Whether you've never been a person who rests well, or you have gotten out of the habit, being comfortable with rest will not come easily.
It involves silence. And solitude. And quiet. And perhaps some introspection. None of which come easily to most of us.
But the main reason is that we have built ourselves a groove of 'busy-ness'. And like any other new habit, or change in life, it takes practice until we begin to settle in and even enjoy it.
This is a hard concept for me. Just as working on writing a book on rest felt counter productive at first, so too the discipline of practicing rest feels at first as if it's the wrong approach.
How do we push ourselves to do something that in itself encourages us to slow down, calm down, be quiet?
First, slow down.
Slowing down is not an option, I tell myself, because once you slow down you won't start back up again.
And there's an element of truth to that. I've had rush days on which if I did slow down, sit quietly, and stare out at the setting sun, I would give up on the rest of the work before me and just keep sitting there.
But what does that tell me?
It tells me that my body, my mind, my heart are desperately seeking that time. I need it. I need to slow down – but rushing and over working is an addiction that my body thrives on the more I do of it.
Naturally, there are days with deadlines, or I was sick for three days so I'm making up for lost time. That's life, and that's normal. Stopping to smell the roses, so to speak, is not always possible.
What we need to explore is that one element of slowing down that is possible.
Something as small as making a cup of tea or coffee is an opportunity to slow down, for me. I work from home, so I have an office upstairs. If I want a cup of tea, I need to walk down the stairs, switch on the kettle, set out the tea mug and choose the tea I'm having. While the kettle boils, I could rush upstairs and dash off another email, or I could just….stand there. And the best place for me to do that is at the back door with its view to the garden and the woods and the expanse of sky stretching from east to west. If it's early morning, the birds are chirping and there is a crisp chill in the air and sometimes there's a frost over everything. The breeze is quiet. The clouds might be moving slowly across the sky.
Some days, of course, there's a wild and pelting rain that is beating on my little house so hard I don't even open the back doors – but on those days I can still stand there and look out. Watch the raindrops hit the glass and then move down. Think of all the things I've got to do – or think of nothing at all.
And then the kettle goes 'click' and it's time for tea and I am back to rushing.
But this, too, takes practice. When I first started doing this, I couldn't stand staring outside for longer than about 30 seconds. I was antsy. I was worried about that email I had promised to send, and I didn't want to forget. It was already halfway through the morning and I couldn't see how I would get it all done. So, I turned round and rushed back upstairs.
The next time, I stood there for a minute or two. Then one morning I went outside (because it was sunny and bright) and sat in a chair for a few minutes. On a quiet Saturday or Sunday morning one day, I might be able to do this for an hour. It grows.
My choice of a small way to slow down may not work for you at all. You may be thinking, "I have four children. I'm doing well to get a cup of tea at all." You find your own way to slow down.
Because slowing down doesn't mean that you stop entirely. It just means that instead of dashing up the stairs, or jumping from one email to the next, you just take a moment to pause. Slow your steps. Slow your mind processes. Write down the forty things jumbled in your mind so that you don't have to worry you will forget them.
These are just examples. If I've learned anything about rest it is that I cannot dictate to you how to do anything related to rest – because it doesn't work that way. Partly because we resist rest, so we are inherently going to push back. "That's all very well for you, but…" is our rallying cry when it comes to rest. But that's just the point. It is all very well for me – and it's all very well for you, too, to slow down just a little.
Next, look around.
One of the dangers of overwork and resisting rest is that we become more inward-focused than ever. The people I know who practice rest regularly are also alert to what, and who, is around them. They may have to do many things in their life, but they notice the small elements of that life. The people in it. The beauty, the creativity, the science, the singing.
Look around at:
The world itself. The trees, the birds, the flowing river, the blue (or grey and brooding) sky. No matter where you live in the world, there is creation beauty to be seen, and it all points you to something, and Someone, greater. Those of you who have children know this to be true. You're rushing off to the six places you need to get to before the shops shut or you're late for the appointment, and your three year old wants to watch a caterpillar walk across a window ledge. If this is your life, you have a wonderful opportunity to be constantly reminded to slow down and look around. You won't always be able to take that opportunity: but the reminder is there in the form of your small child, and it's a good reminder.
