with us, you’re not always really ‘present.’”
That is a true story.
My mind has a tremendous tendency to wander, wonder, ponder, race, sometimes spiral, relive, revisit, unpack.
I have a hard time turning it down when I’m resting.
So, even my rest doesn’t always feel restful, as my mind is not at rest.
Today is Labour Day in Canada, where most people get a day off from work, and a nice long weekend, as summer comes to an end and as the kids had back to school this week.
It’s got me reflecting on “rest” in general, the importance of it, how it stands against our workaholic, “climb-the-ladder” culture, and how it ultimately comes to us as a blessing from God.
God has always had a vested interest in rest for His people. Even He Himself rested on the seventh day of Creation (Gen 2.1-3), setting an example for us to lay down our labour and let the world spin without us for a while.
Our word for this is Sabbath, which comes from the Hebrew shabbat, which literally means “the ceasing” – a time for all work to stop and for rest to be the priority.
Rest was so important to God that He actually made it a commandment (one of the Top Ten!), literally ordering us to take a break, even on penalty of death for Sabbath-breaking (Ex 20.8-11; 31.12-17; etc.).
And although that Old Covenant punishment of death for the Sabbath-breaker seems intense and severe, I think it actually says a lot more about our character than God’s character – we’re so bad at resting that the punishment was necessary to ensure that we actually did it!
In one of Jesus’ great promises and invitations, He says:
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mt 11.28-30)
“Rest for your souls!”
Doesn’t that sound truly amazing?
When life is busy and stressful and anxious and overwhelming, there is rest available, deep rest – always.
To me that’s the greatest part of the promise – true rest is available for our souls.
How do we access it? How do we remain in it?
As admitted, it’s an ongoing struggle for me, but I have and am learning some tips and tools to help make things better, and to help us avoid things that keep us from true rest:
- Make sleep a significant priority. I can’t always help how well I sleep, but sometimes I self-sabotage myself by staying up too late, eating heavy things before bed, staying on screens too long in the day, etc. As far as I am able, I work to prioritize a good night’s sleep.
- Watch what we eat. It’s not rocket science – when I eat garbage it adds stress and strain to my body, and when I eat well I feel better overall. Sugar and caffeine and bad carbs make my body and mind race – healthy food fuels my body and doesn’t add the extra mental/physical work that makes me feel tired.
- Leave the phone in the other room. When I get home from work my phone stays on the kitchen counter. I may check it from time to time, but I don’t have it on me at all in the evening. It’s too tempting to get distracted, or get into work-mode, or jump all-in with some Wikipedia-style rabbit-trail of information overload. Me and my phone need some time apart, as I seek rest for myself.
- Turn off work-related emails/messages when you get home. Everyone deserves a break from the stress of the work day. Although with broad loopholes, the province of Ontario recently passed a law mandating that employees have the “right to disconnect” when they are off the clock and employers cannot contact them. This is a good start! Emergencies can be engaged with, but most things are not emergencies and can wait 12 hours until the next work day.
- Leave social media off for multiple hours a day. It’s a great place to connect, and it’s also a great place to get distracted, discouraged, and lost in in the weeds. It has been proven very addictive, so this is a tough one, but I’ve started turning it off when my work day is over and not checking it again until the next work morning. It feels great.
- Put your phone on “do not disturb,” and turn off your push notifications so you are in control of when you receive messages. The constant buzzing and pinging of our phones obviously distract us from whatever we’re doing and pull us away from not only rest but also real work. They also do a real number on our mental health. We are not wired to be interrupted over and over again throughout the day. It kills our focus and robs our peace. And like social media, it’s proven addictive – next time you hear your phone ping or buzz, see how hard it is to not see what it is! Checking notifications manually every hour or two is a great rhythm that keeps you in the loop but gives your brain some freedom to breathe.
- Only check the news once a day. Some of us are happy to do even less! But we used to get the news typically once a day, in the morning paper or maybe the evening news. New technology bombards us with stories (typically bad ones) non-stop, most of which we can do nothing about except worry and pray, and that’s not great for our peace. It’s probably fair to say that we are not wired nor capable of carrying the emotional/mental weight of every tragedy on earth, but our phones give us non-stop access to such stories. Let’s discipline ourselves out of this unhealthy addiction.
- Cling to the activities/people that bring you joy. Without excuse or qualifier, unapologetically pursue things that make you happy and bring you peace. God has opened up countless avenues for joy and peace, which are blessings from Him. And if you’re not sure where to find these things, it’s time to go exploring! There is so much beauty in His world, even in small things – let us pursue it!
- Honour the Sabbath, but also daily rest times. In these times, do what is truly restful and refreshing. Your soul needs it!
- Draw close to the Lord. An obvious way to end, but this is an obviously Christian column! Prayer, worship, fellowship, Scripture, meditation, and many other spiritual practices – all are good for our souls, and engage us with His presence, where we ultimately find our true rest in Him.
As stated, I have struggled in this area, but I am getting better.
I see true rest as a promise of God that I want to pursue.
It is worth it!
May we all find the true rest for our souls that Jesus spoke of, and the peace and joy that comes when we do.
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