Activating and resting
New yoke series, pt 1
Are you tired and carrying heavy burdens? More and more I’m talking with people—students, parents, youth workers—who are simply exhausted. And it’s more than just “I need a nap this afternoon” kind of tired. It’s more of a deep, “my soul is worn out” kind of tired.
I love youth workers because we have a bias toward action. We are people who are passionate about making a difference in this world in the name of Jesus. One thing I’ve noticed is that while we are pretty good at activating; we are not as good at resting. By activating, I mean that we like to start things and tend to be very action-oriented, get-stuff-done, fast-paced ministry leaders. None of us lack work to be done, and it’s easy to say “yes” to that Kingdom work. In fact, as a broader American culture one of the lies I think we’ve believed—even in the church—is that somehow activating is more valuable and spiritual than resting! Often we are so focused on doing and producing that “rest” is hardly even part of our vocabulary.
Research and common sense would agree that rest is as important as–or even more important than–activity itself. As business leaders have learned from the world of athletics, “Sustained high achievement demands physical and emotional strength as well as a sharp intellect. To bring mind, body, and spirit to peak condition, executives need to learn to what world-class athletes already know: recovering energy is as important as expending it.” [Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, “The Making of the Corporate Athlete” (Harvard Business Review, January 2001).] While we may not ever become a corporate executive or an Olympic athlete, I don’t know of anything more important in the world than reaching the next generation for the Kingdom of God, a task that often requires expending a lot of energy!
Over the next few months, we’re going to take a look at rest as God intended it for our souls through the Ignatian Examen, silence and solitude, and spiritual direction. I believe rest is possible, even for youth pastors who are so good at so many things…but fail to rest.
In the beginning
At the very beginning of time, God speaks to this tension of activating and resting. Genesis 2:2 notes, “On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work.” God rested. Let’s be honest: God didn’t “need” that day of rest, yet God chose to rest and enjoy all he had created. I bet God could have thought of something else to pretty cool to create, but he didn’t. God established time and creation to include the rhythm of rest.
I believe to the tips of my toes and ends of my eyelashes that in order for me to become all God has created me to be, I have to learn this rhythm of rest that God established at the beginning of time. In fact, because we are intrinsically such a busy culture, it is even more critical to learn how to rest and recover in order for our activism to be sustained. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 9:24 when he likens life to running a race. Paul writes, “Run in such a way as to get the prize.” In order to run well, we have to learn how to rest well.
Finding yourself in this story
I know this all too well! In fact, when I told one of my mentors that I was writing on this subject, her response was, “The girl who runs at Mach 2 with her hair on fire?” According to my “Strengths-Finder” assessment [CliftonStrengths Assessment tool and books] two of my greatest strengths are NOT “resting and balance” but “activator and achiever.” These strengths mean that I’m a very action-oriented and achievement-driven. I’ve never met a challenge I don’t love. Therefore, my default will probably always be faster and harder and more. It’s never been natural to simply rest or just be. So much so that about three years ago after a particularly full season of life, I was having dinner with my husband on our anniversary and I accidentally blurted out a few fateful questions: “Are you happy with the way we live our life? Are you satisfied with our pace?” The truthful, honest, and loving conversation that unfolded after those questions catapulted me into a several-year journey to learn the rhythms of rest.
What is rest?
I know that I cannot run at Mach 2 for the remainder of my life. Perhaps the passage that has most taught me, guided me, and convicted me the most over the last few years is Matthew 11:27-30. Here’s the passage from The Message translation:
Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. “The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? 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. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Doesn’t that sound like a compelling way of life? I love this passage because Jesus doesn’t give us a list of laws and he doesn’t guilt us into rest, but rather Jesus offers some profound principles to a new way of life.
But first, what is rest? How are we to define rest? According to Scripture (Genesis 1 and Matthew 11, for starters), as well as what I’ve learned as a student of “The Corporate Athlete,” [Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, “The Making of the Corporate Athlete” (Harvard Business Review, January 2001).] true rest involves:
- Stop producing and working
- Cease internal striving
- Enjoy the things of God and God himself
Principles of rest
Principle of TRUST. Ultimately choosing to rest is about whether or not we trust God. I find that when I don’t rest, it’s because I don’t acknowledge he is Lord of heaven and earth…and I am not! God is ultimately responsible for the kids and programs and parents and events and needs in our ministries. We have all the time we need to accomplish everything he has called us to do. So maybe if we can’t find rest it’s because we don’t trust God with the big and small things in our lives.
Principle of WILLINGNESS. God doesn’t force rest – you have to be willing. Never does God guilt us into another thing to do. Rest is simply an invitation to “come to me” and offer our burdens and exhaustion to the One who is capable of handling it all.
Principle of PARTNERSHIP. This is an incredible principle! The yoke Jesus is offering is about partnership with the Triune God in the activities of the world. In the Old Testament, yoking was only lawful for two like animals; only two similar animals were allowed to be partnered with each other for the work they were to accomplish together. And yet Jesus offers us a partnership to yoke or connect ourselves with him to find rest and work. Rest is about trading our heavy yoke for an easy and gracious yoke.
Principle of EXPERIENCING GOD. We are to say “yes” to rest not just because we’re tired but because we need to connect with God our Father. Rest is a gift for you to experience intimacy with the Father so you know all he wants for you to say and do. Then, as we find rest, it creates space in our souls for connection and gratitude.
If you’re stubbornly achievement-oriented (like me!) and still not buying into these principles of rest, here’s a closing promise from the God of all time: Freedom to be all God has created you to be and do; and lightness—not weighed down or burdened!
I don’t know about you, but I want to be a person who…
- Finds rest in God as much as I activate.
- Regularly ceases productivity and striving so I can experience and enjoy God.
- Partners with God and lives freely and lightly.
- Finishes the race and gets the prize, not someone who collapses in exhaustion before the finish line.
- And the truth is that I can only become that person by choosing to rest.
How do you find rest for your soul? Rest is not a one-size-fits-all, which means that you’ll need to explore a little! In Matthew 11, Jesus says, “I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you,” so experiment with how God has designed you to rest. Here are a few experiments to get you started.
On the left side, make a list of ways you are feeling tired, overwhelmed, or restless (for example: strained relationship with boss, too many deadlines in the next month, job isn’t utilizing my administrative gifts).
Then on the right side of the paper, write down at least 7-10 things that give you life and “real rest”. These can be people, places, activities, and food… anything that connects you to God. For example, “I find rest early Friday mornings on my couch while sipping coffee and reading God’s Word.”
Pay attention to these things! They are indicators of HOW you need to rest. If you are still unsure about how you find rest for your soul, ask others what they do and where they find “real rest.”
- Draw a line down a piece of paper:
- Create a Sabbath, a regular 24-hour rhythm when you release the weight of the world. Schedule it because if you don’t, it won’t happen. I put it in my calendar as “Day of Rest.” If because of your ministry schedule, your day of rest needs to be different from week to week, that’s okay! Then during your day of rest, practice what you identified above. If you find it too difficult to start with 24 hours, start with something manageable, like a few hours or a half day.
- For more ideas and resources on rest, read Jude Tiersma Watson’s article “Your Rhythms”. While tailored to the urban context, much of the material can be applied wherever you may serve.