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Every year there are seasons that make me desperate for a break. The beginning of the school year is one: school shopping, sports physicals, football practice… The month of May is another: end-of-year band concerts, countless school programs to attend to show that the kids have actually learned something… But Christmas, oh, my friends, nothing compares to the taxing chaos of the holly, jolly season.
And that is why, two weeks ago, I decided to take a break.
I needed rest; I thirsted for it like water on a hot, dry day.
So I took it. I hoarded it like toilet paper during a COVID lockdown. And I learned a little bit about the right and wrong ways to rest. Because, you see, rest taken the wrong way will leave you empty-handed. But done right, it can leave you with strength to face a new day.
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Four Ways of Resting That Don’t Work…And Four Ways That Do
Not This: Selfish, Isolated Rest
For the first week or so, I pursued rest selfishly. I made it all about me. I resented any interruptions to my rest. Friends, I’m here to tell you now, that isn’t the way. The more I focused on myself the more unsatisfied I became.
Do this Instead: Connection
One of the most beautiful evenings of my break was the night I put down Netflix and played CodeNames with my family. When my pursuit of rest was turned inward it came up empty; but when I sought to enjoy my family instead of suiting myself, I found true restoration.
Not This: Bustling Rest
When selfish rest fails us and Netflix loses its appeal we might be tempted to tackle projects around the house. Finally I can clean out that closet! Finally I can refold my clothes Marie Kondo-style! But bustling “rest” won’t leave you feeling refreshed. You might feel accomplished and you might love your cleaned-up home, but you will be tired.
Do This Instead: Earned Rest
Earned rest might be my favorite type. This is the bone-tired respite that comes after you’ve accomplished something great. When you lie down on the couch to watch a Hallmark movie after you’ve climbed Pikes Peak, that is earned rest. When you curl up with a book in your newly redecorated living room, that is earned rest.
Not This: Indulgent Rest
For the first week of my break I made it my personal goal to eat all six batches of Christmas cookies that I had baked. I thought that giving myself a free pass to eat my favorite things all day long was the key to relaxation.
It wasn’t. I ate the cookies; they tasted amazing; I felt awful. In fact, I walked out of indulgent rest worse off than I had been going in. I felt miserable.
Indulgent rest isn’t the answer.
Do This Instead: Delight
Although indulging in the cookies wasn’t the answer to finding true rest, the cookies weren’t actually the problem. My own mindset about the cookies was the problem. I guess I thought that if one was good, and two were very good, then ten must be divine.
I think that the key to finding refreshment for our soul in the beautiful things of this world is not to devour like a glutton, but to delight like a child. Taste the cookie, and love it! Notice the flowers. Pet the dog. Delight in every good and perfect gift given to you daily by your loving Father.
Not This: Mindless Rest
The faux comfort that we most often pursue is mindless rest. We think that if we turn off our minds and our bodies, our souls will come away feeling refreshed. So we sit in our comfy chair, mindlessly munching on those cookies, and we scroll. And scroll. And scroll.
But turning off our minds and our bodies isn’t the type of rest that will refresh our souls.
Do This Instead: Sabbath
We can pursue soul-tranquility through the spiritual Sabbath rest of prayer journalling, worship music, and Bible memory. This will refresh your soul. But a word to the wise: It won’t last. At least not now.
Doesn’t it feel nice to hear someone admit that?
For years I tried spiritual rest as a sort of formula to meet my needs once and for all. I thought that if I could find true peace in God through prayer and Bible study and worship, then I could stop my endless, fruitless search for once-and-for-all rest.
It didn’t work. I read the Bible and prayed and worshipped, and I was still tired.
Finally, God showed me that rest is a mortal need. Being tired is an earthly problem. Just like with thirst: a good drink meets my needs, but only for a short while. Even the best water doesn’t quench my thirst once and for all.
But Jesus told the woman at the well that he had come to give her living water so that she’d never thirst again (John 4). And in the same way, Jesus came so that we could have true rest, once-and-for-all rest, and never be tired again.
That true rest, the incredible gift for God’s children, will be ours once and for all, when we are with him in Heaven. Until then we’ll be tired every day. So take the daily rest you need in order to refresh your body, mind, and soul.
Rest by enjoying your loved ones.
Relish earned rest.
Restore your soul by delighting in God’s daily gifts, large and small.
And tune your heart to His through the spiritual pathways of prayer, Bible, and worship.
That’s what it means to rest here on earth.
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My soul is crying out for its home, its so-called “eternal rest.” And the funny thing is, I don’t think that “eternal rest” will look anything like the rest I think I want when I’m overwhelmed.