"Our culture has shaped us to be frantic such that we have forgotten how to stop. ”
An overview of May Growth Exercises
It might seem like overkill to devote a whole month to the topic of Rest, but the truth is that most of us are simply hopeless at resting. We are experts at ‘Leisure’ but not at ‘Rest’. Our culture has shaped us to be frantic such that we have forgotten how to stop. Or if we are forced to stop (like in a pandemic lockdown!), then we go stir-crazy because we don’t know how to rest when we run out of leisure diversions. Rest is not leisure nor is it entertainment. Rest may include leisure and entertainment but they ought not be confused. Rest is a spiritual matter but, unfortunately, we have been conditioned to think that the most publicly active people are the most privately spiritual.
Actually, it is a mistake to think that our spiritual life can be looked after while we put enormous and long-term strain on our bodies and minds; to think that all is well as long as we squeeze in a quick fix ‘spiritual experience’— a Quiet Time, an uplifting podcast, or some Christian radio while we drive to our next meeting. If you have made it this far into the year on this blog, you may well have realised that your spiritual life requires intentional effort and prioritised attention. The reader who joined this blog in January hoping that it would neatly fit into their busy schedule and give them a bit of a lift— well, they’re probably not reading this bit.
Further, the person who does not give themselves to Rest will remain spiritually undernourished. Much has been written about the physiology and psychology of rest. An excellent example of this work is, “Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less” by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. Since human beings are ‘embodied souls’ and ‘ensouled bodies’, we embrace such wholistic approaches to the topic, but if, as we propose, rest is a fundamentally spiritual act then we do well to begin with God. We rest because God rests. At the climax of the Genesis creation account, God rests and he calls humanity to enter into his Rest.
The Garden of Eden account in Genesis, following on from the preface in Gen 2:1-2, is logically a description of resting with God. In its poetic form, this chapter informs our understanding of human beings in healthy and right relationships with God, with one another and with their environment. Indeed, following the rebellion of Genesis 3, the remainder of the biblical narrative is the story of this ‘rest’ being regained. Choosing to rest along the way to this perfect restoration is a way of bringing the future into our present, enjoying that final situation in a proleptic sense right now. Rest is therefore not a weakness.
Instead, it is trusting God to fulfil his purposes for us and for his world without our help. As we embrace rest, we recognise our dependence on God for all things. Jesus shows us the way in his incarnation. As he lived among us, he got tired, hungry and needed sleep. It is commonplace in the gospels to find Jesus retreating to a quiet place to rest from his work and enjoy restorative time with his Father.
Week One Exercise
In order that our rest is not ‘whatever is left over at the end of a busy week’ we need to plan to rest. Our “exercise” (ironic, eh?) is to rest for 1 day. 24 hours of rest is the goal, but if that seems impossible this week, in your diary set aside the time that you will intentionally rest this coming week. Then plan exactly what you will do in order to rest during that time.
Week Two Exercise: Reclaim your Sabbath
How did you go with your planned ‘Rest’ last week? Did you actually rest, even as you planned to do so? We know that God rested. But in Exodus 31:17 it says something else of the Lord as well. It says, “…and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.”
We might be tempted to view our need for refreshment as evidence of our weakness or even our falseness. But we see here that, whatever else it might mean that God was ‘refreshed”, it must allow for our rest to be refreshing. We should expect rest to have a restorative effect.
While the Lord Jesus seemed willing to contravene many of the Sabbath ‘rules’ of his day, he was always passionately advocating for the true purpose of Sabbath as rest and restoration (eg Mark 2:23-3:6). Consider the boundaries you will need to place around a ‘Sabbath time’ in your week, and the length of time within those boundaries, in order for restoration to occur. In doing so, remember that God gifted us with a whole day for Sabbath.
This week’s exercise: Part A – To crystallise your thinking on this matter, write out your personal Sabbath manifesto in your journal and find someone to share this with. Part B – As you did last week, in your diary set aside a time for rest this coming week and plan what you will do during that time.
Week Three Exercise: Technology Sabbath
How did your planned Rest go this past week? What could you do to improve it? Here’s your challenge: enjoy an electronic-technology-free sabbath. No phone, TV, computer, iPad, radio… etc. I think that using lights, refrigerators, heaters and cooking appliances could be allowed, but you can set your own boundaries. In the introduction to Neil Postman’s prescient book, “Amusing Ourselves To Death: public discourse in the age of show business,” a University professor describes the experience of his students to do likewise:
Each student has his or her own weakness— for some it is TV, some the cellphone/PDA, some the internet. But no matter how much they hate abstaining, or how hard it is to hear the phone ring but not answer it, they take time to do things they haven’t done in years. They actually walk down the street to visit a friend. They have extended conversations… The experience changes them.
Let this experience change you. Schedule a technology free Sabbath, a perhaps even a regular work day that is ‘unplugged.’ Our electronic advances can bring with them urgency, interruption and distraction. All of which are enemies of true rest.
Week Four Exercises: Rest together
How did your planned Rest go this past week? Did you go ‘technology free’?
One of the benefits of declaring a Sabbath Day for the entire community is that everyone shares their day of Rest with others: we all get to do it together.
This coming week, plan your time of Rest with a friend or partner. Another benefit of planning your rest with a friend is that they can keep you accountable to actually do it!
Reflect: How has this month of ‘learning to rest’ gone for you? What have you learned about yourself? What impact has planning to rest had on your relationship with God?