The Art of Resting

“In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth…”  Sound familiar?  This initial line of Genesis commences the story of Creation, where all plants, animals, vast oceans and breathtaking sunsets made their debut.  God, the ultimate Creator, spoke Earth into its rotation, commanded it to dance around the Sun, and prompted the other planets to do the same.  He set stars into their exact place in the billions of galaxies that we now know today, and remarkably, knows them all by name without reliance on a complex database.  He orchestrated the intricate, yet incredibly orderly process of photosynthesis.  With the same hand that holds the Universe, He designed the tiny cell with all it’s magnificent detail and built life with trillions upon trillions of these microscopic bricks.  Like an infinite yet precise potter, He designed every element and put them together, creating different rock formations and gases and even the air we breathe.  Uncanny, right?  And Genesis makes it sound so wonderfully simple.  God spoke and things simply existed.

Yet if the reader of Genesis stops at chapter one, a crucial element of God’s unmatched workflow is missed.  Six days—which by saying this does not open the debate of the length of a day in this text; that conversation is definitely for another time—is the span of God’s creation process.  As the reader moves to chapter two, the beginning paragraph states this.  “So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed.  On the seventh day, God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work.  And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation” (Genesis 2:1-3 NLT).  So, though the massive scale of Creation is conveniently condensed on one to two pages in our Bibles, it is clear from the text that the Creation story took work.  God even set aside a period in his seven-day-week to rest from the effort it took to bring about the planets and the animals and well, everything (I mean come on, who can blame him?).

However, I think there is a crucial piece of information that we can miss here, and it’s something that I have been negating from my life for quite a while now.  God intends for us to rest.  No, not all the time; I am definitely not implying that God desires for us to be lazy, scripture even reprimands that kind of behavior (Proverbs 19:15, Proverbs 24:33, Proverbs 31:27).  But for God to set aside a day of rest and even deem it holy means that it deserves some attention, and application, in our lives as well.  The fourth commandment given to Moses and the children of Israel in Exodus 20 states this:

Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. […]  For in six days, the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested.  That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.  (Exodus 20:8-11 NLT).

Honestly, I don’t believe the main purpose of the Ten Commandments listed in Exodus is God’s way of lording His power over us, though He has more right to do so than any other being.  I think God gave us those commandments so that we could have a healthier relationship with Him, and so that our lives can be more full and abundant than they would be if we tried to live without His direction.  I mean, if God is an intimate being, and His word states that He is love (1 John 4:16), and that He’s a good Father (Matthew 7:11), and that every good and perfect gift comes from Him (James 1:17), it’s only fitting that we trust His commandments to be good and true, not mean and dictatorial.

So here’s where I fit into all of this.  I am very thankful to God because He has granted me with a strong work ethic and a desire to do my best in every situation.  I’m also a people-pleaser.  And a perfectionist.  In other words, I have a very difficult time saying “no” to anyone.  I often double and triple book myself, and have learned how to manage every minute of my time.  I have dozens of lists saved in my phone of things I need to do or remember, and once I’m finished with one event, I fast-track it to the next task to complete.  I hold myself to unrealistically high standards, and I take time off only when I have no other obligations. That being said, between working a part-time job, an internship, and being involved in three different ministries at church, free time is something I only dream about.

Until lately.  The last couple months have been a whirlwind of events for me.  One main point on my life timeline is a recent trip to the Philippines, where God opened my eyes, and my life was forever changed.  While in the Philippines, I had the beautiful privilege to work with an organization called Wipe Every Tear, whose primary goal is to bring freedom to girls victimized by the sex trafficking industry.  They provide education, housing, healthcare, and other amenities so that the girls who are under WET’s care are free to go to school and chase after their dreams.  What a brilliant picture of the Kingdom of Heaven, right?  Yet in the time that I’ve been back on American soil, I haven’t allowed myself time to process what I saw and what God did through me and around me, so there have been moments where I feel the rawness of it all again, and I have a hard time containing myself.

