Toys and kids’ backpacks are scattered over the family room floor, which hasn’t been vacuumed in a week. Dust, sticky note reminders, and yesterday’s mail clutter the kitchen counter-tops . . . how could I allow this house to become such a mess? The kitchen garbage cans are filled to the brim. What is that smell? Why can’t I get my three-year-old to use the toilet when I have tried absolutely everything I can think of . . . I must be a terrible mom . . . . out of six possible children’s Bibles, why can’t I interest my seven-year-old in any of them? How do I distract him from making awful throat and animal noises as he leaps and sprints, charging all over the house, imagining himself as a dragon, dragging freshly washed bedding over the dirty kitchen floor, because, well, the blankets are his wings, of course . . . I must be a terrible mom . . . what am I making for dinner tonight? Television blares a steady stream of obnoxious campaign ads …. And the White House so desperately needs new leadership.
Stop. Take a deep breath. There are days when I need to silence the television and social media. And it’s hard to do because I want to be informed. What if I miss something? But otherwise the deception, fear, anger and chaos spewing out of screens will overwhelm my mind and keep my focus on circumstances, rather than on the One in control of all circumstances. There are moments when I need absolute quiet. And the only time of day when I can enjoy stillness within my home is between 5:30 and 7:30 a.m., week days, before either child wakes and after bedtime, between 8:30-10 p.m. May I add that I hate mornings? That I’m nocturnal by nature?
But just because the TV, iphone and all other devices are off doesn’t mean immediate peace. In fact, that’s when the real battle begins. The voices in my head that TV and radio drown out then awaken and shout “do you really think you’ll be good enough at anything to make difference in this world? No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, everything that goes wrong will always be your fault. You are a mistake! Flawed! There will always be people who are better writers, better moms, prettier, more popular women who are more likeable and charming than you.” Ugh. Suddenly I’m a fly caught in a spider’s web where the terrifying insect is about to suck out the essence of who I am . . . . and Satan has his way with me. Defeated. Rest? Peace? Stillness? Hardly.
I know that it’s possible to make different choices in how I think and what I choose to believe. It’s possible for all of us. The challenge for me is to actually apply what has been made clear in God’s Word.
Rest is a command for all believers. “At creation, God established the need for human beings to rest. Our minds and bodies cannot sustain constant pressure without intentional time to replenish. Our spirits need dedicated time to stop activity and focus on God.” (mybsf.org; Genesis Lesson 2). By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 2: 2-3 NIV)
So why is rest and stillness so challenging? And why is finding the balance between work and rest and respecting others’ differences so hard? Others are wired differently, but as for me, if I fail to carve out and set aside small blocks of time to first read God’s word, ponder, reflect, pray, and then write, I become a distracted, irritable mess. The polar opposite of what God commands.
As international Bible teachers Joyce Meyer and Christine Caine would say, “we confuse our who from our do.” If we place all our identity and self-worth on performance, either in our careers and/or service to others, the time will come when we will not or cannot measure up to standards imposed by ourselves or others, and then we call ourselves failures.
God wants to provide us physical and emotional rest. “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.” (Matthew 11: 28-30). But the challenge is to trust in that rest, rather than our own efforts. The “first-generation- out-of-Egypt” Israelites never did get it right. They refused to believe. Hebrews chapter three reminds us that they were not allowed to enter the Promised Land, which symbolizes rest, because they refused to trust in God’s provision and promises. “Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt?” (Hebrews 3: 16). Let’s learn from their mistake, shall we?
David is the first Biblical personality who shows us what emotional rest is all about through beautiful imagery in the poetry of Psalm 23. Yes, the David the warrior, the adulterer, and the best king Israel ever had, managed to find rest. “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul,” (verse 2).
The purpose of rest is to take the time to thank God for our blessings, confess our sins and worship. If that’s just one more thing on our to-list, then we need a shift in our priorities and motives. Rest means being at peace in mind, body and soul. It means we are not striving, trying or achieving for the wrong reasons. If we are tangled up in fear, anger or jealousy, rest and peace for our soul will elude us. Rather than striving to make things go our way, our primary goal becomes pleasing God. Moving towards rest, we become less people-pleasing, competitive or comparative. Moving towards rest, we become more Spirit-led.
Rest, in essence, is work. It’s a different type of work. It’s work without tangible results. It takes effort to block out the thousands of daily outward and inward distractions that want to pull us away from spending time with our Creator God. It’s a battle. It takes intense concentration to prevent daily frustrations and fears from overwhelming our minds, that rob us of peace. It requires that our focus be on God, and not our circumstances. Rest is hard. That’s why so many people, myself included, have trouble arriving at rest. It’s a life-long process.
But so rewarding! Have you ever been around someone who is at rest? Someone not plagued by inadequacy, insecurity, envy, anxiety, fear, discouragement or frustration? It’s wonderful. They are free to be fully present to the world around them.
Restfulness is not laziness or denying reality, but where our focus and trust is placed. If we can achieve a state of rest, bad news doesn’t bother us (as much). We do what we can to be Holy Spirit-led influencers and change agents for the Gospel, and if we are rest, we can partner with God in raising kids, dealing with racial injustice, election results, covid-19 and climate change and all the other uncertainties because he already knows the outcome.
We all yearn for rest in some way, shape or form. Help us find it. Humble us where pride blinds us to your Truth and your commands. Forgive our self-pity or despair and show us the way toward rest and peace. We know that we are most effective for Kingdom work when we are at rest emotionally, available and eagerly waiting for direction from you. Amen.