Think about that which is of ultimate importance – to you, and to the world. This goes beyond simply wishing for world peace. Wherever possible, take a moment to consider whether what you're rushing about doing fits with what – or Who - you say matters in your life.
I've been guilty of this more times than I can fathom. Even rest itself, which I've proclaimed to be something that matters, that I am passionate about – and I got called out on the fact that my words didn't match my actions.
In order to practice rest, consider whether there's something (or some things) you are busy-ing yourself with which don't actually fit with your self-proclaimed priorities and focus areas in life. Perhaps you're on committees in a church or an organisation, and that committee itself is excellent: but it's using your time and energy for something you aren't as passionate about. (This also could be a time when you've made a decision based on false guilt, which is an entirely separate book I'd like to write. However, back to rest, which is my first priority.)
Similarly, if God Himself is important to you, and your relationship with Him, look at what kind of a relationship you have. It's not just whether you're reading a Bible or meditating or praying. Those are good things to do. But it can go very, very wrong if we use it as our marker for how we are doing spiritually.
It's rather like saying to someone, "Do you talk to [your partner, your mum, your sister] every day?" You can say yes, you do. But what kind of talking? Where does it happen? What does it result in? For some, having breakfast together might be a help. For others, with early morning conflicting schedules, or working nights, or children also at the breakfast table, it would be impossible – and it might even have the opposite effect of the desired one.
Gauging your relationships and your spiritual relationship is extremely difficult. If you're in depression, or broken physically, or you lost your job and can't get a new one, or a child has died, or any one of the hundreds or thousands of heart-breaking things that happen to us, it's almost impossible to see whether you're in a "good place" spiritually. The only thing I will say is that if you've looked at all the other elements I've mentioned – some quiet space, looking around, a check-in as to what matters and who matters – and you're still not sure how or whether you want to connect with spiritual things, this could be an element of why rest is hard for you.
Because true rest is spiritual. Otherwise it is not truly rest. You can relax and have happiness and what feels like peace and the world is a beautiful place…but if it is not considering the things of the spirit, including who God is and who human beings are and what matters.... something will always be missing.
More on that in another post, but for now, the next step in your practice of being a person of rest.
Be patient, and keep doing it.
There is always an element of work in rest. Never in this life will we ever have complete and full and final rest. That rest is still to come.
"There remains therefore a rest for the people of God," said the writer of the book of Hebrews, in the Bible. "For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His."
You don't get to the full and final rest until you have completely ceased from all your works. All your striving. All the effort that is still required on this earth, even if it's just to breathe in and out in your final days of life.
So we have to be patient with ourselves and with the concept of rest, because it's never going to look perfect.
Keep at it.
As I tell my clients in the marketing agency I run, marketing has the best results when it is delivered on a drip feed, to the right people, and over a long period of time.
The small faithful things, done consistently and well over an entire lifetime, result in great reward and a mighty impact in the end. But it means doing the invisible until it becomes visible.
Keep at it. I won't say 'every day', because if I had a list of the things we're encouraged to do every day, I would never leave my house, never get any work done. "Just ten minutes of meditation a day – is that too much to ask?" "Look every day for someone to help." "Read a chapter of a book every day". Encouragements like this are well intended, but don't feel the pressure to do everything every day. For a season, focus on small things relating to one big area you'd like to spend more time on.
Although five or ten minutes is itself not too much to ask, a list of hundreds of these is too much to ask. It's a heavy burden we carry on our shoulders – instead of resting in hope.
As you begin to slow down (even in the smallest of ways), look around and also within, and you choose to be patient with yourself, there will be little encouragements that come. You'll be alert to opportunities to rest, and take them. You'll feel a little energy return now and then, or perhaps a glimmer of hope if you've been in despair.
Be very patient – with the concept of rest, with the things and people around you who make it difficult to rest, with your relationship with God, with yourself.
Don't give up now.
Keep at it.