We’ve had company staying for the last couple of days and when this happens, I sometimes feel guilty since I can’t get anything done around the house. Laundry piles up, the carpets and floors don’t get swept or vacuumed, and the sticky stuff in the fridge doesn’t get cleaned out. When people are visiting we ignore our chores, we relax, we eat, tour local sights, imbibe a little and reconnect. And it reminded me, this time around, about the importance of leisure and rest.
I think we can easily misunderstand, or minimize, how important rest is to our mental, physical and even spiritual well-being. Perhaps this is because some of us feel that our work is so essential, or we love it so much, that taking a break from it seems wrong somehow – like in some way the world will stop turning if we don’t show up for a few days. I know I’m being dramatic, but some people believe this, whether consciously or unconsciously. I remember at one job I had a new CEO had just been hired and was addressing all of the employees for the first time. His message? You are all replaceable – meaning – work should only be one small part of every person’s life, so feel free to live well while you work here. Some were shocked and put off by his message, but not me. I thought it was a good reminder, and right on the money.
He was right – work is not our everything, most especially as a follower of Christ. Sure it fills the lion’s share of our days on this earth, but human beings are not machines. We were not made to be always “on”, always producing the same quality and quantity, never quitting. God does not expect this. On the contrary, God made our bodies, souls and spirits to need periods of rest, relaxation and calm away from the chaos of our labours in order for all our systems to not only function properly, but to actually operate their best – to ‘fire on all cylinders,’ as it were.
Our brains especially need to be ‘powered down’ every once in a while – be given different, less urgent tasks for a time. The brain tends to get fatigued when it’s had too much of something, and ironically tends to shut down regardless of whether we want it to. When we are intentional about rest, and allow ourselves and our brains time to think about, or read, or do whatever we want to think about, read or do, the process can recharge us, it can refresh and uplift our thoughts, helping us to feel energized, clear headed, creative and it can even bring about healing.
This has been my experience at least – and these things can happen when we go on the typical vacation where we leave home for a while and travel, but it also can happen with “staycations” (vacations staying at home) or even just changes to our daily routines that allow a bit of breathing room that wasn’t there before. Because when we are intentional about rest – when we can choose activities (or non activities) that are rejuvenating for us and our families, and then truly enter into the spirit of relaxation and rest, we can re-enter the world and do the work God has laid out for us with a renewed sense of strength and purpose.
While saying this, I fully realize that life can have different seasons for each of us, and there are times in our lives that are more stressful and high energy than others. Sometimes a vacation in the most typical sense of the word is not possible. But in these situations I still think it necessary to take time away to rest as you can manage it – even if that means 2 hours at a coffee shop or a spa. My spiritual director used to tell a fictional story about a woman and her child stranded together with others on a life raft. Water is extremely scarce and rationed to each person. The mother, if she tries to give her portion of water to her child thinking she does not have to take care of herself, dies very quickly and the child is left without care. His point in telling the story is that we are all obligated to give ourselves what we know we need – or we will die in some way. And that certainly applies to rest for body, soul and spirit. Whatever it is that is relaxing for you, in whatever season of life you’re in, it’s best to be intentional about it.
Because if our bodies were made by God as sacred – as temples of the Spirit – then we are obligated to give them what they need, as much as we’re able, and as much as our vocation in life permits us. We are not to run away from our responsibilities – no – but neither are we to raggedly force ourselves on and on until something gives – like our mental or physical health. (It’s amazing what chronic stress can do to our bodies and minds.) These breakdowns happen to people like you and me every day, and it makes us no good to anyone, but most especially to the ones we are meant to serve. We each need to drink our water, to allow ourselves down time by taking a bit of a breather here and there – to read a mystery novel from start to finish in one sitting or go to the beach or explore a new city. Or maybe, our rest comes in the form of doing absolutely nothing for a while. If that’s the case, I can’t encourage you enough to just do it.
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