Back in 2007, during my junior year of college, I was a resident assistant in the dorms, and I spent that entire year going to bed at 2:00 am then waking up each morning at 8:00 am. I felt tired most of the time, but not particularly exhausted. That six-hour stint of sleep each night was enough to keep me going and fuel my class schedule, dorm responsibilities, on campus job, coffee dates with friends, and anything else I crammed into my calendar.
When I got pregnant with my oldest child back in 2013, I was told countless times by well-intentioned friends and acquaintances to “sleep now while you can!” This had to have been some sort of joke because three months into my pregnancy I started waking up multiple times during the night to pee. Then I had my daughter and I woke up multiple times to feed her. Then, when she was six months old I got pregnant again and was back to peeing. Then that baby was born and I was back to night feedings, and it wasn’t until the first week of July 2016, nearly three years after I originally started getting up to pee, that I was able to get a full night’s sleep.
And even though I’m back to sleeping, I’m always tired. More often than not, I’m exhausted because on top of my babies, I also have a husband, a job, a never-ending stack of dishes, laundry, church events, community outreach work, and anything else I can cram into my calendar.
Over the past three months, as I’ve sifted through ideas of what discipline to add, what additional thing I could fit into my day-to-day to build up my relationship with God, the only thing that came to me was the word Sabbath—a word that means rest.
So, friends, I invite you to join me in the Discipline of Rest.
It seems odd, doesn’t it, that resting would be something that requires practice? Clearly, I am not that good at it though, or I wouldn’t be so exhausted. And I am willing to bet that many of you who have grown up in a culture or family that values productivity, hard work, multi-tasking, or simply “doing things” may also struggle with incorporating rest into your daily life.
Resting is something that God values, as evidenced in the creation story in the book of Genesis. In Genesis 2:2-3, the author writes, “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”
I think that God knew it would be a challenge for human beings to rest because it is something that he directs the nation of Israel to do in the book of Exodus and later makes rest one of the ten commandments:
“Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and 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.” Exodus 20:9-11
So with this in mind, I attempted to set aside a day for rest. I say “attempted” because I did not succeed. How is it possible to rest with two toddlers underfoot? Despite my attempts to focus and finish my tasks so that I could sit and rest, the small humans who share my home tend to undo my progress.
I then tried to adapt my strategy. Rather than devote an entire day to rest, I would try to cut myself off from doing things by a certain time in the evening and then go to bed early. I focused on creating a bedtime routine, making sleep—the most literal form of rest I could think of—a priority. This worked a total of three different times.
And then, over the Independence Day Weekend, I attained an unexpected sort of success. My friend Rachel and I were supposed to spend Sunday afternoon running an information booth during a street fair downtown. It was after church, and right in the middle of nap time for our children. We had both been up late with various obligations the night before, and after our church service, we decided to forgo the information booth in order to be home with our families. Then we each promptly went home, put our children to bed, and then each napped for two hours.
I am fairly certain that at this point some of you are wondering if rest is actually a spiritual discipline, or if I am simply using this series on spiritual practices to hone my parenting advice and shirk off other more exciting spiritual disciplines by napping and touting the values of sleep.
Hear me out though… the reality is that for many of us, especially those of us who err on the side of busyness and filling our schedules with meetings and obligations, choosing rest can, in fact, become a discipline that draws us closer to God. In his article entitled “Why Do We Need Physical Rest?” author Matt Capps asserts that if we forgo rest in favor of work, we are at risk of elevating success, power, and productivity to a place of higher importance in our lives than God. He goes on to explain that rest is a gift from God, requires us to give up control, and reminds us that we are not God.
In her book Mudhouse Sabbath, Lauren F. Winner addresses the theology and concept of Sabbath, which was originally a commandment given to the nation of Israel and part of Jewish practice, through the perspective of Christianity. She challenges the often touted idea that rest is about personal self-care and renewal, and instead emphasizes that our rest as humans is for God. A Sabbath is a rest that allows us to draw near to God. When God directs humans to keep the Sabbath because it is holy, he means that it is set apart for him.
When we take the time to intentionally pause from our tasks and give ourselves a respite from the daily grind, we can come back to our daily duties and our relationship with God fully energized and more ready to engage. And when we begin to have a Sabbath as a day of rest, we can dedicate that entire day to God and keep it holy and set apart for him.
I’d like to challenge you to try the discipline of rest.
SUGGESTIONS FOR REST:
Set aside a day for yourself during the week free from obligations, work, chores, and plans during which you can intentionally spend time reading your Bible, praying, or engaging in a spiritual practice that is beneficial to your relationship with God.
If an entire day seems like an unrealistic goal, set aside an hour each day that you will refrain from doing work, chores, or other tasks.
If you are the type of person who is perpetually exhausted and seems to always be running on empty, try an entire week of going to bed earlier than you normally do, and give yourself a consistent time each night.