Rest does not come naturally to me, and I never make it a priority. I love to work; I love to-do lists; I love staying busy. Even my hobbies are physically demanding, and rarely does a vacation involve much downtime. I have two speeds: stop and go. Early in the summer, I packed my food and gear and set out on a five-day camping trip where I would spend most of my time hiking and cycling. I had made a lengthy list of trails I wanted to hike and set an ambitious goal for the number of miles I would cycle. But on the first full day of my vacation, I tripped over a rock while hiking and broke my foot. Although I was still able to walk, it was painful, and I was mostly out of commission for the rest of the trip. I wasn’t happy about it.
The pain in my foot was less than the irritation I felt over the fact that I wouldn’t be hiking or cycling anytime soon. I lay in my hammock and read — in a huff because of my circumstances. But then it occurred to me that for the first time in I couldn’t remember how long, I was actually relaxing while on vacation. I went to a nearby picnic area and spent time reading one of my favorite poets. Later I sat by a mountain stream for a long time and did nothing but watch the water flow over the rocks. It was peaceful and renewing and, admittedly, wholly unfamiliar. My body felt better and so did my mind.
Inspired by the art on the cover of this issue, I reread the chapters in Exodus that recount the events of Mount Sinai, in particular the commandments that God gave to Moses. (See Exodus 19–21.) Among the commandments was “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work” (Ex. 20:8-10, NRSV). I think this is probably the commandment that I break most often. It’s at least one of the easiest for me to break and to justify doing so because my to-do list always seems really important and rest mostly unproductive.
I don’t think God breaks our bones to get our attention, but I did learn something from my experience: I can make time for stillness and rest, and nothing bad happens. Nothing important falls through the cracks. It isn’t a slippery slope that leads to idleness or a poor work ethic. It isn’t a sign that I am becoming negligent or lazy or irresponsible. Rest is a gift from God that honors God and honors our tired bodies and minds. That God gave us a day for rest is clear evidence to me of how much God cares for us and wants us to care for ourselves. That God gave it to us in the form of a command also tells me that God knew how inclined some of us might be to ignore the gift.
I tend not to realize my need for rest until it’s too late. But I am striving to be more proactive by taking regular intervals of time for stillness and renewal. This has taken the form of a nap, finding a nice spot outdoors to read and feel the breeze, or having a cup of coffee as I let my mind wander from one thought to the next — all small acts that have made a big difference for me. Rest might look different for each of us depending on our needs. Regardless of the form it takes, I hope we all will find time and a place for the rest that God wants us to have. In Genesis, after creating the heavens and the earth, God rested. If God needed rest, so do we.
Questions for Reflection:
1. Is making time to rest something that comes easily for you? What does rest look like for you? When have you struggled to find time to rest?
2. When have circumstances forced you to rest? What parts of this experience were uncomfortable for you? How did it change the way you think about rest?
3. Name some scripture verses that speak about rest. Which of these do you find most helpful in terms of your own relationship with rest? Which do you find most challenging?
This season, Whitney R. Simpson has given us the gift we must open: a clear, accessible invitation to connect with the divine spark that is within us. This is the best present: being present for Jesus’ birth, God made human.”
Learn more about our newest Advent resource, Fully Human, Fully Divine here.