I’m investigating what it means to experience rest. I’ll have to admit, I have pushed this topic away for the better part of my life. I learned to work extra hard in college when I would put off study, only to feel the need to cram for a final.
When I began ministry, it wasn’t unusual for me to do a 70-hour week. If I had one busy week that left me behind in the next, I learned I could just double up the workload all over again. I became proud of the fact that I could work long weeks with intensity.
I could go on about myself, but you might want to chime in. Is it true that many of our collective educational and work-related lives involve long hours and sometimes over-the-top work weeks?
News reports have been peppered with the 24/7 phenomenon. Employees (including pastors like myself) can be so immersed in their work and so available electronically that they can be working anytime – during work days, weekend days or vacation days. Rest can seem like a lost relic, some historical glitch that only our ancestors could imagine.
And yet, there is something wonderful, even magical about rest. It feels good and at the same time is restorative. It is healing and requires that we let go of controlling the world.
I have a photograph of my son, Alex, when he was just months old. He is sleeping, swaddled up in blankets. The look on his face is of complete relaxation, complete and utter lack of strain or stress. It’s hard work to be an infant, yet when an infant is laid comfortably and securely to rest, he or she becomes a powerful symbol for what we all need.
Sometimes, when I feel stressed, I take a few deep breaths and remember how it must have felt to my infant son to let all tension go and be in a completely restful state.
Then I remember that at one time, I was an infant in that same deep, true rest. For just a moment, I can assume that state once again.
To take this further, I want to advocate for the rare trait of well-rested souls. I have not known many who possess this trait, have you? Rested souls do not necessarily sleep more than eight hours per night. They are not necessarily less productive and are usually more creative with their lives. They are able to work hard and confront conflict or stress in life, but they have this rare quality of letting it all go and detaching themselves from it when the time is right.
There is a sense of hard work, yet also a deep value in stepping back from it. And there is that unique gift of trust that one’s life is connected to God.
The qualities of trust and rest are interconnected and dynamic. Refusing to trust God is associated with hardness of heart – a quality I’m sure I begin to feel when I work too much.
The way to a rested soul is a practice; a way of life called Sabbath. What a refreshing change it would be to welcome the practice rather than seeing it as a rigid command; welcoming it as a way of hope and trust rather than another task to please God.
Jesus maintained that the Sabbath was made for our being human, like a pattern that fits glove to hand. I’m ready for more of that. How about you?
The Rev. Dr. David Kegley is the pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Olympia. Perspective is coordinated by Interfaith Works in cooperation with The Olympian. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Interfaith Works or The Olympian.