For the past few years, I've been really busy. It's felt like the days are filled with never-ending tasks, chores, obstacles, puzzles to solve, and errands to run. And the days just keep getting busier; there's a growing mountain of tasks that I'm always trying to conquer. Maybe your days are like this too. Just as you put out one fire, it seems like five more ignite. We're running from one thing to the next with a rapidly depleting supply of energy and sanity.
We know this isn't good for us, all this busyness. Yet, rest still eludes us. Many times, we're just too frantic to make time for it. Sure, rest is important...we get it. But there are too many fires burning too hot for us to take a moment to catch our breath. Maybe tomorrow.
And sometimes there just aren't enough hours in the day. Time escapes us, gets away. We might desire rest--really want it--but there's no time. If we could, we'd act on that desire to go on vacation or take a day off, but there's simply no time. We're surviving, and sleep is our only respite...if we're lucky enough for even that.
Or when we finally do come into that rare commodity of rest, whether by intention or accident, it's still hard. We're not sure what to do with that free evening or quiet morning. Suddenly, there's nothing to do. So what do we do? We feel out of sorts, a bit disoriented. It feels uncomfortable when we're confronted with leisure time, maybe because it's so elusive. But when we get it, many of us tend to waffle between "veg out" and "feel anxious about how not to waste this precious time." We're either tuning out or fretting about which good thing to do without actually doing them.
In all of this commotion, I've latched onto a few prayers. Since there are plenty of days where work feels hard to do, unfulfilling, overwhelming, or just plain exhausting, I've been cornered into prayer. There's just nothing else I can do. At my wit's end, prayers like these just bubble up:
"God, this is too overwhelming. I can't do this. Help me."
"God, I feel too weak today. I'm not going to make it unless you help."
"I don't have the patience or energy for this. Help. Please."
They're honest prayers and they've worked. Out of sheer desperation, I've had to pray along these lines. I've had to pray like this because I had to finish my work or care for my family. There was simply no other option.
But recently, I've begun to wonder why I don't pray these prayers for my rest.
Think about it: what is rest? Like fruitful labor, rest is an activity of holiness. It's an episode in our program of salvation, making us more like God. Rest, as you may recall, is a way to share in the eternal life of God. It's something he commands, something he invites us into, and something he promises. Rest is not only good for us, it's part and parcel of sanctification. And since it's for our holiness, it makes perfect sense that it should a) be hard and b) not be our natural inclination and c) require prayer.
You see, rest is, paradoxically, hard work. Just like any activity of holiness, rest grates against our desires. Sin makes us toilers. And though we want to slow down the toil, we still don't desire the Sabbath rest of God. We desire some other substitute, distraction, or analgesic.
That's why we've got to pray for our rest. Because we aren't inclined toward it, and because we need it, we have to ask for help. We need to cling to those same desperate prayers (Help! Now!), pleading with God to give us grace to step back and see goodness.
This stepping back is, I think, one of the chief features of rest. It's a great way to describe what rest is so that you can parse its application out in your life. Rest is not just "ceasing from labor." It's got an active quality, of stepping back to behold the labors from which we cease. Rest is like reaching a vantage point where we're able to survey all of God's graces and say with him that "it is very good." It's stepping out of the stream long enough to behold all that's been happening in our lives, our communities, our families, our friends, and in creation itself. Rest leads to reflection and delight. It makes us wise and it makes us good.
As you get ready to rest this week pray for grace, because you need it. Ask Christ to help you enter it, and to see how he's been establishing the work of your hands for his kingdom.