How Do We Learn to Rest?

Several times over the past few years I have heard a comment like this from someone who knows me well. , “Shawn, I’ve noticed that you rest well when you are off work. How did you learn to do that?” That was quite a statement to me, a guy who comes from generations of work-a-holics. I can only say that because I am a recovering work-a-holic myself, and my dad has confirmed that as far back as he knows our family has seen work as primary.

Clayton Christensen, a Harvard professor, business owner in his book How Will You Measure Your Life , says this with regards to making work our primary focus: “The danger for high-achieving people is that they’ll unconsciously allocate their resources to activities that yield the most immediate, tangible accomplishments. This is often in their careers, as this domain of their life provides the most concrete evidence that they are moving forward.” No wonder we do this! Who doesn’t want proof that we are moving forward?

Back to the question from my friend, how did I learn to rest? It was a great question. How does a man whose tendency is to work all the time (not just at a job but around the house, on projects, etc) make time to rest? Well, it started slow for me. I began by taking an hour here and an hour there to schedule something that I wanted to do. Yes, I scheduled it and still do. I eventually moved to 4-hour increments of a day once a week. Four hours of no work at all. At this point a couple of little kids came on the scene for Anna and me. You would think that rest went out the door at that point, but I (we) stayed with it. In fact, as our kids got older I began scheduling a day off for our family, an actual Sabbath day. It wasn’t always Sunday, it was the day of the weekend when we could most likely take a full 24 hours to rest. Practically, it stated in the evening of one day and ended the evening of the next.

I was enjoying each of these experiences of rest so much that I decided to take it a step further and plan a weekend once a year when Anna and I could get away and rest. That turned into two then three, and most years we now do a quarterly two nights away. Along with that my wife and I began to look six months in advance to when we could get our kids away for a week to rest and play together. Then after that, again as our kids have gotten older, we have looked for a week when Anna and I could get away for at least seven days together to rest without our kids.

So how did I learn to rest? I just did it. It is one of the best decisions I even made (and am still making). Rest is a gift from the Lord. One that we can all receive.

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
In quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)

What Could Rest Have to Do With Repentance?

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (Is 31:15)

As we enter the final two weeks of Lent we will look at the concept of rest together. I’m not sure that we can truly rest without repentance. Before we look at rest, maybe we should first consider why Isaiah might’ve put have these two words of repentance and rest together.

What could rest have to do with repentance? I have no answers, but instead more questions. If we’re not experiencing rest today, how can we expect to receive it tomorrow without some sort of a change? Further, how could we experience rest if we don’t rethink our lives/ reevaluate and make a change? Isn’t that the definition of insanity we have heard our whole lives, doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result?

As I mentioned a few weeks ago (link) repentance (metanoia) in its most fundamental understanding is change (meta) of mind (nous). I’m going to lean on Richard Rohr for his understanding of this change. Rohr says, “Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity. It did not need changing. Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God! God is not someone to be afraid of but is the Ground of Being and on our side.” What Rohr seems to be addressing not only relates to repentance, but also to rest. Specifically, that last statement, “God is not someone to be afraid of but is the Ground of Being and on our side.” As long as we remain afraid of God, believing that He is either out to get us or has left us to figure out life on our own, we cannot rest. Augustine puts it this way,

Because you have made us for Yourself,

and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee.

Augustine, Confessions, 1.1.1.

As we look at the concept of rest for the remainder or Lent, perhaps a word to keep coming back to is the word Augustine references, restlessness. We will pick up there later this week.

Ash Wednesday: True R and R

I mentioned Monday that I am exploring the themes of repentance and rest during Lent this year. I’m calling it True R and R. Traditionally, “R and R” is understood as rest and relaxation. While those are good, and I attempt to practice both often, it seems an important “R” is missing. I believe it is the most important “R”, and is integral to actually being able to rest and relax.

The prophet Isaiah says this about repentance and rest,

“This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.'”      (Is 30:15)

Before we dig deeper into what Isaiah might be getting at when he mentions repentance and rest, what do you suppose he means by salvation? If we consider a common definition of salvation Isaiah’s words don’t make a lot of sense. The word salvation tends to bring about an idea in our mind of Jesus dying on the cross paying a debt for our sins. Salvation is then understood as a person accepting that Jesus did this act for him or her. Salvation or “getting saved” is a one-time decision by a person to accept what Jesus has done.

