In our fast-paced, performance-driven, results-oriented, and pressure-filled world, many of us neglect to rest. During our trip to New Zealand (which was amazing!), I conversed with a lady in her 50s who confessed to feelings of guilt every time she takes a break from her work.
She struggles to give herself time to be still and activity-less. As a business owner of a catering and food company she is doing very well financially, but she is also addicted to her work. First, she loves what she does. Second, she is an activity-driven person (she likes to be busy). Third, she’s got a big heart to serve others. Put all those elements together and you have a person who doesn’t know how to switch to “off” mode even when she should.
In a very comedic way, she even admitted that one of the causes for the absence of sexual intimacy in her marriage was that she habitually rushed her husband through the act! Why? Because she was always thinking about the next task she had to get done instead of enjoying their special times together. They remain committed to one another to this day but it’s a marriage sordidly lacking in the affection area.
So I told her, “Rest is not a sin. Rest allows you to be a better wife, mother, and a more productive worker. Even God rested!”
She smiled. As a long-time follower of Christ, she knows this, but I suppose it assured her to hear it again. Will she actually apply what I told her to? I don’t know. At the end of the day, she has to look deep inside to assess why activity is so important to her that she feels the compulsion to keep going to the point of absolute exhaustion.
None of us are built like the Energizer Bunny that I used to see in commercials as a child. This bunny demonstrated the longevity of the Energizer brand. As human beings we aren’t wired the same way. We can’t keep going, going, and going like a mindless battery. We have a body, a soul, and a spirit that benefits from rest.
There at three kinds of rest that I would like to talk about. The first is the Sabbath. On the 7th day of creation, God rested. “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from His work which God had created and made.” (Genesis 2:3)
There are several things that stand out to me in this passage:
- Rest came after God’s creative work was done. It was not an act of laziness.
- God blessed the 7th day. It was His idea. He made it special and important.
- He sanctified it. It is a holy day, set apart.
- He exemplified what it means to rest. He did not take a break because he couldn’t continue working. He’s God! He’s all-powerful. The Hebrew word for rest in this passage is shabat which means “to cease or stop.” (gotquestions.org) In Exodus 31:17, it even says that God was refreshed by His rest.
- Another insight I gleaned from the Genesis passage is that God must have spent time with Adam and Eve on the 7th day when He rested. They were created on the 6th day. On the 7th day, God set aside the work to give them His full attention. What an amazing father God is! He delights to be with us. He wants us to know that we are His priority. I can imagine God conversing with Adam and Eve as they walked through the garden, as they reveled in the wonder of His creation. Similarly, the 7th day is a time for us to be in God’s presence, to reflect on His goodness, provision, and to cease from our striving and doing.
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. Genesis 20:8-11
Besides the 7th day, I believe there’s a second kind of rest that we ought to consider. It’s the mindset of rested-ness in the Lord.
When I was in the U.S. with my family for a month, I saw how difficult it was for moms who do everything (love your husband and your kids, teach and train the little ones, breastfeed an infant, work, clean, cook, and do laundry). I didn’t even have to work! I was on vacation, but the daily chores were absolutely maddening!
Since I couldn’t stomach the mess, I found myself exhausted every night trying to tidy up after my five children. I refused to take breaks because I felt guilty ending the day without the laundry done, the kitchen impeccable, and everything put away.
At the same time, I thought to myself, this is horrid. I am not cut out for this, but I can’t stop myself from going in and out of every room like a policewoman/obsessive compulsive-house-keeping-attendant. As a result, I was too tired to wholeheartedly enjoy Edric or the kids. I saw them as the cause for my fatigue and I felt irritated when they weren’t considerate about their mess. What about time with the Lord? That suffered too. The first thing I thought about in the morning was cooking breakfast.
When I revisit the motivations that were driving me at the time, they were actually rooted in pride. I felt like I needed to prove that I could do everything, that I was somehow “super” as a mom. I pushed myself to maintain order for my own sake, because it mattered to me to be able to say that I had it all under control. I liked the control.
Did my husband care that I fluffed the last pillow and arranged it neatly on the couch after smoothing out the creases that made it look bunchy? Did my kids care that I picked up their shoes and lined them up beside the doorway before the day came to a close? Of course not. What they cared about was having me engaged and all-present in the moments we shared together.
