A rhythm of rest is woven into the fabric of creation. The sunset, seasons, dormancy before new growth, sleep and hibernation are all expressions of the rhythm of nature and creation’s need to rest. This rhythm is primordial, written in our spirits, recorded in our DNA.
But this rhythm can be buried in our busyness, drummed out of us by hyper-stimulation and preoccupation. The quiet recognition of it, the ability to sense our need for rest, is part of wholeness.
Get Enough Sleep
There is a kind of rest we need every day. Circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle, a physiological, neurological and behavioral process observed in plants, animals, fungi and even some bacteria. Part of this cycle involves taking cues from the environment about our need for sleep.
We need 7-1/2 to 9 hours of sleep each day. The problem of inadequate sleep in the U.S. is a significant public health issue. Sleep deprivation puts us at increased risk for heart disease; type 2 diabetes; mental illness, including psychosis; damage to the brain; increased risk of seizures; a weakened immune system; and a decreased ability to heal wounds. It also leads to loss of productivity, poor concentration, high-risk behaviors and a lack of ability to function.
Observe the Sabbath
There is also a kind of rest we need every week. The Sabbath is an expression of the intended rhythm of creation. God created, then rested. We are to work six days and rest one. (See Ex. 31:12–18)
Though Christians worship on Sunday, recognizing Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week as the center of salvation history, we maintain recognition of a Sabbath rhythm of rest necessary to our wellbeing. The Sabbath is for expressing Jesus’ rule and authority. It is a day for worshiping Jesus and acknowledging by our choices that life is about Jesus and not about our work, accomplishments and money. When we rest from our labors and our need to make certain things happen, other important things can happen—love, celebration, worship, family and rest—things that are renewing to our whole being.
Take Time to Retreat
There is a kind of rest we need every so often. Jesus often withdrew just to be quiet and rest. When pressed in upon and drained, when confronted with important decisions, when faced with impending death, He got alone with His Father in a quiet place. He sometimes sent crowds away, withdrawing without announcement, seeking solitude when He needed it. (See Matt. 14:23; Mark 1:35; and Luke 5:15–16).
God provided the Israelites with days of remembering His saving acts and the attributes that distinguished Him from pagan deities worshiped by their neighbors, celebrations that would preserve for future generations these great events in their history as a people—Purim (Feast of Lots); Passover (Feast of Unleavened Bread); Shavuot (Feast of Weeks); Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year); Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement); Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles); Shemini Atzeret (Assembly of the Eighth Day); as well as the sabbatical year every seventh year and the year of Jubilee every 50th year.
Vacations, holidays, retreats, periods of silence and solitude are one more important piece of the rhythm of rest.
Watch Your Pace
In addition to the rhythm of work and rest is the matter of pace. Many of us need to slow down, reversing our RPMs. We are moving through this world too quickly, missing out on so much that is best in life. Our lives are full, packed like an overstuffed suitcase, leaving no room for some of the most important things necessary to the trip.
Without sufficient margins, we can be overwhelmed by the next thing demanding our attention. Peace and joy are lost and replaced by impatience. Sometimes more is less: “Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind” (Eccl. 4:6, NIV).
The way I choose to live at times is poor commentary on my view of God. Some of the things I perceive as strengths are the enemy of my relationships and my wellbeing when not corrected by grace. Left to myself, I am organized, task-oriented, driven, ready for another project and always in a hurry.
What am I trying to prove by the way I push? Whose approval am I trying to gain? Am I purposefully responding to grace or merely driven by a sense of inadequacy and the need to prove myself?
When we let God prove His love for us in the places where our hearts are messiest, His healing and transformation will come. We will discover that buried beneath our sin, addictions and self-absorption lies our true hunger—our hunger for God.
Learn to Trust
The source of stress is something deeper than our level of busyness. In fact, our busyness may only be a symptom rather than the cause of our stress. The real issue is that we feel helpless, powerless and unable to solve life’s basic problems.
And then we get hit with big problems. We live in a world where everything keeps changing—our relationships, our health and finances, our children, politics. We are faced with constant adjustments.
The only answer to this comes in understanding that God is up to the job of our trust, that His intentions toward us are entirely good, that He is powerful and competent and able to work things out for good. We need to trust Him that the story will end well and that everything will be OK.
This is the kind of rest we need every minute of every day. It’s what God describes as being still enough to know that He is God (see Ps. 46:10), and it involves letting go of the need to control things and to make our own plans work.
Adapted from Love Written in Stone: Finding God’s Grace in the Boundaries He Sets by Philip Carlson, M.D., copyright 2010. Published by Bethany House Publishers. Used by permission. No part of this article may be reproduced or redistributed in any form. This book is available on Amazon.com.