This post was originally published on Rachel Sensenig’s blog here.
Labor Day is always a good time to think about rest. The founders of the holiday were looking to unify union workers in the U.S. and reduce work time. It’s often a good opportunity to squeeze out the last bits of summer with a BBQ, like we had at 2212 South Broad this Sunday before our meetings. But regular good rest is more valuable than a holiday, and increasing numbers of people are having trouble getting it these days. Our economy and the opportunities of the internet can keep us going around the clock, to the detriment of our mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical capacity. Leaders Bethany Stewart and Rachel Spruill were talking about rest recently in our Late Night Sunday meeting, and I thought their message was right on time.
Good rest doesn’t just happen. Rest seems like it should be the most natural thing in the world, but it’s really not. Brain science shows us that our minds are wired for survival, meaning that they fear the future based on what happened to us in the past. They are naturally wired to try to protect us from those negative experiences again, and this is why they often have trouble shutting down. They can keep us stuck in unconscious anxiety loops. This is why so many people doze off scrolling through their FB or IG feed or using substances to wind down. But those avoidance tactics to the needs of our own minds and hearts and bodies can actually keep us from having real rest.
Consciousness with God can interrupt the anxiety loop. Jesus said: “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” This was my favorite Bible verse as a kid, and it makes even more sense to me now. Instead of doing whatever numbs or distracts us, we’re invited to be aware of God’s all powerful and loving presence as we wind down from the day. This awareness of God’s presence gives me space to know something about what I need (because I remember that I don’t actually have to be in charge of the universe—who knew??) I’m free to notice the ways I might be hurting or burdened, and feel God’s compassion to me there. This is the invitation to prayer. As I reflect, I often find many reasons to be grateful, too. But the irony is that good rest comes through vulnerability, not through my efforts to control or manage or force my rest. I think for Christians, good rest can’t be consumed; it must be entered. And this is a deeply restful invitation.
Good rest takes practice. I used to think I was “bad” at resting, but it turns out that I’m just human. Spiritual giants work at rest over the course of a whole lifetime, and our bodies can be a big help. Even though our minds can be all over the place, our bodies are present. We can tune in to our breath or heartbeat to help us slow down. We are safe with God to wake up to all of our senses. I like to repeat the Jesus Prayer in my mind, in between slow breaths, to let my over-working mind descend into my heart (as the ancients define all prayer.) It’s not easy to let go of our control systems, but it turns out that we can be much strengthened and loved when we do. God is with you as you rest.