Henri Nouwen once said, “Why, O Lord, is it so hard for me to keep my heart directed toward you? Why does my mind wander off in so many directions, and why does my heart desire the things that lead me astray? Let me sense your presence in the midst of my turmoil. Take my tired body, my confused mind, and my restless soul into your arms and give me rest, simple quiet rest.” Rest is the discipline of honoring our humanity and deep need for rest by integrating rhythms of rest into our lives each day, week, month, and year.
When God was creating the world, he created and blessed rest. “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Genesis 2:2). God made rest holy, a sacred rhythm that He is inviting us into. As human beings it is vital to our growth, inner peace, and true joy to live with intentional rhythms of rest in our lives. When we ignore the importance of incorporating rhythms of rest into our lives we feel frazzled, stressed, and on edge. When we establish rhythms of rest in our lives, we become emotionally, spiritually, and mentaly healthier people.
After Queen Jezebel threatened to kill him, Elijah fled into the wilderness (1 Kings 19). Elijah begins to complain that he has been zealous for the Lord and now he’s all alone. He literally wishes that he would die. Translation: He’s physically, spiritually, and mentally exhausted and his vision of what’s happening around him and to him is skewed by this exhaustion. We often skip right to the scene when Elijah hears the voice of God tell him that he is not in fact alone because God has a grand plan that includes thousands of people and even a few kings. However, Elijah has to do something before he can hear this word from God: he sleeps, he eats, he goes for a long walk. Sometimes the challenges in our lives are so insurmountable that we feel like our very lives are on the line. …but sometimes we just need a nap, a meal, and some exercise to help us see things as they really are or apprehend what comes next.
Recognizing the vitality and importance of rest rhythms in our lives brings a greater wholeness and healing to us. Simply put, rest is a choice we need to make. Rest is sacred, holy, celebrated, and even commanded by God. In our society today none of those definitions ring true when it comes to rest. Busyness, hurry, and productivity are celebrated in our culture; it’s truly counter-cultural for us to rest and to be.
The “how” is learning to retrain our way of thinking and recognizing the need our bodies and minds have for rest. Confessing our need for rest, our need to unplug, to recharge and reconnect with God, with ourselves, with our families and with nature is vital to becoming whole. This practice begins with asking four key questions:
Physical Rest: What does rest for my body mean?
- Sleeping a full 8 hours on the weekend or taking a nap
- Taking a break from work
- Eating a snack or a meal
- Working out, walking, hiking, running, biking, lifting weights, kayaking, etc.
Soul Rest: What does rest for my soul mean?
- Taking a walk by yourself or with a person of peace in your life
- Sitting and being fully present to a loved one for 20 minutes as you chat about something true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise
- Music, art, books, theatre, and movies that lift your soul
Mental Rest: What does rest for my mind mean?
- Unplugging from technology
- Abstinence from draining tasks like taxes, checkbooks, errands, or intellectual activities that you don’t enjoy
Rhythms of Rest: What is a good rhythm of rest that incorporates all three types of rest daily or weekly?
Look at the flow or rhythm of your life, just the daily and the weekly parts for this first step. Look for spaces where you can practice true rest, pockets of time that you can thoughtfully and intentionally set aside to practice incorporating rest into your life. Choose a time when you can find rest daily and a time you can find it weekly.