Series: How to Break Up with Your Anxious Life
Meeting the Need for Rest, Part Two
Last week our family went to spend a few days in a friend’s vacation house in Santa Barbara. It was our “last hurrah” before my firstborn goes off to college in the Midwest next week. We planned a quiet “hurrah”: playing board games, reading, cooking, riding bikes, taking walks.
It was a bad time of the month for two out of the three of us (the next visitors to the house might sense the presence of excessive estrogen. It was that bad). But the real issue was, we slowed down, and we felt our feelings. At least I did. With no packing, shopping, or list making to do, I had moments – okay hours – where I became overwhelmed with sadness that my baby is going away.
So, it wasn’t a really great time all the time, but it was a good time. It was a needed time. As my sponsor and Hagrid say, “Better out than in.”
One of the reasons some of us don’t rest and hold still is that it often feels awful at first. In stillness, grief, anger, frustration, emptiness, and loneliness rise to the surface. Especially if we’ve been holding them down.
Last week, I wrote about how God uses rest to recalibrate our instincts. As he did for the sparrow, he provides for us by showing us where to find food. If we buzz around like a hummingbird, we often end up undernourished because we go for quick hits rather than deep sustenance. Slowing down helps us diagnose and meet our needs.
We know that it’s hard to find time to be still in this culture, but our reasons for avoiding rest, are likely more spiritual and psychological than we realize. Let me name a few:
Belief that our personalities require us to be “busy.” I am happier when I have a schedule, a rhythm of work and rest. That’s different than being addicted to compulsive hustling. Hear this now: stillness doesn’t make you sad or depressed. If you feel sad every time you take a day off, it reveals that you already were sad. And that is very important information for you to have. And you are not the exception to the human race, the one person who doesn't need to take breaks.
Lack of inherent value. We have been taught that productivity equals value.
Comparison to others. Our subconscious calls us names when we are doing “less” than those around us.
Bad theology about Christian service and spiritual renewal. Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, the Bible says, but that doesn’t mean that those who serve the Lord will never get tired. Serving God is not a substitute for stillness.
Guilt. If we had uber-hardworking parents or grew up in disadvantaged households, no one modeled rest. We may wonder, “Who am I to take a Sabbath – or even a nap – when my single mother never could?” It’s not appropriate guilt, because God commands us to rest, but it’s something we need to overcome.
Shame. More sinister than the above, “rest shaming” (I just made that term up) comes from parents and caregivers who actually criticized, embarrassed or resented us for taking time to rest or recreate. The inner voice who tells us to keep hustling has a face and a name – that of someone who was supposed to love, comfort and nurture us.
That last one is personal to me. Back in my mid-twenties, when I heard God’s voice in my Volkswagen, telling me that I didn’t need to be stressed out to be valuable, I believed it was God’s invitation to release my job so that I wouldn’t go crazy from living life with no margin. (You can read about this here if you missed it.) God’s plan was much bigger, and my need for his healing was much greater.
In my family of origin, I’d experienced a toxic level of hustling for worthiness, as well as a parent’s resentment every time I rested or did something fun. So at the age of thirty, when the initial joy of quitting my job wore off, I went through an intense psychological detox. In relative stillness, I discovered that my constant striving and busyness had been an addiction, numbing the pain of obsessive/compulsive thinking, guilt, and anxiety that I had experienced in stillness since my early 20s. I actually became very, very depressed and began clinical therapy for the first time.
Almost 20 years later, I continue to thank God for that mental health crisis. It taught me to live in a rhythm of work and rest, so that I can process reality in bits daily and weekly, rather than suppressing it for long seasons until I break down. Our slow vacation last week, punctuated with grief, built authentic intimacy in our family and restored us. We rebounded to enjoyment in between moments of sadness and made good memories. Doing a puzzle on the kitchen table, drawing in sketchbooks, reading books, and watching sunsets were times we had not just relief from anxiety, but peace.
My last word for you today: Rest is a pathway to intimacy with God, just as it is with our people. I have come to know Him as the God of All Comfort, who absolutely commands me to rest because He loves me so much. He meets me when I feel lousy. He has things to say about how I might come to feel better. Resting with God doesn’t mean a formal “quiet time” with my Bible open at sunrise. Instead, often I just turn off my phone while I walk, or watch my birds in the backyard for long enough that my feeling rise and I tell God the truth, which He already knows. He has made me strong enough to feel it.