Jesus prayer

Rest comes through vulnerability

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’re having at 2212 South Broad this Sunday before our meetings at 5pm! (You’re invited.) 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 the 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, 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 meeting God in my need, not through my efforts to control or manage or force my rest. I’m not able to consume rest as much as enter into it vulnerably.

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 help us realize that we’re tired. 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 strengthened and loved when we do. Let yourself get the good rest you need. 

How to hang on when life gets too fast

I’m thinking about change a lot these days because we are in the midst of a big transition in our congregation.  Our pastor, Rod White, is moving into a different role—a development pastor for the whole church—and I’ll be the pastor stationed at 1125 S. Broad.  Even though we have been leading together for years, it’s a shift for Rod and I personally, and it’s a shift for the church.  There’s no way to predict exactly what’s going to happen but we are moving forward in trust, communicating and preparing and imagining and equipping as best we can.  And we are excited to move in the direction that God has been leading.

Life is full of changes.  Relationships are always changing, even if you are lucky enough to have some stable ones. Many of my friends are moving, switching jobs, working through illness or death in their families, or watching their kids grow up.  Our schedules often change in the summertime.  Laws change, and change comes to us secondarily through media, and we absorb these systemic changes in different ways.  We ourselves change when we reach our thresholds—many times unconsciously. Just trying to survive life’s changes can leave us feeling weary or small.  We want to create change that brings peace and restoration in the world (and we ARE), but sometimes it feels hard to just hang on at the pace that modern life rolls.

inside outI keep learning that the key to navigating changes we can’t control and initiating the change we want is a conscious life with God.  Our Circle of Hope has been expressing an increased desire and need to pray amidst the distractions in our lives.  Our Sunday meeting leaders are responding by designing a series for us called “Praying in the weeds.” We are bombarded by stimuli and it seems counter-intuitive to STOP our mental loops when there is so much to worry about and be entertained by. But we sense that interrupting the mental loop is exactly what we need. Consciously reaching out to God increases our connection to the source of power and love and insight that enables us to do more than just hang on.  It allows God to touch us, to bring us “home,” to guide us in the flow of his redemptive work.  In the movie Inside Out, when Joy allows Sadness to touch the core memories I thought of something we often say on Ash Wednesday: go in a sadness that has been known and touched.  We need to let Jesus touch our sadness (and everything else) if we want to heal and spread healing.  Of course there’s a lot we won’t know or understand even about ourselves, but we want to be open.  God may have a hard time reaching us if we are committed to the hamster wheel of unconscious distraction.

Last night my cell talked about the story of the demon-possessed boy that only Jesus could heal.  Lots of people had tried different remedies, but nothing worked until Jesus said, “bring him to me.”  It may be good to “go” to Jesus daily, too, and we don’t have to be saintly meditation experts to do it.  A simple breath prayer like the ancient Jesus prayer can help us slow down enough to let God guide us through the changes and into the glorious change He is bringing. It may be surprising, too, to see what we can be and do together as the Holy Spirit leads and fills us.