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Why Don’t You Take a Break?

It’s OK to rest even if it isn’t a rainy Sunday afternoon

Nothing gets me to slow down and rest like a rainy Sunday afternoon. Invariably, I feel a little hemmed in and thwarted before I let go of all my plans and lists and relax into a day of what feels like mandated rest. This past Sunday was just such a day – a day that found me curled up in my corner chair nose in a book, my daughter snugged in her bed dozing, and my husband on the sofa watching football teams he is not invested in. It was a quiet day, which turned out to be precisely what each of us needed.

We’re not famous for resting. By “we,” I mean my family and also the world my family lives in. We’ve been sucked into a cultural vortex of doing, of believing that our worth comes from our productivity. Sadly, working endlessly is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more we work (a.k.a. the less we rest), the more we believe that all our doing is somehow creating a valuable life. When life takes one of its hairpin turns, our instinct is to hold on a little tighter and work a little harder until we can muscle life back on course.

Muscling our way through life like this – “for now,” “just for a month,” “only for a few more years” – is exhausting. It is wearying mentally, physically, and spiritually. This is where the self-fulfilling bit comes in – the more tired we become, the less chance we stand of digging deep for the strength to say, “no thanks” to the endless invitations to do more, and the more unlikely it is that we will choose, instead, to take a rest.

Taking a rest is countercultural

Yes, you read that correctly. It takes real strength in this world of ours to hit the pause button to take a rest. And we don’t need to hit that pause button only when we’re weary to the bone. Wisdom is learning to hit it even when we don’t feel like we need a rest. While we seem to be hardwired to fall prey to workaholism, we are also hardwired to thrive with regular infusions of rest.

The truth that rest is good for us is ancient history

The very first book of the Christian Bible begins with a creation story that seems to caution us against these human workaholic tendencies, our addiction to doing of all types – tasks, lists, projects, and so forth. God is portrayed busily doing God’s thing – separating water and earth, creating light and life of all types. God chugs along, seeming quite content, and then pauses, deems the fruits of all that work “very good,” and – wait for it – takes the next day off.

Allow me a second for what will feel like a digression: You know how the older you get the faster time flies? I’ve read that this sense of time speeding up is caused by proportion. When you’re in third grade and waiting for summer break, two weeks feels like an eternity because you’ve only lived 364 weeks. By the time you’re my age however, and you’ve lived 2,860 weeks, two weeks feels like a heartbeat.

Getting back to the story, please note that God didn’t take a 20-minute speed nap. God took a whole day off. Keeping in mind the phenomenon of proportion and the sense of time that we just explored, recall that there had only been six days ever, therefore a full day of rest was an extraordinarily long break. The suggestion seems to be not only that we need rest for our lives to be fruitful and fulfilling –but that we need a lot of it.

Accept invitations to rest – even when you don’t want to

I first recognized my own resistance to rest through my yoga practice. I spent almost two decades practicing a style of yoga that is known for being rigorous – which meant my chosen form of moving meditation had me working hard and sweating a lot. Given the topic of this essay, it might seem counterintuitive that this could be a good thing for someone like me, who learned young that almost anything is possible if you worked hard enough.

But this rigorous form of yoga mandated a rest day. It was non-negotiable. Believe me, I tried. It was evident to me that if six days of yoga each week was good for me, then seven days of yoga would be better. Every teacher with whom I shared this idea said, “Nope. Take a rest.” About 15 years into my 20-year yoga practice, I finally embraced the rest day. (Is that kind of proportional to how long it took for God to take a rest?)

It’s never too late to embrace the practice of resting

In a shocking twist, rest days were good – even “very good.” Now, with more than half-a-century of time on the planet, I am finally learning to embrace regular rest in my life off of my mat. Way back in January, I resolved to live this year at a slower pace and to create more space in each of my days. Just the fact that I’m still at it in November is living proof that it is working.

Rather than feeling rested and ready to explode back into my warp-speed, “busy bee” ways of living come January 1, 2023, the relatively restful pace of 2022 seems to be begetting a passion for more rest. I am learning that living at this slower pace creates a new kind of fruitfulness and a deeper sense of fulfillment than all that I checked off all the to-do lists of years gone by.

Even though a quiet, sleepy Sunday still feels so odd that I’m writing an essay about it, when I, as God does in the story, look back on what I created this year in choosing to practice living at a new, restful pace, I can deem it “very good.” While you may not need to get as dramatic as I did and dedicate whole year to slowing down and learning to rest, I am confident that every one of us can benefit from embracing regular infusions of rest.

I would love to know how you create spaces for rest and restoration in your own life, so please stay in touch!

Spiritual practices (like resting) come in all shapes and sizes – some involve doing while some involve just being. If you’re curious, spiritual direction can be a great forum to explore practices that help make life more fulfilling and fruitful.