She sat on me! I couldn’t believe it!
My parents were out for the evening enjoying a date night and they had left me with a babysitter. I was so excited to meet her because she seemed like such fun! Her name was Heather. Before they left, my parents had shown her around the house, left their phone numbers and given us money to order pizza. My dad, being the jokester he is, mentioned that if I got out of hand she should try sitting on me. I knew he was joking, but Heather seemed to take his advice to heart, because not long after I found myself trying to squirm out of the big armchair she had me pinned to. I undoubtedly deserved it. I had probably pestered my brother or said something ornery. Although I don’t remember what I did to get myself into that situation, I do remember that she wouldn’t get up until I stopped squirming and calmed down. Now, I am certainly not recommending that sitting on your children is the best way to calm them down. Although I have no children of my own I certainly wouldn’t blame you for wanting to try it. Heather turned out to be one of my favorite babysitters, and oddly the only one I really remember. And although she was half teasing when she sat on me, it really did prove a point, she was in charge. Funny how being given boundaries can actually produce a sense of calm and rest.
In the last year or so I found myself having the same experience, but this time with God. I have always been one of those people who fills their schedule to the brim. I can’t say no and I am always looking for something else to get involved in. I was this way growing up and kept up the pace through college, despite falling ill and battling to maintain my energy. It wasn’t until my third year of my marriage that I began to evaluate where my time was going. I felt the Lord beginning to call me into a season of Sabbath, but still had no idea what that meant in my daily life. At this point, I had two jobs, one full-time, one part-time and was receiving treatments for adrenal fatigue. I was essentially burning the candle at both ends and still wondering why my health wasn’t improving, why my marriage felt strained and I constantly felt inadequate to meet the demands of my own life. I saw people around me who had kids and coached and taught full time and they seemed to have it all together, so why couldn’t I?
However, I was only seeing a small part of the picture. As I began to get to know the people in my workplace I realized that they were just as stressed as I was, some even more so. Sure, they might coach and teach and have a side business, etc. but they were struggling just as much as me. I had little time to spend with my family, and other things important to me, such as my health, were falling to the wayside. In other words, something had to give. I couldn’t have it all. I realized that while I was a good teacher at school and at dance I wasn’t being a good wife, and when I began to shift my priorities to focus on my time at home I had less time to prepare for my teaching. So I guess you could try to “do” it all, but you can’t give your best to everything when you load up your plate to the brim. Someone or something will get the best of your energy and attitude that day, and sadly our families and God usually get the short end of the stick.
In the midst of my fast-paced schedule, I felt the Lord’s presence sink over me like a heavy fog. The things that use to be so crystal clear in my vision, my career goals, my own ambitions for my life, became blurry. I could feel my priorities shifting, and just like I did with Heather I squirmed and fought God to maintain control of my life. I didn’t want to give up my classroom. I didn’t want to let go of my own plans, but I also didn’t want to keep living the way that I was. I wanted to let my body heal, I wanted to be available for my husband, I wanted to volunteer at church and have time to build friendships and visit family. The Lord was inviting me to let go… to rest.
It’s strange to think that it’s so hard for us to rest. We talk about it, we long for it, we work toward it, we envy those who have it… but when it comes down to it we don’t really want it, at least the entirety of it. We want an escape, a distraction from our lives, from the chaos. We want quiet, but not so quiet that we are confronted with our own fears; we want peace, but not so peaceful that we fill purposeless; we want calm, but not so calm that we feel alone. Because if we were to be alone, confronted with our deepest fears and had nothing to derive our sense of purpose from, then we would be forced to recognize our frailty, our mortality and there is nothing more unraveling, more frightening than realizing we aren’t in control of our own life… that we aren’t God. We would be forced to acknowledge His presence, His authority, and His power, we would have to deal with the mess beneath the surface and surrender to God. We would have to relinquish control. So while we complain that we just need to rest, we don’t rest, because we know we’ll lose control. Rest isn’t what we want, distraction is really what we are often chasing.
