Thinking About...Rest

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This past summer my family and I enjoyed a three month sabbatical for rest and renewal. Before I left, I explained my hope for City Church this way: “As I am practicing rest, my hope is that City Church would practice rest, too.” How did you do? This summer were you able to practice rest?

Since we’ve returned to Richmond—to work, and school, and the family life of City Church—I’ve been thinking about rest. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about what rest is and how we can make it a regular part of our lives.

What Rest Is

Rest is a gift given to us by God. The worst thing we can do is add rest as one more thing for us to do. Such a tendency removes rest from the realm of gift and place it in the realm of achievement. Making rest one more thing dependent on our efforts distorts its very character. I have said before, “Rest takes work.” While that pithy statement may sound clever, it cheapens real rest. It would be better to say, “Rest takes preparation,” or “Rest takes practice.” 

Rest always remains God’s gift to us. Rest as God’s gift comes less as a demand and more as an invitation. To understand rest we should start with Jesus’s own words, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out…? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:28 in The Message).

Rest is good for us. Rest is rooted in what it means to be human. No one can live well without rest. Simply put, rest is part of how we are designed. This reality is made explicit when God gives Israel the 10 commandments. Many are familiar with the fourth of those commands which says: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). We are less familiar, however, with the reason given for Sabbath observance. In the Bible’s account of creation, God Himself rests on the seventh day. We who are made in the image of God rest because God rests. Rest is not a rule we follow to earn God’s favor. Rest is a creational norm woven into existence that is good for us.

How We Can Rest

It has been suggested by others that healthy rest consists of an hour a day, a day a week, and a week a year. (For those of us fortunate enough to take sabbaticals, we can add a summer every seven—or, in my case, nine—years). A model of rhythmic rest of varying duration is helpful in showing us how to rest. Rest needs to be regular. Rest needs to punctuate our lives.

In his book, The Radical Pursuit of Rest, John Koessler says, “Rest is harder to find in a digital culture because technology has dissolved two fundamental boundaries that are essential to rest: solitude and silence.” Here Koessler indicates some of the particular challenges of how to rest in our moment. What would it look like for you to receive God’s gift of rest by intentionally pursuing solitude and silence? Start by thinking through a normal day (say, tomorrow) and identifying one place where you could choose silence over sound for five or 10 minutes. Your drive to work, your bus commute, your walk to lunch, a few minutes before bed. 

Similarly, Andy Crouch, in his book Tech-Wise Family, describes technology’s promise as “easy and everywhere.” By this he means it is always easy to be connected to work through our technology and that our work goes everywhere with us. (Think of smartphones always in our pockets and always connected to WiFi or cellular signal.) Rest from our devices, says Crouch, is one way we can choose to resist the totalitarian call of work. By detaching from technology’s ubiquity with its incessant notification, we resist habits of de-formation and practice habits that form us into people who rest. 

Related to thess questions of how we can find rest in our fractured age, over the next few weeks we are offering a Christian Formation session called Friends or Followers, led by Meg Haden and Elisabeth Elliott. It will take place on Sundays November 12 and 19, at 5:30pm, immediately following the City Church worship service.

Another way that we can rest is through corporate worship with the church. Each Sunday offers a chance to rest, in the presence of God and with God’s people. Church worship, as an embodied experience with people who we may not always like, helps us resist the siren song of “easy and everywhere” by beckoning us through Jesus’s invitation to rest. Resting together each week reminds us that rest is a gift that is good for us and, in small ways made more significant through the routine of practice, how to rest in God’s grace.

*During the month of November the sermons at City Church will be focused on the theme of rest, what it is and how we can do it. You can find those sermons, as they are posted, here.