The Choice of Intentional or Forced Resting

Always with the New Year there is a sense of starting over, of new beginnings, hope for the coming year, and examining the past with an eye to the future. I don’t make resolutions any more, and I’ve not really stuck with the “One Word” practice for the year. Still, within me is a desire to re-evaluate and forge ahead with intentions to clean up the slack from the previous year.

Over Christmas I got a cold. Two weeks later, I’m still sick. Hopefully, by the time you read this I will be done with it all and back into my routines.

I try to look at sickness as a message to slow down. To take the time to rest. But being sick at this time of the year, takes away all my good intentions! When I’m sick, I unconsciously think I have all this time to catch up on my reading or any other practice I’ve been too busy to do. But I’m so medicated that I can’t concentrate enough to actually read with any kind of comprehension, practice extended times of prayer without falling asleep, or even try to memorize anything. I forget it as soon as I read it. My motivation is simply limited to breathing and swallowing without pain.

Now, I can choose to feel guilty about this or I can view this time of rest as a blessing and an opportunity to learn something. I was well into my second week of being sick before I recognized this was a time of forced resting.

The definition of rest is: cease work or movement in order to relax, refresh oneself, or recover strength.

The first two parts of this definition can be completely voluntary. We can choose to place ourselves in a position of relaxing and refreshing ourselves. However, the last one, recovering strength, is not voluntary. We become subject to an injury or sickness that we did not choose.

What if choosing to periodically relax and refresh alleviates the need of forced resting?

Dallas Willard wrote about rest in The Great Omission:

“Among the practices that can help us attend to soul care at a basic level are solitude and silence. We practice these by finding ways to be alone and away from talk and noise. We rest, we observe, we “smell the roses”—dare we say it?—we do nothing. This discipline can be used of God as a means of grace. In it we may even find another reminder of grace—that we are saved, justified by His redeeming power—not by our strivings and achievements.”

Doing nothing. Sometimes I can’t wrap my head around this. We live in this world where what you do is who you are. We feel this pressure to constantly produce. We go, go, go. And then we get sick.

There is so much resistance with the idea of rest. Resting is counter to our culture. Sure, we take vacations, but often they are filled with running to this or that. We’re more tired when we get back then when we left.

What would it look like for us to intentionally schedule rest and value that rest time?

I used to attend a church where several people I respected, practiced Sabbath. They didn’t shop on that day. They visited with friends and family. They took naps in the afternoon. They were not legalistic about it, but it was their choice to live this way. I decided to experiment with Sabbath for a bit. Took a nap. Didn’t make plans. I learned to love it. It was relaxing, and I entered Monday with refreshment rather than dread.

And looking back, I didn’t get sick as often.

How do you practice rest in an age of productivity?

First, we need a different mindset. I would like it taught more often that we are loved by God, not for what we do, but for who we are. Certainly, we are each called by God for some task for his glory, but even he took a day off to rest! Practicing a Sabbath is one of the commandments. Perhaps, we could look at resting as a part of our journey of faith.

Next, we need to determine what is rest for us. What does rest look like for you? Is it a nap? Can tending the garden as a respite from our regular tasks be restful? What about a hike or walk in the woods? Is sitting and reading a book for sheer enjoyment a rest? Jesus said:

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Mark 2:27 ESV

It sounds like there is an openness to how we practice rest, with the permission to not accomplish anything.

Finally, this practice needs to be intentional. We cannot hope it will happen. We can’t just wait and see. Let me say this again. Rest is counter-cultural. We have been programmed to produce. Rest is not gonna just happen. There must be a push back on the societal mores we have grown used to. We need to schedule and put a value on it. Don’t misunderstand me, sometimes we also need to practice grace. Things happen, and we have to be flexible, but we can pray and put this time before God as our desire. Often things work out in ways we could never imagine.

We can go into this dragging our feet with angst and dread. Or we can view this as an experiment in our faith journey. Putting something into practice and paying attention to the results. Journal your experience. It will help you tweak what works and what doesn’t work.

As I find myself in this place of sickness once again, perhaps I must take my own advice. Being proactive in my practice of rest cannot but help in avoiding this forced resting. I’m grateful for it, in that I have come to the realization of my need for more intentional resting.

How could you intentionally practice rest? What happens inside of you when you view rest as an experiment in your faith journey?