My friend took January off. She and her husband decided to be diligent about seeking rest. They took the road less traveled and informed regular ministry commitments, friends and relatives that they were backing out of all usual hub-bub for one month. Courageously stepping out of the fray to gain perspective, they have been doing only what is needed.
Have you ever done something radical, upstream and life-giving like saying “no” to the good to make room for the best?
Pulling back and fasting can be unpopular in our culture of “do-it-all-ism.” We are supposed to have our children regularly enrolled in team sports by age five, meanwhile trotting off to a combination of music lessons, dance practices, rehearsals, games or performances almost every day. We expect to be participating in ministry, shuffling responsibilities at home and work, yet have spare time left to be a good friend, spouse and parent, not to mention maintaining our own exercise routine and getting the good night sleep our doctor says is essential to our health. Just typing it all leaves me breathless.
Releasing expectations on ourselves creates space. We long for a breather, yet it can feel initially awkward watching the parade of life go by while we intentionally choose to sit on the sidelines. Slowing has a price. Leaving room where we once were jam packed with activity can temporarily create loneliness or boredom. Busyness distracts us and keeps us from feeling our deeper emotions. Decelerating lifts the bandage and can leave us feeling exposed. Ultimately this is a good thing. Whatever we use to keep ourselves from being truly open to God (and sometimes from our unspoken pains) also prevents us from greater intimacy and freedom. If we are brave enough to hang on through the emptiness, God will meet us there and teach us the beauty of a quieter life. He will fill the vacuum we create with more of Himself and more comfort in our own skin. He will teach us to choose our involvements carefully and the importance of the well-spoken, “no.”
Swimming upstream always means we have to push against what is easy. Growth is like that. We don’t grow until we go against our own current. When we slow down and pull back, people may question our choices. They might take our lack of involvement as a sign of apathy or laziness. They don’t want us to choose something that seems counter to their own lifestyle. When we pull back we leave a hole. Sometimes there isn’t an obvious person to fill that void. Who will bring the donuts to church, take the carpool to gymnastics, make the teacher gifts, sell the wrapping paper for scouts, lead the Awana Cubbies class? These things are important, and I’m not suggesting everyone take a big step back, grab a pitcher of ice tea and sit on their porch indefinitely while the infrastructures of our institutions go to pots. What I am saying is that sometimes we have to deliberately stop all the excess activity and trust God to fill in the blanks because we are committing to something greater for a season.
If slowing down has drawbacks, why do it? Why not continue on, plugging away, being all, doing much and getting all the accolades and numbness that an over-filled life can give? Why risk being unnoticed, unpopular and a bit uncomfortable in the process?
We can’t gain perspective if we don’t step back.
I’ve practiced all sorts of fasting over the years. I’ve fasted from words (where I don’t speak for a day or only speak the needed words); I’ve fasted from food, chocolate, coffee, sugar, Facebook, TV and anything else that seemed to threaten to become an idol in my life (or worse yet, had crept into idol status unbeknownst to me). Among other benefits, fasting has always served to release me from the bondage and control a substance or activity held over me. Fasting from over-commitment gives the release needed in order to step back and realize that all the “important” and “unavoidable” activity in life is actually more optional than had previously been imagined.
When we step back, we separate ourselves from our routine. We get a fresh perspective on our lives when we aren’t swept up in the day-to-day bustle. That perspective helps us determine what really matters and what realistically fits in this season. It also helps us see where we have engaged in commitments which aren’t in line with our purpose or capacity. We can acknowledge our limitations and adjust to fit within them. The flow of our lives no longer has power to tell us what to do and when.If we pause to take a break from the daily grind, we gain the ability to choose well. Click To Tweet
We have a model in Jesus.
Jesus often withdrew to desolate places to be alone and pray. The most essential and important person in the history of mankind chose to routinely withdraw. People clamored for Him. They needed his healing. They wanted His companionship. With all the demands of the masses and of His intimate friendships, Jesus often withdrew alone to pray. Often. Alone. If it’s good enough for the Creator and Sustainer of the universes, I’m pretty sure I can take a day, week or month to step back and regroup. After all, no planet will fall out of line based on my absence from the flow of things. I need to remember the world will go on without me. There is something refreshing in acknowledging our own “insignificance.” Yes, we have much to give, and we ought to give that will all we have. Simultaneously we ought to grasp the truth: nothing hinges upon us or our contributions.
This concept of “often” might bear repeating. I think we all need to consider what our routine looks like. Would we say we withdraw from our responsibilities to be alone and pray, “often”? Perspective is a funny thing. Once gained, we may retain some, but more likely than not, we’ll need a refresher. The practice of building in regular times of retreat from life provides an objective outlook, helping us make the most of the life we have been given.
God makes rest a priority
In the beginning God created. On the seventh day God rested. You may get the image of a man, finished building a huge project, sitting under a tree with sweat coming down his brow. That man needs a day off. God didn’t. He took one because rest is a part of the rhythm of life. Rest is holy. He set apart that seventh day for rest and called it sanctified, set apart for Him. I won’t go into all that here. Let’s just say, God says “yes” to rest. It’s good in His sight.
In other verses, God says to work hard to enter into His rest. Resting will take some effort on our part. It won’t come naturally to many of us. Our culture will call us out of rest. Our children will demand our rest end (now) and even our churches often fail to honor our need for rest. Just this week I was reading the account of Jesus visiting his friends, Mary and Martha. Martha was distracted with all the preparations (sound familiar?) and Jesus told her Mary chose the ONLY needful thing by sitting at His feet and listening to His words. I pondered that word “only” for some time. What do you think is needful? I know I can get caught up and distracted like Martha. I hear Jesus calling me to sit and do what will outlast my momentary preparations. Again, this doesn’t mean we sell the vacuum and lawnmower so we can recline at Jesus’ feet interminably. It means we need to put first things first and never allow our routine to clog our capacity to include Jesus and focus on Him.
We grow by stretching against our grain.
Earlier last year, our pastor gave an intriguing sermon during which he said “faith risks and faith rests.” He described two ends of a spectrum. We all fall somewhere along this line. We are either a “risker” (putting faith into action) or a “rester” (waiting upon the Lord). Riskers need to learn to rest and wait on God. Resters need to learn to get out of their comfort zone and take leaps of faith or raise their hand to opportunities which may not feel easy or predictable. Edmund Burke said it, “All men that are ruined are ruined on the side of their natural propensities.” In layman’s terms, that means if you spend too much time in your comfort zone it could be your demise. In order to grow, we must stretch beyond what is easy and natural for us. We need to take the risk to enter into rest.
How will you answer this invitation?:
“Come to Me, all who are heavy laden and are weary, and I will give you rest.”
I would love to hear about how you enter into rest
or how hard it is for you to stop and let go.
Please leave me a comment here or connect on Hearts Homeward Facebook page.
Your thoughts matter to me.