“If you’re a young mother and you’re getting up at five o’clock in the morning or maybe three o’clock in the morning with a fussy child, or a child that needs to eat, maybe the most spiritual thing that you could do in that moment is not beat yourself up because you’re not getting to read your Bible like you want to, but to recognize that right then, you’re serving! You’re serving! That’s a spiritual discipline. You’re serving your child and your family. Maybe the most spiritual thing you can do in that moment is to not be reading your Bible or practicing some more romantic spiritual discipline. Maybe the best thing you can do in that moment is to serve that child and then to go take a nap.”
Pastor Brad Evangelista’s words, on one of my favorite podcasts, sent a feeling of release over my tired soul. I felt my eyes tear up. There I was, multi-tasking as usual—listening to a podcast while catching up on housework and doing my best to keep the kiddos happy at the same time. An invitation—to just rest—not do one more thing, not to meet one more requirement in order to be successful, not to add one more “you need to…” on top of my tired shoulders—just rest. My frayed soul needed that reminder—the reminder that allowing for rest can have spiritual, not just physical benefits.
For the first two years of his life, my firstborn rarely slept a long stretch. I tried all the tired and true methods hoping for relief for all of us, but nothing seemed to work. As a first time mom, I often felt so depleted, worn out, on edge—physically, emotionally and even spiritually wrung out. Angry (to be honest) much of the time that this little person needed me so much. “By the time kids get to college they sleep through the night, right?” I remember thinking to myself in desperation. There must be an end to this at some point.
I would inwardly cringe anytime I heard someone cheerfully quip, “sleep when the baby sleeps.” Sure it sounds so easy; but if I did that, when would I get a shower, catch up on housework or get any cooking done? Living overseas, there was no grandma living close by to just pop over and hold the baby. Most cooking here is time consuming, as it mostly has to be done from scratch. So, no throwing in a frozen pizza on days when it all felt like too much. Laundry was also a big chore as it needed to be hand-washed as well. Even when I would try to lay down for a quick nap, I could not seem to shut off my thoughts long enough to go to sleep. I would lay there thinking about all the things that needed to be done instead of slipping into needed rest. Even when my husband would tell me to leave the dishes, and he would get them when he got home from a meeting I would often just do them myself because seeing them sitting there in the sink drove me crazy. If you cannot let go, you cannot truly rest.
I’m not a neat freak, but I find it so hard to relax when there is still a mess to be cleaned up. And, as anyone with kids will tell you, there is always a mess to be cleaned up. You can get one room cleaned up just to go into the next room to find what looks like wreckage left behind by a mini tornado. My friend’s mom likes to say, “cleaning when you have kids is like trying to shovel snow while it is still snowing.”
So when that still small voice would whisper to my tired soul, “come, you are weary. I will give you rest.” I mentally answered, “just a minute. Let me finish folding these clothes.” Somehow I thought I could manage it—that I needed to manage it, but reality is I cannot. My weary self had to learn to let go.
Let Those Dishes Sit
There will always be one more job calling my name. I’m slowly getting wiser. Let those dishes sit. They will still be there after a nap, or even in the morning, and with renewed energy and a renewed attitude it is much easier to tackle them. Stop—take a breath, drink that cup of tea or coffee if you can manage to before too many interruptions break in. Reheat it if necessary (I’m learning to just put mine straight into a thermos mug so that it stands up longer to the interruptions). Sit—sit in the mess and just be for a moment. The Savoir is there. He is always there waiting. He sees and knows and truly does lighten the load if only we are willing to set it down for a moment.
In college my Psalms professor would often talk about how so much of the Bible points to themes of rest—with heaven as the ultimate resting point. No wonder our weary earth-worn souls long for true rest. Yes, there is work and there always will be, but there is something so satisfying about finally sitting down after an honest day’s work and just the peace that comes from putting your feet up. Don’t we all long to one day hear the words, “well, done my good and faithful servant. Now come and enter into eternal rest.”