I am so thankful that God allowed me to be a part of that experience, and I believe He did just as much in me as He did in the people our group was helping.  But there is a way to be irresponsible when it comes to experiences like that, and it’s by heaping a busy schedule on yourself the minute you step off the plane.  In 24 hours of being home, I was already back at work at a retail job where I was selling items that cost more than what some families make in years.  Though I love my job and I’m confident that God is the sole reason for my employment, it was very tough knowing the fire I felt in the Philippines was being put out by my insatiable need to be busy.  Between processing this journey as well as dealing with a couple other hurdles in my personal life, I was beginning to feel the toll that my lifestyle was taking on my joy.  Causes that used to spark my passion, no longer seemed even worthwhile.  I felt this heavy apathy settle on everything I was involved in, and I had no motivation to make matters any different.  I had neglected my devotional time with God for the excuse that I was “simply too busy.”  I had stopped investing time and energy into the things I cared about because I was “simply too busy.”  Noticing a pattern?  Finally after a couple months of walking through this emotionless, busy, and often joyless season, my health took a tank.

This is where I am right now.  I’m at home, finally taking time off of work and away from my internship.  I am staring at my computer screen with watery eyes and a head full of congestion (gross, I know).  My throat feels like death and walking around my house overexerts me.  I admit it, I haven’t been this sick in a very long time, but in all honesty, I know deep down to my core that this is necessary.  I believe God is good and never intends for His children to hurt or be sick, but the more I look at this situation, I truly think God allowed me to go through this illness so I would finally loosen my grip on my silly obligations and rest in His grace and mercy.  I don’t think I would have made a lifestyle change until I was forced to take a step back and let my unhealthy work habits sink in.  I was driving myself into the ground with a smile on my face, trying to convince everyone that I had it all together and that I could go through life on my own.  I thought I was tough enough, skilled enough, strong enough, and determined enough to respond to God’s calling on my life without his aid.  I couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

I’ve basically been missing the point of God’s commandment.  Turns out that God ordering a regular, planned day of rest was for my benefit.  But the more I sit here in the quiet of my room, the more I realize there is so much more I can do for God’s Kingdom if I allow my body, soul, and spirit to be replenished by the Holy Spirit on a regular basis.  I can’t begin to assume that I can continue to pour into others when my cup is empty.  I’ve been attempting to pull water up from the dry well of myself.

I didn’t understand why this commandment to rest was emphasized so much in the Bible, and how even in many Christians’ lifestyles, the Sabbath, or a regular day of rest, fails to hold much importance.  Perhaps, it is because of this “workaholic” culture that in which we are immersed.  We go to church on Sundays, but we climb the corporate ladder the other six days a week.  We are involved in work, in ministries, in our community, and most importantly, in our friends and families.  All these things are terrific and incredibly important, however, while we claim to understand the concepts of grace and forgiveness, even the best of Christians often traverse through life missing the importance—and the grace—of rest.

I’m starting to learn that resting is an art.  It requires knowing one’s limits and when it’s time to retreat into God’s overflowing grace.  Even Jesus needed time away from His disciples occasionally to be refilled.  Rest is not a selfish thing to desire or need.  We are designed for rest.  We should constantly find rest by retreating into prayer, worship, and devotion in God’s Word.  Resting can take the form of exercising or developing a hobby.  No, rest is not something that fills the majority of our time by any means, but it does play a significant role in what and how we contribute to God’s Kingdom.  Do not get me wrong, work is important.  When you look in the story of Genesis, God worked before He rested.  Adam and Eve were tending the Garden of Eden long before the entrance of sin.  Hard work in one’s calling is designed by the Heavenly Father.  However, busy-work and constant obedience to unnecessary obligation is the cheap parallel of operating in God’s plan.  It definitely fills time and even can be fruitful to an extent, but without God’s initiation and sustaining grace, becomes burdensome and unfulfilling.  The true difference between working hard for God’s cause and becoming a Christian burnout?  One is operated under grace and the other is attempted by human effort.  It’s hilariously backwards to our human thinking, but puts a lot of truth to this scripture: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30 ESV).

So for those who are in the same boat as me, for those who are reaching their limits, and for those who seem to be walking through the driest of deserts of their faith—just rest.  Yes, sometimes it is painful and will occasionally require you to inconvenience others as you learn to say “no.”  But coming from someone who is learning this first-hand, there is nothing more refreshing than falling into the arms of Jesus and allowing Him to reposition you for His purposes.  Contrary to how you may feel, the world won’t fall apart if you have to decline to the the third dinner outing this week or if you have to release your death grip on the obligations you once held so dear.  Let go, and let God fill in all your gaps.  Empty yourself of your need to be busy, and tap into the overflow of God’s unmatched grace for your life.  I promise you, dear friend, it is so worth it.

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