The Problem Of Rest

BY ERICK SORENSEN

Summer is almost over! School has started, vacation is done and it’s time to get back to the grind. Do you feel well rested? I suppose that depends on what I mean by rest right? In my home there tends to be two views of what it means to “rest”. On the one hand there is my wife’s view: Perhaps, lounging around a pool, maybe with a book, maybe not- nowhere to go, nothing to see, just hanging out and relaxing. If you were to ask Melissa what an ideal vacation would look like it would involve a lot of that. This view is undoubtedly correct and actually corresponds to the real definition of the word “rest” which literally means to “cease work or movement in order to relax, refresh oneself, or recover strength.”

And then… well then there’s my typical view of “rest” when we’re on vacation. Typically this has involved me scheduling out every possible moment of the day with something to do. I find all the tourist attractions in a given area, and make sure we go to all the cool restaurants we can find. If by the end of the day I’m exhausted I feel like that was a successful day of “rest and relaxation”. Conversely, if we don’t end up doing very much (say like lounging around the pool), then I sort of feel like we didn’t accomplish anything, that maybe we’re missing out on something really awesome (I’m pretty sure FOMO originated in my head). Obviously my view of rest is wrong. It’s not that going to see some cool stuff is wrong per se, but my need to keep going, to keep moving or else…. is an actual problem. I’m too busy.

A good number of us realize that life is often too busy and so we find ourselves fantasizing in some way or another about rest. But the truth is, as much as we might find ourselves longing for rest, most of us aren’t very good at it. I mean, it’s so unnatural for us that God actually had to command us to do it (In the proper breakdown of the Ten Commandments, it’s the Third. Joking, just joking). We know we need it, but we don’t know how to do it….. or maybe it goes even deeper: We know how to do it, but we’re actually kind of afraid to do it.

Tim Kreider in an op-ed for the New York Times points out that “being busy” has become a sort of self-justification for our existence. He wrote, “If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”

Kreider says, “Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work.”

 Now, what is true physically in regard to rest, the Bible tells us to some extent is true of us spiritually. If we can’t rest physically, we won’t rest spiritually. Yes this is the world we live in (especially where I’m at in New York; they don’t call it “the city that never sleeps” for nothing). Many of us are weary and burdened by our inability to rest, but don’t know what to do to fix it. It is into this overbusy, stressed out world that our Lord comes and gives us the simple solution: “COME TO ME all you who are weary and burdened and I WILL GIVE YOU REST.” To fight against rest is to fight against something God has promised as a direct result of knowing Him!
So, why do we fear real rest? Well I think first and foremost it’s because…

It means God is in control

We’re prone to fooling ourselves into believing that what we do or don’t do gives us a certain amount of power over our worlds. For that matter, our inability to rest in some way may show a desire to have power over God; especially for those of us coming from religious backgrounds, we’ve been trained to believe that if we do certain things (pray enough, read our Bible enough, obey enough) that God will be in some way or another indebted to us. But Jesus says just the opposite. Instead of working to get God’s favor, Jesus tells us that the thing we need to do most of all is simply rest in God’s favor through Christ. When we simply rest in God’s gracious will, it is us acknowledging that God is ultimately in control of our lives, our salvation and our relationship to Him. Sounds easy, but it’s not.

Robert Capon pictures the prayer of someone with a heart averse to simply resting in the grace of God: "Lord, please restore to us the comfort of merit and demerit. Show us that there is at least something we can do. Tell us that at the end of the day there will at least be one redeeming card of our very own. Lord, if it is not too much to ask, send us to bed with a few shreds of self-respect upon which we can congratulate ourselves. But whatever you do, do not preach grace. Give us something to do, anything; but spare us the indignity of this indiscriminate acceptance.”

So I think the first reason we fear rest is because it confirms that Jesus is ultimately in control. Along with this, I think another reason we fear rest is because….

It means we’re not as important as we think we are

Here’s the deal: Some of us very easily fall into the trap of actually believing that if we’re not always available to do everything someone asks of us that the world around us just might fall apart. What Jesus is essentially saying to us when he says rest is “No, in reality, the only way the world falls apart is if I say it falls apart. You doing something or not doing something isn’t going to alter my plans for this world one iota.”

Applying this in a spiritual sense, many of us have been led to believe that a truly Godly life is one in which we’re constantly serving or doing something. You remember the story of Mary and Martha right? The story is found in Luke 10. Jesus is coming for a visit and you just know that the house has got to look spotless when God visits! And so Martha is doing what most of us would do in this situation: She busies herself with making everything just right for the Lord. Luke tells us that “Martha was distracted with much serving.” Meanwhile, her sister Mary isn’t doing ANYTHING! How annoying is it when you are trying to make the house look just right and your roommate is just sitting there hanging out. Martha is working herself into a tizzy and has finally had enough: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” I’m telling you, I can picture the look on her face and her tone of voice when saying this perfectly. Can you hear her? Can you identify with her? But what does Jesus say? “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

You see, Martha was afraid to let go for fear that it wouldn’t work itself out and was unable to rest because of it. Jesus says, “Nope, it’s better to rest with me and acknowledge that you’re not as important as you think.”

And that leads to a third reason we are afraid to rest.

Because it means we have to admit we need help

By its very definition, rest implies that we can’t always do it. We are “wearied and heavy laden”. What does that mean but that we are weighed down with anxiety and strife over our lives, our salvation, our relationship to God, and really when it comes down to it, our sin.

In the 17th century, the philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”

Philosopher and scholar Peter Kreeft commenting on this wrote, "We ought to have much more time, more leisure, than our ancestors did, because technology, which is the most obvious and radical difference between their lives and ours, is essentially a series of time-saving devices."

In ancient societies, if you were rich you had slaves to do the menial work so that you could be freed to enjoy your leisure time. Life was like a vacation for the rich because the poor slaves were their machines. . . .

[But] now that everyone has slave-substitutes (machines), why doesn’t everyone enjoy the leisurely, vacationy lifestyle of the ancient rich? Why have we killed time instead of saving it?

His answer:

We want to complexify our lives. We don’t have to, we want to. We want to be harried and hassled and busy. Unconsciously, we want the very things we complain about. For if we had leisure, we would look at ourselves and listen to our hearts and see the great gaping hole in our hearts and be terrified, because that hole is so big that nothing but God can fill it.

 
To rest ultimately means we must admit our need for help from Him.
 

So then, how do we find rest? Well it means coming clean and admitting that we need that help. That our sin is too much for us to carry and our lives are too much for us to handle. It means coming to Jesus as you are now, taking up his easy yoke and his light burden that you might find true rest.

Tim Kreider, at the end of his article for the New York Times says this: “I suppose it’s possible I’ll lie on my deathbed regretting that I didn’t work harder and say everything I had to say, but I think what I’ll really wish is that I could have one more beer with Chris, another long talk with Megan, one last good hard laugh with Boyd. Life is too short to be busy.”

As you enter a vacation-less Fall and a busy new school year and all the other things in life that call you away from rest, my prayer is that you’ll stop to remember often, daily, that your Savior has taken your heavy load and your tiresome burdens to His cross and that is enough.

Erick is married to Melissa and they have 3 boys together. He earned his Master of Divinity Degree from Lutheran Brethren Seminary and has served as a Pastor in Fontana, California and Staten Island, New York. He also serves as the Chairman of Fifth Act Church Planting. In September of 2015 Erick started to plant Epiphany Lutheran Church in Manhattan.

Twitter @ErickSorensen