“Oh, that I had the wings of a dove, that I would fly away and be at rest.” David, King of Israel
I sense in the eyes and faces and voices I encounter a feeling of exhaustion. It seems recent studies agree.
According to a new Pew Research Center survey, Americans are feeling more stressed, tired, rushed and short on quality time with their children, friends, partners or hobbies than ever.
In her new book Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, Author Brigid Schulte lays out the case for why Americans are the most overwhelmed people on earth.
We are becoming a nation not only physically tired, but of tired souls—and who can say where our fatigue begins? Am I ‘soul’ tired because I do not get enough sleep? Or, am I physically tired because I cannot quiet my soul when I lie down at night?
I need a fresh understanding of a ‘rest’ that considers my whole being— a rest that can co-exist with our American obsession with performing, excelling, and getting stuff done seven-days a week. I need a rest that reaches beyond the physical to include the spiritual, mental and emotional nature of my experience of being a human.
Is it possible to discover and practice this holistic rest in the very midst of my activities?
Rest in the West-The Sabbath
There once was a time when as a nation we rested together — on a day set aside to ‘recreate’ ourselves through leisure activities with friends and family. The Jews called it the ‘Sabbath’, Christians called this day ‘The Lord’s Day’, and Muslims called it ‘Day of Prayer’.
“When practiced, Sabbath-keeping is an active protest against a culture that is always on, always available and always looking for something else to do.” Stephen W. Smith
The day had a special feel for it—maybe because it was a national day of rest. Only essential services were operating. Everyone else spent the day leisurely with family, attending church, and resting from work week activities. (Re: my poem The Lords Day)
Contemporary Contemplation & Rest
Today, our culture no longer supports this life balance between rest and work. It is left to each of us to find our way.
I feel that the inherited western ideal of rugged individualism and can-doism has outstripped our reality. Can I really do anything I put my mind to? My experience does not bear this out. I cannot do anything I would like to do. I can’t, on my own, effect even a small percentage of what I would like. When I spend my days expending energy trying to control outcomes I have invented for myself, I am exhausted well before the day is done.
And yet the author of the book of Hebrews writes;
For there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For whoever 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” Heb 4:10-11
To find this place of abiding rest, I must be open to a broader concept of rest. While it is true that I cannot nor should I become passive and not engage in my life, this holistic rest reaches beyond a cessation of activity.
It is a type of rest that requires I take a particular stance towards the constant stream of life. I first must recognize the source of this rest is the hidden ground of trust in something bigger and smarter than myself, or any other created thing
This was a hard-won discovery, for it requires that I let go of the illusion that I have within myself everything I need to sail through life. The flip side of this idea is where my exhaustion stems from – that everything that happens around me is all up to me, a totally exhausting thought on its own.
In classic recovery, there are three fundamental principles for achieving permanent sobriety, simplified in these phrases;
- I Can’t – (Manage or control people, events, circumstances, outcomes)
- God Can
- I think I’ll let him.
These three principles are also at the heart of the classic contemplative approach to life. It is an approach to life that resists the arrogant notion that everything is all up to me, and to how I perform or how long and hard I work. It is a dramatic and fundamental shift from Self-Reliance to reliance upon a caring God.
Practicing this is the key to learning how to move through life lightly—unattached to specific outcomes, trusting in God that I will be given guidance in where I should be working and the tools I need to do the work. As Jesus said, “My Yoke is easy, and my burden is light”.
Rest as a Spiritual Discipline
Here are a few suggestions for practicing the art of resting in your daily life
- Consecrate a day, an afternoon, or set hours to rest and leisure; “Spiritual Luxury” days -where you consecrate the day to stillness, resting from producing something Maybe it is more leisurely periods of reading and reflection. Maybe it is journaling for an hour or so. Maybe it is a time for a taking along, leisurely walk through the neighborhood or park.
- Practice moving from moment to moment with deliberate but gentle thought solely on the task at hand, without inventing expectations or demanding specific outcomes.
- I wash now this car, these dishes, these clothes. I teach now this class, facilitate now this meeting, mentor now this person. I measure now this distance, saw now this board, dig now this hole, read now this sentence.
- Cultivate an abiding reliance on Gods care and his grace by repeating a phrase throughout your day, such as;
- “Come Lord Jesus, come into my heart”
- “Lord Have mercy”
- “Your will, not mine”
- Create one from your own religious or cultural tradition…
To move through life ‘at rest’ is not passivity or quietism. It is a contemplative approach to the demands and rhythms of life—whether those demands impinge upon us from without in the form of life’s duties, or arise up from our passions and interests.
The result is an inner rest from worry, anxiety, expectations of how thing should turn out. We enter that rest that says “I will show up, I will participate, I will contribute my part—but I cannot and will not attempt to control the outcome.” As my friend says, “show up, do your best, and give God the rest.”
I would say today that even when I do not do my best, when I did not even try my hardest, it is OK. I have tomorrow to begin again.