I think one of the reasons that I have such a love for chai, the sweet milky tea that my time in Africa taught me to treasure, is because it is an invitation to stop. Yes, I love the spicy flavor; but what I truly love is the permission to just sit, with my hands wrapped around a steaming hot cup, and slowly sip. It is like the world and all of its problems are put on pause for those few moments because you cannot guzzle a hot beverage.
As I have adjusted to life with small kids I have learned that rest looks different in different stages of life. I used to love spending an afternoon at a good coffee shop—my laptop, a delicious pastry, the calmness of a quiet atmosphere. Now coffee shops (at least with kids in tow) are anything but restful for me. “Don’t touch that. Please don’t spill that. Ok never mind, let’s go.” Now I find that the local nature park is restful. The kids run. I soak up some sun, and if I’m really fortunate, some heartfelt conversation with other moms while we try to catch up amidst diaper changes and relentless requests for snacks.
Moments of rest may look different these days, but they are still there tucked between sticky kisses and runny noses. These days I find that some of the most restful moments of the day often happen when one of my kiddos wakes me up at 5 am (well before I had planned to get up). I am slowly learning that I actually find it surprisingly fulfilling to just roll with it and get up and do something that tends the soul like watching the sunrise, journaling or sitting down to write uninterrupted. These unplanned pockets of calm in the early morning hours have a way of giving a sweet peace to the beginning of the day which is much more restful then laying in bed fuming that I’m up again well before I had planned to be. Although, I will say, there are many days that I am able to roll back over and catch some more precious sleep, which can be just as spiritually refreshing for the soul as those quiet, contemplative mornings.
The Goal of Rest Should not Simply Be to Energize for More but to Appreciate More
It is so easy to see rest as a means to an end—recharging to gain energy for the next day, but true rest is so much more than a simple recharging of the physical batteries. What if we instead came to see rest as a way of life? Society today is so driven, driven to the point that it is easy to miss the beautiful life that is happening around us. We are given today. Let’s live it intentionally. This is what a proper theology of rest can help us to do. It is often in the contemplative moments that we truly live. Isn’t this what our Creator modeled when He took a Sabbath after His work, a time to just sit back and enjoy what was created. Children are often so good at this—naturally leaning in to touch, study and just gaze at whatever catches their interest. But, as adults, we often want those children (who are relishing in a moment) to hurry up and put their shoes on so that we can rush off to the next thing on the agenda.
Keep A Sabbath
Personally, I find the command to, “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” one of the most difficult commands to implement. So often I am addicted to the programs, the work, the schedule. As much as I like the idea of rest, in my pride, I often think I can keep going well after my strength is spent. I often say, “yes” to commitments without taking the time to think about if a new commitment is something our family can truly handle in this particular season. Just because something is good does not mean that it is necessary. So often less really is more.
Our Maker knows that we need the Sabbath. It is a gift. A time to sit back and appreciate the day, the week, a time to reflect and prepare for what is ahead. A true Sabbath is not a stiff ritual but a needed time to step away from the norm and do something that refreshes the soul like going for a walk, journaling, reading, creating something, reading a refreshing book or article or maybe even taking that nap that has been calling your name.
The result often is a new perspective, renewed strength and less feelings of being stuck in an endless cycle of work. What is the point of the day if we do not step back and take a moment to enjoy it? If we rush on to the next thing and the next thing are we even giving ourselves time to take it all in?
Don’t Mind the Mess
Sure there is a mess, storms can feel constant; but like Jesus, we can learn to take a nap in the boat even while the storm rages overhead. Just think about it, a storm is hardly an ideal setting for a snooze; but Jesus did not let that stop him. He needed rest, so He rested. I need this reminder daily. When rest is needed, rest—don’t wait for perfect circumstances. It is freeing, really, to let go and find ways to rest in the mess. Maybe it is just a few moments to stop and pray resetting your heart’s posture. Maybe it is as simple as allowing yourself to take in a quickly changing sunset. Maybe a moment of rest involves putting the laundry down and cuddling with your kids while you read them their favorite book. Take it in. Slow it down. Breathe deeply knowing that rest is something that you were created to enjoy. The mess will be there when you get up from that cuddle, and you will likely find yourself more energized to be able to face it all. If the Master of the Sea can find time to rest in the storm so can we.