Rest

Just before Mother’s Day, somewhere over Omaha or Albuquerque, I struggled with both my oversize carry-on and a nagging anxiety to be flying twelve hundred miles toward an extended weekend of sun and sleep. Normally a person who eagerly anticipates travel, I wondered about my lackluster attitude to sneak away with my husband for a short break from our daily grind.

Even as I recognized our burnout, I recalled the previous months of relentless work and 24/7 parenting and clingy sickness and significant home repairs and began a familiar process of mental hyperventilation, a collection of frantic and spastic reactions to all that remained unfinished and uncertain. I felt compelled to go home, to further throw myself into The List and never cease until all the work was done. Surely then I could find the margin to breathe and suntan.

It is a tempting anxiety, yes?

As I wrestled with it, a question began to surface, “What perspective shift did I need to move from relentless efficiency to rest?” The only obvious answer at that point was an inevitable outcome if really-truly rest wasn’t eventually discovered which was the scary suggestion that much of my God-given good work could become completely ineffective without it.

We arrived in Phoenix at lunchtime. We took a taxi to our hotel and were promptly ushered to a fancy table with a menu that read things like plugra brioche, caramelized yogurt and pistachio brittle. The luxury was a bit shocking as if we had actually just disembarked from a Virgin Galactic flight to Branson’s own private planet.

It took all of five minutes to grow accustomed to being pampered, at which point it became difficult not to whip out a smart phone for a dozen highly-filtered epic selfies. But, resist we did, and therein lies the most precious treasure of what became an unforgettable trip.

Over four gorgeous desert Spring days, we found rest in restraint. All that was unmet, undone, unearned, unanswered and un-won was abandoned to rather be still. At first, it was so hard. The urge to get up early each morning to tackle another nearby rock-lined summit? Undone. The nagging desire to check in on the kids-the feeds-the index-the score-the news? Unmet. The urgency to address all the ways I felt inadequate when given a stretch of quiet hours to reflect? Ignored. Desperately, over and over. The temptation to justify the time away with productive brainstorming? Unearned.

While leaning into a deep thirst to get some much-needed respite and with ample time to unwrap my angst, these surprising invitations eventually became clear:

The permission to rest.

This world and its king, the Accuser, encourage many things, none of which is stillness. It can be very hard to be still at the cost of some other allegedly lucrative thing, but God created it for us and expects it of us. It is the best investment of our time with tremendous fruit waiting for those who seek it. A period of pause allows us to celebrate our dependence on God’s abundance, to wonder at his glory. To refuse rest is to reject the opportunity to admire with God his handiwork in and around us, to take undue full credit for our own work.

“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God…Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God…You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant with you.” (Deut 8:10-18)

“For if Joshua had given [the Israelites] rest [by entering the Promised Land], God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by…disobedience.” (Heb 4:8-11)

Rest is not gotten but entered, a state of being rather than any place. It is a nonnegotiable part of being a believer, a step of obedience and a mark of faith to regularly suspend anxious activity for a moment or more. Yet, what happens next? When we’ve ceased to strive, trusting that a moment of rest will bring greater fruit than what we might ourselves otherwise accomplish, what then?

The presence to rest.

Rest is not waiting (for the kids to come home from school, the babysitter to arrive, the post office to open, the knight in shining armor, et al.) Rest is not rumination. Rest is not reworking a to-do list, even if it’s done sitting down in a quiet place. Rest is not watching E! or surfing social media feeds. Rest is not the absence of noise. Rest is not always the absence of other people. Rest is not quitting. Rest is not shutting down but coming awake.

A soul at rest is fully engaged with the present moment. To be fully present is to remove all self-consciousness. As my husband says, “Being absent from the body is being present with the Lord.” If the members of our body wage death, then getting out of our skin breaths life.

This is often the hardest part (for me). Slowing down isn’t always difficult but shedding layers of turmoil from our nervous system, restraining from the distraction of endless stimuli, abandoning the running ticker of obligations and insecurities in our mind to come and stay awake often is. Perhaps this is what the Lord means when he asks us to deny ourselves during his Sabbath rest.

“Do no work on that day…It is a sabbath of rest for you, and you must deny yourselves.” (Lev 23:32)

What do we find in this finely tuned, focused and expectant posture?

The promise in rest.

God’s promises bring certainty as growing faith in those promises decreases uncertainty. A simple formula, it means that all the anxiety I carry over what is uncertain becomes an acceptance of what is unknown and unfinished to rest in the grace of what is promised.

“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (Is 55:12)

“I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years…You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new. I will make my dwelling place among you…I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people….I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.” (Lev 25:21, 26:10-13)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30)

What if our cross was never meant to be heavy? What happens when we exchange obligation for obedience, rejecting an overbearing drive for a simple call to remember our rescue, to pursue only the things and people God calls us after and nothing else? To trust rather than determine?

On our last morning we spent the final hours poolside before boarding a homebound plane. Face upturned, it came suddenly as the sky in my lungs, a bold vision on my lips and a heart without any wanting margin, the fullness of peace.

2 Comments

  1. Cutrt Hinkle

    I love The Message rendition of Matt. 11:28-30:
    “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

    1. Andrea Ursel

      Freely and lightly…such a seeming paradox in this life but totally possible if we will come and stay awake to this grace you mention (I love the idea of coming and staying awake and must give all credit for it to C.S. Lewis!) Thank you, Curt!

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