To be honest, I wasn’t. My mind drifted towards each crumb that littered the kitchen floor, each stain that smeared the upholstery, and each unwashed item of clothing that had to be sorted and thrown into the washing machine. I had relaxation issues. Perhaps, given enough time I would have learned to chill and be realistic about how much of the mess is tolerable…what can be left to clean up the next day in favor of the more important relationships that need me.
However, I never quite got to that point because the vacation ended after a month, and we all returned to Manila where I once again delegated these sort of duties to our househelp.
Somehow, when our househelp is tasked with the cooking, cleaning, and the laundry, I pay less attention to the details of managing our home. But when it’s all on me, I notice every wrong thing in the home and feel like a failure when I don’t do something about it. And that’s why I know it’s a pride thing. When I’m in charge of something, I tend to get my sense of self-worth from what I do. And I am robbed of peace when my performance is mediocre, and I feel annoyed or disappointed when it’s not appreciated.
During the plane ride to New Zealand, I read a book by Becky Harling entitled Freedom from Performing: Grade in an Applause-Driven World. A performance driven person is someone who…
- Is a slave to the expectations and demands of others
- Compares herself with others, measuring her success against theirs
- Exhausts herself trying to keep up
- Defines her identity in terms of accomplishments
- Lives to please others and becomes disillusioned when the affirmation isn’t there
What a refreshing read this book was for me! It allowed me to recognize that I can be a performance-driven person, forgetting that life is not a rat-race, it’s a grace-race. It’s not about trying to beat everyone to prove that I’m the best at what I do. It’s not about pursuing perfection for the sake of my self-esteem. Neither is it about comparing my worth to others. Rather it’s about…
…growing more and more like Christ in the way I think, act and speak everyday.
…recognizing that my strength and capacity come from the Lord, therefore all glory for any good that I do goes to Him.
…focusing on what really matters – loving God and loving others (starting with Edric and the kids).
…sticking to a routine that is a healthy kind of busy. For example, avoiding too many nights out of the home away from the kids, or planning meetings or activities that are in conflict with my priorities of being a wife and mom during the week (also known as learning to say, “No, I am sorry but I’m not available,” or “I can’t commit to that.”)
…being purposeful about time spent on things like social media and the Internet.
…carving out time for myself during the day or week (besides Sunday for me) to feed my mind with wisdom and truth, fill my emotional tank, strengthen my body, and listen to the Holy Spirit. Sometimes this means writing an article, reading a book, connecting with girl friends, exercising, being still and reflective, or taking naps! Even Jesus encouraged rest! “The apostles gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. And He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.'” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.)” Mark 6:30-31 NASB
…surrendering what I cannot control to the Lord and embracing His plans with an attitude of thankfulness and praise.
Daily rested-ness matters because it reveals our perspective on who God is and who we are in relation to Him. Are we striving and struggling emotionally, physically, and spiritually because our priorities are off and our focus is on worldly success rather than pleasing God? Are we stressed and anxious as we work because we do not trust that God is in control?
Jesus says, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy-ladden and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) True rest is found in Him. It’s not about laziness. It’s not about the absence of work or hardship. We have to work and do our best. That’s a given. There will be days when the work feels bitter and difficult, and the outcome of our labor is imperfect and disappointing. But we can rest in the reality that our success is in the hands of the Lord, and our success is dependent on whether we are WITH the Lord.
“For what does a man get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun? Because all his days his task is painful and grievous; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is vanity…For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him (God)?” Ecclesiastes 2:22-23,25
“And He (God) said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.“” Exodus 33:14
The third kind of rest is eternal. “Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!'” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.”” Revelation 14:12-13 NASB
Whether it is rest on a Sabbath, daily rested-ness, or rest in heaven, I believe God designed rest to remind us that life isn’t about endless work, performance, or toil on earth to earn money, enjoy luxuries, gain fame or power or derive our sense of self-worth from our accomplishments. Striving after these things doesn’t give us real rest. They can give us a false sense of it at times. But they cannot replace the rest found in knowing we are loved by God, that His presence is with us, and that we can trust in His plans for us.
So take a break from whatever you are doing right now (even reading this) and just bask in that reality. Give the Lord your stress and your worry, and let His peace wash over you. He loves you dear friend.