Biblical Living: Rest
The Violence of Busyness
Have you ever said this before? That’s a rhetorical question. Of course you have. We all have. We get tired. We have limits. Sometimes we forget, but no matter how hard we try to ignore our finite capacities, we eventually crash.
I remember this moment so clearly and can almost tangibly feel the fatigue my body was carrying. It was August of 2018, a few weeks shy of the one year anniversary of hurricane Harvey making landfall and wrecking havoc on the city of Houston. My wife and I had the chance to get away for a week together. Just the two of us without the kids.
The previous 11 months had been very strenuous and constant season of ministry. When hurricane Harvey caused one-third of the fourth largest city in the U.S. to go underwater, displacing tens of thousands of people from their homes, ministry opportunities were endless. It truly was disastrous, but as the waters receded the Church awakened. It was a beautiful sight to watch the local body of Christ rise above the floodwaters and poor out love on the city with radical mercy.
As one of the pastors of a local church at the time, I engaged the challenge of cleaning out homes and serving people whenever I could. However, as the director of BetterDays, I had a different challenge before me. I watched brothers and sisters, understandably so, wear themselves out in an effort to care for as many people as possible. I sought to make myself and our BetterDays team available for counseling, trauma care, and resources for as many pastors and ministry leaders as we could.
I remember telling someone at the time, I felt like I was running around like a headless chicken trying to keep pastors from running around like headless chickens.
It was exhausting. I was exhausted.
I wanted rest. I needed rest, but I continued to work. I continued to be productive. The ministry had to keep going. Rest would have to wait.
As we entered into the new year post-Harvey, I had made few changes to my rhythms of life and added more responsibilities. But here I was on a well needed respite trip with my wife.
After an early morning wake up call and hours of travel, I felt like I had been in constant motion for days, maybe even years. We arrived in the early afternoon to the place we were staying for the week. I carried my luggage and my weary body into the bedroom, set my bag down, and literally fell face first onto the bed. I mumbled something to my wife about taking a brief rest. Laying across the bed on my stomach with my feet hanging off the end and my arms down by my side, I awakened 2 hours later in a pool of drool.
I hadn’t moved for 2 hours. I crashed. I had hit my limit.
In his book, Sabbath, Wayne Muller paints a very clear picture of the effects a busy life can have on our souls.
As important as work is, our drive to produce and busy ourselves beyond our limits only leads to destruction. As Muller describes it, an insatiable drive for more activity is like waging war on our bodies, pushing them beyond their limits; war on our relationships, not finding enough time to be present; and war on our souls, by being too preoccupied to listen to the still small voice that seeks to nourish and refresh us.
Muller writes, “The corrosive pressure of overactivity can cause suffering in ourselves and others. A ‘successful’ life has become a violent enterprise.”
Ouch! I don’t know about you, but that stings a bit. “A successful life has become a violent enterprise.”
The well known author and Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, said it this way,
“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence.”
The standards of success in our culture, particularly in affluent societies, are notably violent.
Dog eat dog.
Pay the man.
Sleep when we die.
Or, in more rural contexts, “Git ‘er done.”
These are all sayings I’ve heard that typically go along with a drive for success or productivity.
The years 2017 and 2018 were pretty violent years for me. And I felt it. I felt it emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically. And it culminated with me face down, unconscious on a bed in a puddle of drool.
The Rebellion of Rest
What’s Jesus’ response? What does God offer as remedy for the violence?
But God’s rest isn’t just a drool producing nap. It’s far beyond that. God’s rest is full of peace, and not just the absence of conflict type of peace. The peace God offers throughout the scriptures is Shalom.
In her book “Keeping the Sabbath Wholly”, Marva Dawn says, “Shalom begins with reconciliation with God and continues in reconciliation with our sisters and brothers — even our enemies. Moreover, shalom designates being at peace with ourselves, health, wealth, fulfillment, satisfaction, contentment, tranquility, and —to sum it all up—wholeness.”
Jesus invites us to come to him when we are weary and burdened. When our lives are exhausted and over worked he offers us rest. He offers us himself. He offers us true rest, shalom, wholeness.
In the old testament God commanded his people to “remember” or “observe” the sabbath. Sabbath was rest. It was a day to remember, to celebrate, and enjoy God’s great provision. It was a day to be reminded of our limitations and God’s limitlessness.
Ever since the beginning in Genesis 1-2, rest has been intricately woven into the fabric of creation. Rest is not only God’s command, it is His design for us. Shalom is what He offers us. Wholeness. We practice that Shalom and embrace His wholeness by obeying His command to remember to rest.
Its God’s command to rest throughout the Bible that stands in radical opposition to the violent enterprise of our busy lives.
Rest is like a subversive act of rebellion against the violence of overactivity. It stands in defiance to a culture and a way of life that says we must keep going, we must produce more, we must not stop. One of the reasons rest is so hard for us, at least for me at times, is that it requires us to be dependent. It requires us to let go of our control.
Rest is an act of faith. It is an act of obedient trust in a love Father who cares deeply for us. In resting, remember sabbath days, or taking moments throughout our day to pause and acknowledge God’s good provision, we worship the God of rest. The God who in Jesus the Son, gives us rest when we come to him.
I once heard a spiritual director state, “The kingdom of God is not under threat if I go to bed.”
That’s definitely in defiance of a “sleep when we die” mentality.
What if we embraced the sabbath? What if scheduled out our lives in such a way that we devoted and entire day (24 hrs) to God as an act of faith, worship, and rebellion against the busyness of life? What if we ceased and celebrated for a day and didn’t have to produce or perform? How would our lives look different?
Eight months after flopping down on the bed and waking up in a puddle of drool, I was given the privilege of taking a sabbatical. I had six weeks off to rest, reset, and recalibrate my life. During that time Jesus was every present and gracious to me. My internal gears were given a chance to slow down. Upon returning, I approached life differently. I incorporated more moments of rest throughout my day. These were brief pauses from the busyness, the worries, the stresses, the fears, and the drive to produce. They were moments to look outside myself and into the eyes of the One whose yoke is easy and well fitting.
A couple of years later my family and I took it a step further and officially started to regularly practice sabbath. I emphasize the word “practice” because it has its challenges and we’re not as consistent as we’d like. However, we have done it enough that when we don’t, we can feel it. The violence starts to creep in.
That’s when we step back, reset, return to the restful presence of Jesus, and raise our flag of rebellion. Believing again that He truly is the one who “restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:3)
“Better one handful with rest than two handfuls with effort and a pursuit of the wind.”Ecclesiastes 4:6
At value helping men and women live into healthy God designed rhythms of life. We believe that a healthy balance, or proper rhythm, of rest and work helps create space in our lives to experience the God’s goodness. In our Sabbatical care program, we help church leaders plan and design their sabbatical, as well as provide coaching, counseling, and direction during the sabbatical. If you are interested in finding out more on how we can help you in your rebellion against the busy life, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Life without Lack, Dallas Willard
Sabbath, Wayne Muller
Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, Marva Dawn