The Surprising Reason We Need Rest
Updated: Sep 16, 2022
How to Break Up with Your Anxious Life
Meeting the Need for Rest, Part One
On my 45th birthday this month, I posted a Reel about my old lady proclivities. Among my old lady preferences are growing geraniums – the official flower of old ladies – using embroidered handkerchiefs, wearing an apron around the house every day, and being obsessed with my bird feeders. Every morning I go out and feed my birds, and call to them, “Here’s the seed, sweeties! Come get it!” Filling my feeders and watching the birds arrive at them is part of my daily practice of slowing down, holding still, and giving my brain some rest.
Over the years I’ve been amazed that even if I’ve neglected to fill their feeders for weeks, the sparrows have found my yard again within hours. Some instinct God gave them tells them how to find nourishment, and quickly.
I also watch hummingbirds, who buzz in and out of my yard every morning at sunrise, and again at sunset. They are beautiful, but they don’t evoke rest.
They are, in fact, frenzied and a little bit dumb. Hummingbirds will try to get nourishment from anything that looks vaguely like a flower. Every December, they ping their beaks repeatedly against my Christmas lights. One time, I spotted a female hummingbird trying to drink from the heavy white fringe of my yellow patio umbrella. She was very persistent in her fruitless efforts, until at least a dozen pieces of fringe were swinging back and forth. She never noticed the rich blossoms that I had planted for her benefit. She buzzed away, unnourished.
I immediately felt that this hummingbird had something to teach me.
The hummingbird by nature is not capable of moderation. She cannot walk or hop, but has only two speeds: full tilt and full stop (and I might be stretching here, but she never looks at ease even when she is sitting still). Jesus told us to consider the birds of the air in Matthew chapter 6, promising that God will provide for us the way he does for the birds. Some translations say “sparrow” and some “raven” -- but none specifically say hummingbird (and there are hummingbirds in Israel, I checked). Hummingbirds are a marvel, but not a good model.
The sparrow is in touch with her instincts to such a degree that she knows exactly how and where to find good food. Her good instincts are part of God’s provision for her. Even if it means digging around in my plants to find the last seeds, sparrows are persistent, and her searches bear fruit. I have never seen one try to eat a rock or drink from an umbrella.
This is also how God would like to provide for me, and you. He would like recalibrate our instincts, so that we crave what is good for us. Rest is not only a solution to fatigue, it is a diagnostic tool. Slowing down allows us to assess our needs and desires.
Nutritionists will tell you that cravings can lie to you. Some people believe that food cravings are clues to what our bodies actually need – like your college roommate who swore she needed ice cream when she was on her period. This is far from true: People often crave things they are allergic to because eating these foods creates an endorphin high. Also, the stressed and fatigued body cries out for fat and sugar, which will get you through an hour, but not even a whole afternoon. The body is going for the fast hummingbird hit.
Emotionally and spiritually, I find my cravings have been equally off in stressful situations, or sustained seasons when I’m not practicing stillness. Here is a partial list of my umbrella fringe flowers.
I look for an emotional lift in a Diet Coke can. I seek sustaining energy from a drive-through window. (Donut store drive-throughs are my favorite.)
I alleviate boredom, dissatisfaction or anxiety by buying something that I don’t need.
I try to find levity and entertainment on a streaming service, though I’m drawn to crime dramas, which showcase the dark parts of humanity.
I call the most anxious person, or the person likely to give advice rather than empathy.
I try to find connection and intimacy on Facebook or Instagram, and instead find a grab-bag of often uninformed opinions or anxious wonderings.
The “umbrella fringe flower” list distracts me or further distresses me. We all have days when we over-do life, stress eat, drink too much coffee and just get done what we need to get done; these days are sometimes necessary. But it’s possible to go months, years, or even a lifetime like this. And if a lack of rest causes us to misread our physical needs to an unhealthy degree, imagine how much more likely we are to misunderstand the needs of our soul. The surprising reason that you need to rest is that if you don’t, you could live your whole life being very productive in the wrong direction, satisfying the wrong desires, missing out on God's provision for you.
The path to becoming more like the sparrow than the hummingbird does not have to be dramatic, like quitting your corporate job or imposing strict Sabbath rules on your household. Rather start with this one, small practice: Unplug and sit still for just five minutes a day. Think of this as the way you stop banging that busy beak of yours where there is no nourishment, and recalibrate those good instincts that God gave you.
Here's a stillness practice that I lead groups through in my Bible studies. Try in a few times this week, first thing in the morning, mid-afternoon, or last thing at night.
1. Sit still and flat footed in a chair with your hands in your lap, or lie flat on your back.
2. Take five deep breaths. Bring your awareness from the top of you head, down to your feet, noticing tension, fatigue, pain, hunger; even notice dry, itching skin or clothes that feel too tight.
3. Write down three emotions you feel currently or have felt during the course of the day.
4. Do one thing to meet your physical needs: stretch, drink a glass of water, eat a snack, but on a more comfortable pair of pants – whatever!