When my kids were really small, I used to dream about spending a night alone in a hotel. With a big bed all to myself, in which I could sleep for as long as I wanted. Nothing sounded as appealing or indulgent (or as out of reach) as just sleeping, maybe for days on end.
I’m no longer in the stage of life where I’m that desperate for sleep, but I still long for rest, and I still have an uneasy relationship with rest. I often write here about the busyness of life, but it’s harder to write about its corollary: resting. I recently attended a writers’ retreat where our kickoff session focused on rest, and my first reaction was discomfort. Rest? I thought. My schedule is packed. I’m here to accomplish things! I already felt conflicted enough about leaving my family for a weekend of writing workshops. How could I justify resting?
Why does the idea of rest sometimes make us feel guilty, like it’s something we have to explain or have an excuse to do?
I think we fear being perceived as lazy or non-achieving or, let’s face it, non-American.
Yet we all know that from the earliest pages of the Bible, God called us to rest and even set aside an entire day for us to do so, something we mostly like to ignore unless it’s convenient. When I first saw the movie “Chariots of Fire,” I was surprised at the runner who wasn’t willing to run on Sundays because of his faith. I wasn’t running any races on Sunday, but despite being a cradle Christian it honestly wouldn’t have occurred to me not to do so.
When I was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer several years ago when my daughter was a newborn, my friend Joanne described chemo as enforced “me time.” I was struck by her words. Now we would probably call it self-care. Chemotherapy as self-care! (Nobody’s written that women’s magazine article yet.) I thought about her words a lot during the months I was in active treatment. No one can say exactly why I got breast cancer, but I certainly wondered if my lack of rest and constant tiredness might have been a contributing factor. Here, now, was an opportunity to rest, and it felt okay for once to take it. With the incredible gift of my mother staying with us for many of my months of treatment, I was able to take naps and leisurely walks with my newborn in her snug wrap. I rested (in a way I certainly hadn’t after the births of my two older children).
Now, years out from my cancer diagnosis, I still have this occasional struggle with whether resting is REALLY okay.
The rhythm of our lives is meant to contain times of rest. Intentional rest. Rest isn’t all we do, but it’s an important balance to the other rhythms of work and family life. How are we supposed to accomplish all we want to do if we don’t make time to rest?
And maybe it’s helpful if we talk about what rest might actually look like. It’s not nodding off in front of Netflix, as much as my 10:30 pm self sometimes thinks so. It doesn’t have to mean sleeping or napping, although I really love both of those things. Ask any of my kids what inevitably happens when I read to them on the couch after school pickup. Sometimes I barely get through the book or the chapter before I conk out.
Rest is about renewal and recharging, and that can be more than simply sleep. In my life, I’ve come to recognize solitude and silence as key components of rest. If I don’t have time and space to be alone with my thoughts, I quickly start to feel frazzled and stressed. I’ve recognized that I need to carefully guard my times of silence, making sure I don’t always fill them with podcasts, playlists, and other silence-killers. Reading is also restful for me. Reading in my bathtub even more so.
And as one of our retreat speakers, Dorina Lazo Gilmore-Young, reminded us, rest isn’t always about being still. For me, exercise can be rest. Running or other exercise has always been calming for me. On days when my anxiety is high, I make sure to exercise, knowing that it will leave me feeling more calm and peaceful. It feels renewing in a different way than taking a nap. Maybe for you rest looks more like walking, hiking, knitting, or baking. Just as these repetitious activities can allow us space for prayer, particularly if we are intentional about it, they can also be forms of rest and renewal.
When do we rest? I think it’s important to try to have some form of rest every day, whatever that may look like to you. I have a notepad with a daily to-do list that I keep in front of my computer monitor, and I love that one of the categories is self-care. I fill that box in and I try to check it off. Every day.
Also, for our family, Sunday can be a mutual time of rest and renewal.
I’m not always successful at setting Sunday aside. Despite all the sermons and even small group and book discussions I’ve heard over the years about the importance of remembering the Sabbath, I still sometimes view Sunday as a day to get to all the home projects and even catch up on a bit of work. As the mom of three kids who all play sports, sometimes on Sundays, I do find myself occasionally thinking about that Chariots of Fire guy. I don’t have a perfect answer to these ongoing conflicts, but I have realized that when we lose our Sunday morning breakfast and church routine to a soccer or baseball game, we need to make up with family time elsewhere (similar to the way pastors often take their Sabbath on Mondays).
Personally, my perfect Sunday is eating a leisurely breakfast (made by my husband, which is certainly part of the appeal), going to 10:30 church, coming home to read on the couch with any kids who want to join me (this almost inevitably leads to a nap on the couch), going for a run, rewarding myself with a long bath (with a book, obviously), and then having dinner with friends. Of course, these things don’t all happen every Sunday. Sometimes, none of them do, particularly in a crazy month like December, but all of those things are forms of rest, and they all renew me in their own ways.
I know it’s December, and your to-do list is dauntingly long. There is so much to do, so much to buy, so much mandatory festivity! So add your favorite kind of rest to your to-do list and take it as seriously as you do that teacher gift or Christmas card mailing or perfect Christmas present for that hard-to-buy-for relative–or whatever is presently occupying your mind. Maybe that’s your Christmas gift to yourself.
I would love to hear from you. What does rest look like in your life? How are you making sure to allow for rest in this busy time?