Recently, I wrote an essay about our need to rest and establish a “rest routine.” But I also admitted that I hadn’t figured out my own rest routine. In response to my post, my friend Lanna commented, “I think you have found your word for the year!” I’d actually been searching for a word for 2022 and hadn’t found quite the right one, but “rest” seemed obvious after Lanna pointed it out. With “rest” on my mind, I thought back to the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 when everything shut down and I discovered that I enjoyed coloring to occupy my mind during the many days and nights spent indoors. So, I went back to my stash of coloring books and markers and looked for something to work on. When I found a page, I thought “after I get some chores done, I’ll color.” And in that moment, I realized that subconsciously, I believed that I had to earn my rest.
I assume I’m not alone in that belief even if we don’t acknowledge it. We think that we must do some sort of work before we deserve rest. We must be productive: finish one more step of the project, throw in another load of laundry, make that call or send that email. Whether we are at home or work, we come up with a long to-do list before we will rest. We think we must reach exhaustion before we give ourselves permission to slow down and do something restorative. If we aren’t being industrious, we think we are wasting time. We don’t give rest a chance.
When I stopped working as a lawyer after our move to Texas fifteen years ago, I had an identity crisis of sorts. I wasn’t bringing home a paycheck anymore to quantify my worth. I started cooking more elaborate dinners for the first time in our family’s existence because I felt I had to prove my value as a homemaker. I wore business clothes to drop my kids off at daycare a few days a week because I didn’t want to be deemed lazy. I felt lost without the demands of work and didn’t know how to fill my days. I was staying home with two young children (with two more yet to be born), but I didn’t feel like I was earning my keep, much less earning time for rest, although I was extremely tired. I couldn’t square the previous version of my life and its constant and frantic (but not very satisfying) pace with the new iteration which was slower and not easily measurable in terms of worldly success.
In a familiar passage, Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30). Jesus didn’t say, come to me only after you’ve completed all your tasks and a long day’s work. He said, “are you weary and burdened?” Check and check for almost everyone I know. We are tired, stressed, and troubled as a people and as individuals. Yet, we just keep pushing ourselves to do more, be more, try more. God wants us to turn to him and away from all the craziness of our success-oriented culture. Our world that drives us to the brink of exhaustion in the name of productivity is not the kingdom on earth that God promotes. Rest is necessary and important in God’s version of the ideal.
Why do we resist rest so adamantly? Are we afraid of being quiet and introspective? Of what we might learn about ourselves if we stop pursuing the world’s definition of success? Or have we merely succumbed to the theory that we must earn rest because otherwise we don’t deserve it? Whatever the reason, if we take time to examine our refusal to rest often, we can change. God tells us to come to him so that he can freely give us rest, just as he gives his grace and boundless love. Let us rest and accept all God longs to give us.