I don’t know about you, but I often find myself feeling churned up by the news at the moment. As well as all the ongoing anxiety and uncertainty surrounding easing lockdown here in the UK (and media furore about Dominic Cummings last week), we now have the utterly horrific news of the death of George Floyd and racist police brutality in the USA to digest. Today we have the US President waving a bible outside an Episcopal church for a photo op, having had peaceful protesters tear-gassed by police to clear a path for him. Whatever your politics or views this is a lot for our hearts and minds to wrap themselves around at the moment – it demands our critical thinking, our self-reflection, our prayers and our actions. This is all vital work for each one of us, but it comes at a time when many of us already feel more depleted and anxious than normal.
So the purpose of this post is to encourage us to do both the very necessary hard work where and when we can with all the strength and tenacity we possess, but also to give ourselves permission to press pause and allow ourselves to exhale, relax and switch off when exhaustion approaches. Every natural system in creation requires rhythm and rest, we are not made to be switched on and agitated all the time. We were not designed to be robots or machines, instead we have vulnerable bodies, souls and nervous systems that specifically require rest and the feeling of safety and calm to work properly and over the longhaul. Having opportunity and resources to rest when necessary is a privilege that is not available to everyone and that should be something we help one another with in healthy communiites and seek to address where systems and work structures are oppressive. This is true on the factory floor and in the boardroom.
Remember the loving invitation of Jesus, who understood our and his own humanity so perfectly:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn how to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Where in your week or your day, could you protect your wellbeing by building in moments and opportunities to rest, play, relax or spend time doing something that recharges your batteries? Where could you pause from all the daunting demands and tasks of each day and be with Jesus, experiencing his peace and presence? The possibility of living with a real, felt sense of freedom and lightness whilst fully active and engaged in all the complex and sometimes horrifying realities of the world is an absolute miracle of the gospel – of Love somehow remaking and restoring us, healing us from the inside out. There is something a bit outrageous and counter-cultural and awkward about its resolute goodness. But what if the gospel really was that good and that is what people met in us, the loving, peace-making presence of God shining through our rested faces and words and actions? It often feels far from my experience but I think the hope is real! We will certainly never do this perfectly and there are times when we will be particularly stretched and with our shoulder hard to the wheel, but this is the call, the “follow me” of Christ – to learn the “unforced rhythms of grace”. And when the cruelties of life do threaten to crush us or any of our brothers and sisters, we circle the wagons and tend to eachothers wounds and sorrows. We do everything we can to bring a measure of rest to eachother when ‘freedom and lightness’ feel impossible to access for ourselves – there can be a beautiful collectivity to the way grace moves between us and through us to others.
We all need Love to sew us back together when we are ragged and worn at the edges. God understands the particular ways that your soul is nourished, that your tank is refilled – is it baking, biking, walking in nature, listening to music, simply sitting in silence for a few minutes at the start of the day with a cup of coffee? These things are as spiritual as prayer or church when we seek his presence within them. Your gentle restoration is joy to God and the joyous presence of God is restoration to you – the Divine flow goes both ways.
So take that long soak in the bath with a good book and don’t feel guilty, watch the fantastic film, enjoy the slightly longer than necessary dog walk that takes in a sunset, hug your knees to your chest and soak in the loving presence of God, knowing you are seen and loved completely by Him whether you sense the Spirit in that moment or not. Pause. You ARE loved, your joy and wellbeing matter to Him.
Rest as resistance
You are not a machine, you are the dear and beloved child of God! Rest is a holy practice inaugurated and even commanded by God right from the start (as recorded in Genesis), and it is a powerful resistance to feeling enslaved to productivity and achievement – twin gods of our culture, the impulses towards which can be rampant in church as well as the secular spaces. It may feel impossible and counter-intuitive sometimes, but it will fuel you to be all you can be in a world that needs what only you can uniquely bring, without crushing your body and soul in the process.