Too often we leave no time for rest, reflection, and restoration. Even as I write this I am overwhelmed by the thought of the three classes, three bible studies, two meetings, and studying for the midterm I have today alone. Sure, I get 8 hours of sleep (or 6, who am I kidding?) and I ought to feel rested, but the anxiousness in my chest and constant thought of “what’s coming next” in my head sure don’t feel restful. I take a nap in the middle of a day (when possible) and wake up feeling more tired than when I laid down. I take a second to eat looking for some energy, maybe even grab a coffee strictly for caffeine purposes. This cycle, for me, has been the story of this year. It’s exhausting, anxiety-stricken, and unhealthy.
I’m tired of being tired.
God calls us to rest in Him in Matthew 11:28-30, but I know for a fact that I have disobeyed that calling. I’ve realized over the past few months that I haven’t taken time to rest in the presence of God and in just a week God has brought to light the effects of that restlessness. I feel a lot of grief in this light. I grieve over lost time with friends because I chose not to reflect to see myself putting distance between us. I grieve not appreciating the time I shared with friends that are leaving next year. I grieve over lost or doubting souls I had the chance to impact but didn’t because I chose not to be filled by God to overflow into their lives. I grieve over missed opportunities to see God because I didn’t slow down enough to open my eyes, ears, and heart for Him. I grieve over the lessons I won’t retain because I didn’t stop to absorb the events and experiences happening around me. I grieve the empathy I could not show my peers when they were going through hard things because I was too tired from carrying my own burdens that I didn’t have to carry. I grieve the forsaken boldness that was lost in anxiety and fear and doubt that I chose not to let Christ conquer. I grieve the life that I could have brought to a room when instead I chose to be exhausted by my own work.
Now, friends, I grieve these things and I am fighting not to feel shame in them. I fight shame knowing well Christ guarantees that while I do fall short, all is made well in Him. Without a focus on Him though, it’s easy to be consumed by grief and shame. And again, that’s where rest and Sabbath comes back in because it focuses us on Christ. Even despite my lack of rest, God has worked in my life and continues to work in my life. By no means does my lack of obedience limit God’s ability to move and provide for me. Instead, this grief comes out of a yearning to know God more personally through rest and to love my neighbors better through being restored. It’s a grief that I am sad to hold, but thankful to move forward and learn from. And let me tell you, I’ve learned a lot.
First, let me tell you why scripture calls for a Sabbath rest every 7 days: you are extremely ineffective on the seventh day if you have been extremely effective the other six. Granted, God is never ineffective, but even He desired to look back at the work He had done on the seventh day in Genesis 1-2. He desired to reflect on the goodness that had unraveled and sought to enjoy the intricacies in the design and plan He created. He found joy in deepening His own infinite understanding of the world that had been created. He was setting up a model for how we ought to seek God too, just as He sought Himself and found joy in His work.
We as humans, however, are limited in our abilities, unlike the limitless God. We become ineffective after working diligently for six days at a time. We start to accredit the things in our lives to our own work which makes us prideful. All stemming from the fact that we don’t reflect enough to see that God is in fact the one behind everything and giving everything purpose. In Mark 2 Jesus even says, “The Sabbath was made for man; not man for the Sabbath.” God knew we would need rest in order to reflect on His plan for our lives, so He made for us the ability to have Sabbath rest.
Similarly, this past summer I had an experience that was a microcosm of what I’ve walked through this semester. Now, while working as a camp counselor that summer I began to learn the importance of Sabbath rest and this experience reshaped my whole mentality about rest. I worked 22 hour days, sleeping for roughly six to seven hours each night (given there were no restroom breaks to account for in the middle of the night (there were up to six per night)). I had one six-hour and one 24-hour break every two weeks. In one particular two-week session, I happened to be the only male counselor for my team with seven guys in the cabin that I was overseeing. I did not receive my 24-hour break for the first seven days. Friends, that seventh day was miserable.
Like I said before, we are extremely ineffective on the seventh day if we are extremely effective for the six beforehand, and this could not have been more true this particular week. Looking back, I grieve the time I missed and the absent-mindedness I had that seventh day. I grieve knowing that my restlessness could have led to a missed opportunity to overflow the gospel into those seven men that day.
The eighth day, which happened to be my 24 hour break, was only more evidence of the necessity of Sabbath. I initially planned to wake up at my normal time (6AM) and spend my day in the little town of Seymour, Indiana. I was intent on fueling myself and “treating myself.” I wanted to do my laundry, get a good breakfast, read all day, plan out lessons for the campers, talk to some friends, call my family, et cetera. To my surprise, however, I woke up and could not open my eyes. Literally. They would not open. I mustered up enough strength to crawl out of my bunk, flip the light on, and tell the guys it was time to get up (with eyes still closed). I climbed back in my bunk and proceeded to sleep for 2 more hours. When I woke up, it was POURING down rain and my car was conveniently (note the sarcasm here) parked on the opposite side of camp. I was going no where. I stayed in my bunk and spent some time reading the bible in the cabin. Finally, four hours later, I bore the rain and got to my car. I chugged into town and stopped at the laundromat, expecting to be there for an hour and a half – max. Turns out laundromats tend to take a very, very, very long time to dry clothes. I sat in Seymour Coin Laundry for about three hours reading Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis. I then went to Cracker Barrel to read my bible, drink a cup of coffee, and eat some chicken n’ dumplins by myself (side note: I had never felt more like a grandpa in my whole life). I had more time to kill so I went to Starbucks where I knew I could get some wifi because frankly, all I wanted to do was watch an episode or three of Criminal Minds. I doodled some verses and sayings that had stuck out to me over the past month at camp and reflecting on the lessons God was teaching me while the agents chased down the criminals in the background.
I would like to say during this day of rest that not once were there any anxious thoughts that passed my mind, but that wasn’t the case at all. I worried about whether the seven guys were connecting well with the female staff. I worried about the lessons I wasn’t able to witness or teach that day. I worried that I was missing the chance to have a gospel-centered conversation. All these thoughts swirled through my head and it wasn’t until I stopped to rest that I found the root to this anxiousness: I was trying to be the Savior that I couldn’t be. In fact, I was trying to be the Savior that only Christ could be. And friends, that was exhausting.
I returned to camp that night and was greeted with hugs and smiles and stories about how God had moved that day. I learned that God’s ability to work in other’s lives was not at all contingent on me being present. I learned that rest was important to be able to be used by God in the first place. I learned all of this because I spent a day alone with God and let Him teach me. That is why rest and reflection is so important; we are making space for God to talk without the noise.
God pursued me that day. He closed my eyes. He let me sleep. He brought the rain. He kept me in that cabin. He orchestrated the dryers to take longer than expected. He gave me time to read and read some more. He spoke to me through His word. He spoke to me through prayer. He brought me out into a place where I knew no one and could be alone to be known by Him. He does this still today. Because of this, I’m sure that He still pursues me to this day.
I’m not saying that you need to recognize that you’re trying to be a Savior like I was and often find myself still doing. I’m not saying you need to take another two hours to sleep like I did. I’m not saying you need to work yourself to death every day to the point your eyes don’t open. No, all I’m saying is we all need to take time to be alone with God. I’m saying we need to let Him teach us and restore us. I’m saying that without going back to Him we grow tired, anxious, and ineffective. I’m saying, take a day to yourself. Be alone with God. Don’t fill your plans. Make space for the rest, reflection, and restoration that only comes through knowing God through Christ. He takes care of everything else and He takes care of you. Where our restlessness bears more restlessness, resting in Him bears exceeding love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.