The massage therapist carefully worked to release the stubbornly knotted muscles that ran from my hips to my neck. This was my second occurrence of debilitating back pain in a period of seven days. I could not pinpoint anything I had done to bring on the spasms. My massage therapist commented casually, “When nothing specific has happened, and the whole back is fired up like this, I find it’s usually stress that has caused it.” I took mental inventory of my previous week, how it had been loaded with activity and short on rest. How ironic, I thought, to be writing my next post on rest, only to have my own neglect of it be literally put in front of my face as I lay on the massage table.
The Oxford Dictionaries define rest as to cease work or movement in order to relax, sleep, or recover strength. In my life, however, the definition is more like: The thing I need most and yet don’t make enough time for. Rest is an elusive state in a non-stop, 24/7 culture. It’s also difficult to achieve when simultaneously working, juggling the needs of children, volunteering, investing in relationships, and more. So how do those of us in the most demanding season of our lives prioritize rest, when demands run high and time runs short?
Admit Our Need for It
Like all machines, the human body has a duty cycle. Periods of activity must be followed by periods of inactivity, or the greater the risk of premature breakdown. Though it feels counter-intuitive, we actually need more rest when we are at our busiest. Rest is essential to sufficiently meet the demands of life and give our best to the world, while guarding our health and well-being. When we neglect it, we lose connection with ourselves, our loved ones, and with God. As with music, beauty and meaning is found in the pauses of life.
Analyze Why We Resist It
There are a myriad of reasons to ignore our need for rest, and these vary from person-to-person. Maybe it’s an addiction to the thrill of productivity, or a fear of being unsuccessful. Perhaps it is a feeling of guilt and over-responsibility, or a sense that things cannot happen unless we are part of it. Sometimes we suffer from a lack of trust for God to provide or for others to come through. At other times, we feel invincible and simply don’t recognize our need for rest until it hits us square in the face.
Recognize the Signs that We Need More of It
Often it is our friends and loved ones that first notice the signs – our irritability, constant fatigue, or lack of time for the important things. We ourselves may notice less creativity or zest for life, sleeplessness, and increased resentment when demands are placed on us. Our bodies will speak through tight muscles, headaches, weight gain, increased sickness, or illness that hangs on. A big sign that I need more rest in my life is when one extra pressure upsets my entire balance. We cannot escape the life principle that running without margin in our lives comes with a high price tag.
“Most of the things we need to be most fully alive never come in busyness. They grow in rest.” (Mark Buchanan, The Holy Wild: Trusting in the Character of God).
Plan to Get More of It
This is the hardest part. For us Type A people, having downtime in our schedule just feels wrong (another big sign that we need it!). It is easier to say no to new demands when our schedule is too jammed to accommodate more. Saying no because we need downtime can feel like a weak or illegitimate excuse. The reality is that there will always be more demands on our lives than we can meet. Each of us has built-in limits and only we can recognize what they are. If we don’t prioritize rest, we will never be in control of our lives and priorities. The unfortunate truth is that we alone will pay the price for being over-busy with our health and well-being.
Rest is an intentional slowing of our pace and checking-in with ourselves. It is something we must plan for as we look ahead to our weekly schedule. Practically speaking, we need to be home at a decent time to be with our families and to get a good sleep. We need to shut down our electronic devices and allow ourselves to unwind. We need to take our vacation breaks and limit how much overtime we will work. We need time for spiritual reflection and prayer. Making time for rest isn’t easy, but it is essential.
While we all have a different load in life and a different capacity to meet it, we all share an undeniable need for rest. By reclaiming our schedules and prioritizing rest above over-activity, we will ultimately be more productive and happier in life. That is worth fighting for.
Your turn: What stands between you and more rest in your life?