The Spiritual Practice of Rest
We just couldn't do anymore. After days of intermittent rain the evening was dry. It wasn't too hot, nor too cold. We had no plans. There was nothing keeping us from heading outdoors to work in the garden or continue with the patio project. We just...couldn't.
This was life at our house Monday evening this week. Despite conditions being good. Despite our intentions. Despite the need to press on with projects and routine care of the garden, my spouse and I looked at each other that night and declared that we were not spending the evening outside. We could do no more--and I, for one, felt guilty about it.
I imagine a lot of us do--feel guilty about resting. We think it's wasting time or wasting a "perfectly good evening" to rest. Some of us look at our days for evidence of why we need rest and, finding none, force ourselves to move because there is no logical reason that rest should be required. As if our bodies telling us to rest wasn't reason enough. We view rest as something that must be earned and something we must hustle toward. Some of us even hold the popular Western view, "I'll sleep when I'm dead." All of it a steaming pile of excuses to prolong work and wear fatigue as a status symbol.
But who is that serving, really? When we force ourselves to keep hustling and to "earn rest"--who does that benefit? Certainly not you or me. Certainly not our families and the people who love us. As far as I can tell, the only beneficiaries of our work without limitations and our procrastination to rest are the systems in which we work and hustle. "There is no traffic jam on the extra mile," I've heard it said. There may not be a a traffic jam on the extra mile, but I have to wonder if that's because that same mile is littered with the wreckage of people who kept hustling down that path without taking the necessary breaks to recharge, refresh, and renew, and simply crashed and burned.
The Church is often complicit in lifting up the holiness of the hustle. Once, when I was a layperson who was very active in the local church, I had a pastor tell me to take a break. "The Church will use you within an inch of your life," she said, "let's make sure it never gets that close." Yes, we are in this together. Yes, each person carries within them the spark of the Spirit that joins with other sparks to shine the light of Christ brightly, and we don't shine as bright without you. Yes, I say it all the time, your presence matters--for you and for others. And yes, we are doing important work--working toward liberation and fighting for justice for ALL of God's creation. But, as Tricia Hersey points out, "How can we access pleasure and joy and liberation if we're too tired to experience it?"
The truth is, scripture is full of examples when Jesus rested from his important work of demonstrating the Way of love, justice, and peace. He took a rest when he was grieving: "When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” (Matthew 14:13) He took a rest to gain perspective: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35) He took a rest following intense periods of ministry work to care for himself and others: “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.'" (Mark 6:31)
If Jesus, whom we follow, rested, certainly we can too. Certainly we can get up and go take a walk and look at the beauty of God's creation that we are a part of--even if we have work to do--if for no other reason but to remember that we are only a part of the world, not the whole world, and the world doesn't spin off its axis if we take a break. Certainly we can turn off the ringer on our phones and immerse ourselves in one of the books in that stack that's been collecting dust on our night stands. Certainly we can even, gasp! Clutch my pearls! Take a Sunday to do nothing but sleep and eat and spend time with the ones we love. That last one might sound strange coming from a pastor, but it's the truth. Sometimes we just need a break. A minute. A time to rest and recharge. Even I get 5 Sundays off every year.
What's that quote from Ferris Bueller? “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” I don't want us to miss it...any bit of it. Our lives of faith are meant to help us cultivate presence, not absence. Not hustle. Not more sucking it up and soldiering on. And call me crazy, but I'm not sure how we can be present most of the time, if we are hustling all of the time. We were created to love and to work and, beloved, we were created to rest. Without first having to earn it. Without first having to deserve it. Without conditions. Making it so is our spiritual practice.
Learning the spiritual practice of rest with you,
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Rev. Melissa Sternhagen
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen was called as the pastor of St. Paul Congregational UCC in June of 2020. Prior to her call to St. Paul, Pr. Melissa worked as a hospice chaplain in the Ames, IA area, following pastorates at rural churches in Central Iowa and Southern Illinois. Pr. Melissa is a second-career pastor with a background in agribusiness and production & supply operations. She received her M.Div. from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and holds a MA Ed. in Adult Education and Training, and a BA in Organizational Communications.