Why Taking Time to Rest Is Important for Us
I’ve always been a busy person. In graduate school, I had three jobs, attended classes full time, did an unpaid internship, and volunteered for two ministries. During Christmas break, I flew to New Mexico to visit my then-fiance (now husband), Ben, for a week. There were no obligations: no homework, reading, essays, or research; no deadlines or commitments or meetings.
I slept ten hours every night.
Once I returned home, I realized I had been running on fumes. My body needed to recuperate and slow down, despite my enthusiasm for participating in worthy causes. As a result, I decided to cut back to about half of my commitments and allow myself more time for solitude, reflection, recreation, and restorative sleep.
Now that Ben and I have three busy little girls buzzing through the house, one of whom requires an intense schedule with over fifteen specialists, I understand what happens to parents who are frazzled, harried, and overwhelmed. How do we find that elusive “balance” our culture encourages? Or is there something more we can learn about the value of slowing down and allowing our bodies, minds, and souls to find rejuvenation?
First, we can look to scripture for some answers on the importance of finding rest. Then, we can reflect on how these principles apply to us and what we can do to incorporate more leisure into our daily lives.
God the Father Rested
Let’s revisit the famous Creation Story we all learned as children. From time to time, we hear it proclaimed at Mass, but it’s worthwhile to meditate on two verses in particular: “On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:2-3).
There are a couple of points from which we can glean wisdom here. The first is that God rested after he finished creating the world and all its inhabitants. God – who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent – rested. He didn’t need to rest, but he did so to set a precedent for us that taking a break from work is not only important but necessary.
The second point is that God blessed the seventh day (what we call the Sabbath) and made it holy. Rest from work is blessed and holy! Take a peek at the Third Commandment given to Moses: “Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11).
God the Father reminded Moses of what he did after creation of all living things. This reiteration that the seventh day is intended to be kept holy by refraining from all unnecessary work means that God wants us to remember that resting is crucial to our mental, emotional, and spiritual health. He created rest, as well as work, and if God gave us an example by resting himself, we should do likewise.
As Catholics, we may have learned that Sundays are to be kept for faith and family. Over time, however, our culture has encouraged us to go shopping, eat out, and do chores on Sundays. Saturdays are typically filled with soccer games and piano recitals, so we feel we must mow the lawn or clean the house on Sunday. It’s our “only” day to catch up on work around the house.
But we are also called to live contrary to society when it interferes with divine law. Try to gradually make Sunday a blessed and holy day for your family. Attend Mass as a family. Eliminate one extra activity at a time. Make a nice meal for the entire family to enjoy mid-afternoon. Get the cousins together to play games. Pray a family rosary. Take a nap.
The key is to slowly eradicate all unnecessary work (so, the extra things, like sporting events or grocery shopping – not cooking or doing dishes, which are necessary) on Sundays. Then it will become a day of rest that you look forward to each week.
There’s yet another Bible story that demonstrates how vital rest is to our lives. It’s a beloved story of when Jesus calmed the storm at sea. Do you remember, though, that Jesus was sleeping when this squall swelled up and frightened the Apostles? Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, needed to sleep, too!
We read, “A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, ‘Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?’” (Mark 4:37-40)
After I read the spiritual classic, When God Is Silent by Archbishop Luis M. Martinez, I saw this story in an entirely new perspective. Martinez explains that sometimes God chooses to rest in us. Think about that for a moment. God desires that our souls are a serene sanctuary where he can rest his head.
At one point, Jesus told his disciples that “foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head” (Luke 9:58). What if you could provide a place within your heart that allowed Jesus to abide in you so deeply that he was silent for a time, quietly dwelling in you and basking in your love for him?
It’s a beautiful mystical concept, but we have to be a people accustomed to silence and reflection first. We all long for calm in our lives, yet we continue to run the rat race that the world says makes us happy. If we try God’s way of slowing down, pausing to appreciate the beauty and wonder around us, we would rediscover the gift and fruit of peace.
The Connection Between Waiting and Resting
I wrote a book called Waiting with Purpose: Persevering when God Says ‘Not Yet.’ Most people assume my main premise is about growing in patience, but patience is really only one attribute of waiting. The crux of my book dealt with a concept I learned from modern philosopher W.H. Vanstone in his book, The Stature of Waiting.
Vanstone begins by setting a foundation about why waiting is so difficult in our world. He believes it stemmed from the proletariat becoming mass producers (so there are some economics mixed with his philosophy). Eventually, most of us have come to accept that working equals autonomy, material success, and therefore, defines who we are and gives meaning to our lives.
Interestingly, Vanstone believes that helplessness is actually a greater condition for humanity, because it means we are in a state of dependence on others, and we are more likely to humbly turn to God for everything we need. Helplessness, which is an aspect of waiting, also encourages others to perform works of mercy that they wouldn’t otherwise do.
If we have adopted the worldview that achieving success is the highest good, we have strayed from the spiritual reality that receiving grace through seasons of waiting and resting are what truly nourish the soul. We need to move from a place of working to waiting.
Rest and Restoration = Interior Peace and Clarity of Mind
Finally, the gift of rest and restoration leads to interior peace and clarity of mind. If you think about your busiest time of the year, you probably feel flustered and have jumbled thoughts. A lot of busy people claim their brains operate as if they had ADHD; they can’t focus on anything for too long before getting restless.
When you discipline yourself throughout the year for time to take naps, read, enjoy a leisurely walk through a park, attend a Holy Hour, pray in the solitude of early morning, etc., you will discover your mind is less foggy and restless. You’ll have clearer thoughts that draw you toward deeper mental prayer and meditation. And you will notice the peace that surpasses all understanding settle upon your soul.