And this is where I began to squirm… I didn’t want to deal with the mess underneath the surface. I didn’t want to feel alone or lose control. My career was the only thing separating me from that leap, keeping me busy enough that I didn’t have to deal with my own mess, and the Lord was gently prodding me to let it go. He was inviting me into HIS rest.
“It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.” Exodus 31:17 (NKJV)
The Hebrew word for “rest” in this verse is shabath and is only one of 28 different Hebrew words for rest. It means to cease or desist from labor. Here the Lord ceases from His labor so that He can be refreshed or renewed. The Lord does this as an example for us, not that He can ever tire or grow weary, but so that we would know that we are created to rest and that our rest actually produces a renewal of energy both physically and spiritually. Rest is the regeneration of our soul. It begins the moment we take our focus off the physical product and drink in the peace and stillness of God’s presence. Just like our physical bodies need rest so too our spiritual bodies need time to recharge, grow, heal and gain strength. I don’t know about you, but without sleep I become very grumpy, just ask my husband. My body starts to ache and I may even become sick with all those germs flying around my classroom. In the same way, our spiritual lives become so exhausted as we try to simply push through our daily schedules, so jammed packed that we hardly recognize the symptoms of exhaustion. We struggle to have patience and find it hard to love those around us. The fears and worries and anxieties we’ve done so well to bury begin to bubble to the surface. We find ourselves reaching out for things or people to experience joy in our lives, and before we know it we have caught the, ever so common, spiritual cold, still wondering why life is so hard and wishing we could just have some time to rest. We need to exchange our idea of rest for the life-giving rest that the Lord offers us.
God’s idea of rest is hard to fully grasp at times. Our culture does not value God’s rest because what it produces is not tangible. It cannot be packaged, promoted or priced. So we settle for our version of rest we have created. We work feverishly in hopes of saving enough money and time to take a vacation, to justify the time off and make us feel we have earned it. Then, when we do finally get away, our time is spent satisfying our physical wants and needs. If given the chance to be still, we find ourselves antsy after just a few days and begin to feel uncomfortable once that feeling of purpose starts to slip away and our loneliness rears its ugly head. (Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt) So we fill our vacations with long to-do lists because it makes us feel in control and keeps that mess beneath the surface at bay. Then we come home wishing we had a vacation from our vacation. Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE to travel and take vacations. However, we cannot rely on the seasonal vacation to heal the broken places in our heart, to give us an inner peace and to renew our strength to face a new day. We could have the most wonderful vacation with white-sand beaches, luxurious food, and a great spa, but it will not produce the peace and inner calm that the Lord’s rest can. Those things are not enough to renew our spiritual health and encourage a lifestyle of balance. In fact, you could argue that this type of rest without spiritual renewal is only encouraging our lives to remain out of balance.
So how do we enter into God’s rest?
Let’s start at the heart of the problem… our time. Creating space on our calendars that is not prescribed for something specific seems like a waste like we are not being good stewards of our time and resources by filling it with something. But think of this another way. If you were to apply this same principle to your finances, spending every last resource you had, on any opportunity that came up, over time you might find yourself in some amount of debt. While we cannot borrow time we can certainly over-commit it, and I use to be a professional over-committer. In our finances, we are encouraged to work with a margin, not to budget or plan every cent we have. If we planned to spend every cent, it leaves no wiggle room for change, for the unexpected, for life to happen. We are taught to put our money into things that will grow and multiply our investment. So why do we not apply these same ideas of margin and investment to our time? What if we left ourselves some margin in our schedules and spent our time on things that would grow us into better people?
And this is where I gave in… I stopped squirming and relaxed under the weight of God’s presence. I let HIS rest begin to seep into my daily life and refresh my soul. I let the Lord begin to change the way I viewed my time. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t overnight. But I gave in to God and He gave me rest for my soul. Funny thing, I think He already told me that He could do that…
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you REST. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find REST for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (NKJV)
I don’t know what God’s rest will look like for you in your current season of life. However, I encourage you to ask Him. Allow his presence to fall upon you, to pour into every area of your time, and surrender your schedule to Him. I promise you He knows what He is doing and you won’t walk away dissatisfied.