How We Rest

When getting to know people, one of my favorite questions to ask is, “What is your favorite place on earth?” When I try to answer this question myself, I tend to think of moments in time rather than locations – rounding Camps Bay in an open-top bus as the sun sets; waking up on June 23rd to hop a plane to Mexico; driving country roads with my Dad in his convertible and blasting the instrumental version of Eleanor Rigby – I savor these memories with tenderness and joy. But a specific place?
If you were to ask my husband the question, “What is your favorite place?” he’d respond “EDISTO BEACH” loudly, and with conviction. He’s been making memories at a family house on the sound side of this quiet island since he was a kid, and his enthusiasm for everything about it is unmatched. We took last Friday off and headed south for the long weekend, and one of the friends who joined us happens to be a talented photographer – thanks Sarah Pascutti for the images!

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Seeing my husband’s unbridled joy at sitting on the dock for hours in ratty shorts and a straw hat, catching blue crabs and “living off the land”, made me thoughtful about the rest that he needs, and how rest looks different for each of us.

I used to think of rest as the antithesis of work –  doing nothing. So I’d do my best to have a restful “lazy day” by laying on the couch and watching TV. At the end of a day like this, instead of feeling refreshed and whole, I’d be stir crazy and on the brink of an identity crisis.  I realize that some of you may be thinking my dream is to spend a Saturday on the couch, and that is ok. I enjoy inactivity in short spurts, but I’ve had to realize that long periods of inactivity do not rejuvenate me.

Rest, rather than being the antithesis of work, is about freedom. As Tim Keller puts it,

God liberated his people when they were slaves in Egypt, and in Deuteronomy 5:12–15, God ties the Sabbath to freedom from slavery. Anyone who overworks is really a slave. Anyone who cannot rest from work is a slave—to a need for success, to a materialistic culture, to exploitative employers, to parental expectations, or to all of the above. These slave masters will abuse you if you are not disciplined in the practice of Sabbath rest. Sabbath is a declaration of freedom.

Bryant’s demeanor while we were at Edisto is the best example of rest as a “declaration of freedom” that I can think of. Those who have visited that island with him know that he is free there – enthusiastic, energetic, and, at the end of the day, exhausted. He comes alive and brings the rest of us along with him. As our friend Hannah put it, “I wish we could just bottle (this version of Bryant) up!”

Ironically, the more physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted I am, the harder it is for me to do the things that actually make me feel rested. As mentioned above, long periods of mindless inactivity do not make me feel free, and do not make me come alive. They make me feel like a slave to laziness, to indifference, to next episode playing in 12 seconds… It’s less about turning off my brain, and more about feeding my soul the right things.

For me, as someone who does not “downshift casually”, rest is an act of will – something that I have to prepare for and then intentionally carry out.

Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of the Sabbath understood that it was a much more complicated undertaking…The rules did not exist to torture the faithful. They were meant to communicate the insight that interrupting the ceaseless round of striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will, one that has to be bolstered by habit as well as by social sanction (Tim Keller).

Prayer is rest. Reading is rest. Writing is rest. Taking a canoe trip across the lake with Bryant is rest.  Quiet conversation with soul-friends is rest. Taking a walk with my Mom is rest. Meditating (I’m terrible at this) is rest. Even exercise can be rest. This is how God restores my soul, grounds me, and reminds me of his goodness in the Psalm 23 sense:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.

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