Written by Melanie Barnfield.
If you happen to look up the myriad of studies carried out on the acquisition and maintenance of overall health you will find three major components: diet, exercise, and rest. Most of us have taken the time and effort to focus on these at some point, whether that meant shedding some unwanted pounds, recovering after an injury, or simply maintaining a better baseline as we age. Yet if we’re honest the hardest and most overlooked of the three truly is the most natural to engage in….rest.
I believe this phenomenon is more than simple neglect but a cultural expectation as well. In America we have become a people with an aversion to quiet. We feel uneasy, even skeptical, of an unhurried productivity. We look as though there is something wrong with the person who takes time to just ‘be’ in a regular, habitual way. Our every moment is packed with activity and stopping to take a breath is viewed as aimless or wasteful. This is proven in our culture by what we praise and how we work, but we are missing the beauty of quiet moments.
Think of the most common of daily rituals; many of us feel some sort of peace or comfort as we prepare for and consume our morning coffee. The very fact that it is traditionally served hot and unable to be gulped down in one giant swig means that we must slow down to enjoy it. Dare I say, that amid the countless memes and merchandise that claim coffee before anything else in life, except maybe Jesus, the real draw for most of us is less about the specific beverage consumed and more about those quiet moments before the storm of each day? We can agree to disagree on this interpretation.
But it raises another critical point. Too many of us are working from a clear deficit of rest on a regular basis. We often lead with work and rest only when we feel we’ve earned it or, worse, when others feel it’s warranted. It would change the way we live if our mindset was to initially choose to rest, as we are able, before engaging in a substantial season of work. This would naturally set us up to engage from a stronger position, renewed strength, and fresh perspective.
Although not explicitly stated, I believe this to be a biblical concept. When we give God our “first-fruits” on Sunday we are stopping to rest with the knowledge that the world will not fall apart without us. It is an act of OBEDIENCE, faith, and dependence that sets us up for success the rest of the week. In true biblical fashion, we end up leading by being reliant and trusting God to provided while we sit in His presence. The Jewish people had a long list of things that ritually qualified as work, things we would scoff at today, yet in our current context Christians have almost no agreed-upon definition of what should constitute work. Therefore it should be of no surprise that, we lack a good understanding of rest.
If you don’t think of rest as simply ‘sleep’ you may envision someone lying around, an austere subject in a work of art at “Repose,” but many of us would be surprised to learn that rest is much more complex than we give it credit and available in more forms than we might be aware.
So let’s commit to taking time to enjoy beautiful moments and explore the many ways we can choose to prioritize rest. Perhaps the most obvious is to rest from physical activity. Culturally, most young children are encouraged to nap, even adults are known to (at times) snooze in the afternoon. Yet, even light exercise can be restful as long as it is restorative. Stretching and moving our bodies helps circulation and flexibility resulting in an even deeper state of rest. Even so, we are much more than mere bodies, so there must also be other areas of rest that are important.
We have all had days where our mind is extremely active. If you are dealing with large amounts of information or needing to stay focused for long periods of time, this constant tediousness can become heavy and require frequent breaks. A “brain break” my kids call it. Even in adulthood we need moments in our day where we are not forced to process and digest information.
Which naturally brings up the various ways we are inevitably colliding with new information and the possible negative effects of the technology we use. There are many studies now about the effects of screens on our brains, even how different kinds of light can disrupt our sleeping patterns. Doing what we can to limit our exposure and diffuse these negative elements is important to our families but you might not be aware that any irritant to your senses can cause weariness. Constant movement, wind, or other extremes like excessive heat, cold, being wet, or in frequent pain will cause fatigue. Sound pollution is another little known factor that can substantially raise stress levels. Though often thought of as a problem solely for those around heavy machinery, mothers, teachers, and those in childcare may also need a moment of silence to recoup from the constant noise on a difficult day. When dealing with others always be ready to give ‘the benefit of the doubt’. We all have varying thresholds for the multitude of aggressors in life. It is impossible to evenly compare pain and we all have different mental and physical abilities. Likewise, be kind to yourself, recognize when your struggling, and rest in the way that will benefit you the most.
Another less thought about layer of rest exists in the emotional realm. If you are in a position where you are constantly having to monitor, explain, clarify, translate, or even subdue your own thoughts and emotions for the greater good (and there are many careers that employ these) you may need more occasions to take a break. This could be as simple as being able to journal privately or as extreme as taking a temporary break from socially connecting with others. If you are in a role where others believe differently about key beliefs, particularly if they are easily offended, or where there are varying cultural differences and personality types; spending some time alone can be just what you need before you’re ready to jump back into a difficult situation again. Everyone wants to be loved and accepted at some point and a renewed plan and purpose can help to recharge your zeal. Change is often hard and may not come without, first, getting some time alone.
We need time to process the things of life. Which brings us to the spiritual dimension. This is often the most critical rest to receive as it often allows the physical parts of ourselves to stretch beyond their traditional means. We need to know what we believe and why we believe it, and we need time with God to do it gracefully.
Rest can be as varied as our personalities and proclivities are recognized. Our rest can change and grow through the many seasons and circumstances of life. With all that has been said, there are still times we need to simply enjoy all that is good, and true, and beautiful. We worship a loving, infinite, and ordered God. Allowing the soul space to behold nature, the many aspects of creation, even excellently skilled craftsmanship, art, or architecture is awe-inspiring. It points to the God of the universe who has ordered everything and testifies to the fact that He can be known. He wants us to know Him! Our rest, if done right, will ultimately move us into a greater appreciation and love of God himself as it leads us into a growing awareness of His presence in our lives.
So…rest often, rest well, and rest in His abiding presence.
Written by Melanie Barnfield. Melanie Barnfield is an artist, closet introvert, wordsmith, and lover of Christ. She has been married 14 years to the love of her life, and has been blessed with 4 beautiful children. Residing in Benton, IL, she is an avid reader who enjoys teaching, gardening, and photography.