This is not the understanding of salvation of the Early Church. They instead viewed salvation as being restored to the image and likeness of God. It was an ongoing process that lasted throughout a persons life. The early followers of Jesus preferred the word theosis when they talked about salvation. We will look at that more later this week.

The Early Church understanding of salvation helps me get a better grasp of what Isaiah might be saying with regards to repentance and rest being a doorway to salvation. We’ll keep looking at this together throughout this Lenten season.

It Turns Out God Can Be Trusted

It turns out that no matter what, God can be trusted. God is with us no matter where we go or what happens in this life. I grew up in church, attended countless summer camps, was open to Jesus in high school, became a Young Life leader in college, had amazing mentors through my 20’s, married a woman who loves Jesus, graduated from seminary, had more amazing mentors through my 30’s and early 40’s, and developed many good friendships around Jesus the past 20 years. Even with all of that somehow I missed it, I missed that God can be trusted no matter what. Only recently has this reality settled in.

Jesus believed God as Father could be trusted. This appears to be Jesus’ most fundamental “rhythm of grace” that he invites us into in Matt 11:28-30. Jesus ultimate rhythm when he was here on earth was the moment-by-moment belief that His Father could be trusted. The belief that the Father would be there, that Jesus wouldn’t be left alone.

This belief that God can be trusted is the very definition of rest. If you’re wondering how trust is rest, consider the alternative. How do we ever truly experience rest if there is not trust that God is going to be with us no matter what? If that belief is not inside, somewhere down deep, then we tend to run around frantic trying to prove to ourselves that we are not alone. When Jesus offers, “rest for our souls,” he is offering something that he lived in his humanity.

Jesus invites us into this rest, this posture of utmost trust in the Father. I believe Jesus had to trust that the Father would be there on the other side of the cross. In his humanity Jesus did not know for certain that there would be a resurrection. He believed it, proclaimed it, but ultimately he had to go to the cross trusting that His Father would not leave him. Jesus pinnacle act was dying on the cross. I wonder if his greatest impact was teaching us how to be human, how to trust the Father no matter what.

Aloneness that Feels Like Community

We are three weeks into Lent and I keep returning to Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30, specifically his offer to teach us the “unforced rhythms of grace.” The rhythm I’ve noticed lately is his rhythm of aloneness that feels like community.

Jesus spent time with people and created community wherever he travelled. He also often made time to be alone. His friend Luke tells us,

“The news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (Luke 5:15-16)

The “wilderness” in Greek is a place that is solitary and uninhabited by other people at the time. Put simply, it is a place to be alone. This rhythm of Jesus does not appear to be aloneness for the sake of being by himself, as in an escape from crowds. It is instead a place to be alone with the Father. As I see it, Jesus had a rhythm of aloneness that actually felt more like community than being with others.

I have experienced glimpses of aloneness that feels like community. Through developing a rhythm of quiet over the years, of being with God and God alone, something mysterious has happened. I feel a sense of communion with God as Father, Son, Spirit as I sit in the quiet in the presence of God. A number of years ago I wrote a prayer in the front of my journal that I read each morning. The prayer ends with this:

As I sit here this morning with you as Father, Son, Spirit I am simply continuing the dance, this ongoing conversation, this ongoing relationship that You have invited me into. I am engaged, all of me is here with you. Speak Holy Trinity for I am listening.

 

Doing Nothing

A few years after my commitment to spend time each morning with God, I found myself longing for even deeper connection with Him. But I didn’t have the faintest clue where to start.

I remember pulling up to a morning meeting a few minutes early and doing a Google search on my phone: “intimacy with God.” A book by Thomas Keating titled, you guessed it, Intimacy with God, popped up on my search. I ordered the book and awaited its arrival on our front porch. As I read the first few pages, I realized it was speaking to that very longing in my heart! I was being invited deeper into the journey of silence and solitude with God.

In the book, the author, Father Thomas Keating, describes a silent prayer practice that helped him (and me!) more closely experience God’s presence. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship. It’s called “centering prayer.”

Now, if you think it’s an arduous task to commit to occasionally spend a day away with God in a culture that screams out that you are as valuable as you are useful, try doing nothing for 20 minutes a day. It will either make you crazy or . . . you just might discover the secret that Jesus often leaned on: silence and solitude in the presence of the Father.

(Am I Loved? Chapter 8 Introduction)