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Rest . . . and That’s an Order
When God says “Rest” he means it. So maybe it’s time we put a little thought into what it actually means to rest.
On a wall of my home I have a collection of prints that look like they’re from the 1930s; they illustrate the Ten Commandments. I love the retro feel of these pictures but rarely pay that much attention as I walk by. After all, I generally feel I’m pretty much on track with God’s Top Ten: ixnay on the idols, don’t kill anybody, avoid adultery . . . check. But then I hit number four: “Remember the Sabbath day” or as my New Century Version Bible puts it, “Work and get everything done during six days each week, but the seventh day is a day of rest . . .” (Ex. 20:8-10).
Ah. That one . . . not so much.
In our work-obsessed culture we tend to feel that the more hours you put in, the more virtuous you are. (This is especially true for those in ministry.) However, research has shown that’s actually counter-productive. Exercise magazines of all kinds are full of advice to take regular breaks for better performance. Even God took a day off; after fashioning everything from nothing he “blessed the seventh day and made it a holy day, because on that day he rested from all the work he had done in creating the world.” (Gen. 2:3, NCV)
Somehow I doubt he did that because he needed a break; it was an example for us to follow. Make no mistake, when God says “Rest” he means it. It’s written in stone—literally—in his very own handwriting on that granite memo Moses brought down from the mountain. So maybe it’s time we put a little thought into what it actually means to rest.
Passive VS. Active Rest
In his book The Power of Rest: Why Sleep Alone Is Not Enough, author Dr. Matthew Edlund says rest falls into two major categories, passive and active. Sleep is a form of passive rest. So is watching television, he claims, which only proves the good doctor never watched a Cowboys game with my family. (There is nothing passive about that experience, let me tell you.) Technically, even passive rest isn’t all that passive; while you’re sound asleep or zoned out in front of the tube your muscles and tissues are hard at work repairing little tears and fixing other physical issues. Your skin is producing new cells and so is your brain. You may feel passive, but your body is regenerating.
Active rest, on the other hand, “consists of directed restorative activities that rebuild and rewire body and mind.”[i] Dr. Edlund divides active rest into four categories: mental, social, spiritual, and physical. Let’s break those down.
4 Kinds of Active Rest
Mental rest is when you focus on something that rejuvenates you. Say you’re working on a complicated project with no end in sight and your thoughts are starting to feel sluggish. A little brain break may be just what you need. It can be as simple as looking at something else for a couple of minutes. If you’re near a window, try studying the clouds. If not, peer at a desk plant. Don’t multitask here: focusing on just one thing gives your subconscious a chance to breathe—and might even give it space to come up with a solution to that problem you’ve been wrestling with.
Social rest is when you relax and rejuvenate through connection with others. Hebrews 10:25 tells us “. . . you should meet together and encourage each other.” This is more restful for some than others, depending on whether you’re inclined to be more of a party animal or a hermit, but everyone needs social interaction and connectedness. Besides, “Social rest can also improve your ability to stay healthy, prevent heart disease, stroke, and cancer, giving you a much better shot at a long, healthy life.”[ii]
Spiritual rest is defined as “the practice of connecting with things larger and greater than ourselves.”[iii] Meditating on Scripture falls into this category. So does prayer, with the added bonus that Jesus actually promised to give rest to all “who are tired and have heavy loads” and come to him. (Matt. 11:28) In fact, the Bible frequently mentions rest as a gift from God, so why do we so often feel guilty about accepting and enjoying that gift? You efficient types might take note that going to a church service or Bible study is a two-fer—done properly, you could experience social and spiritual rest at the same time.
Physical rest is the last and most obvious type of rest. Deep breathing, the mountain pose practiced in exercise classes, hot baths, and naps are all suggestions to relax the body and calm the mind. (Why is it, I wonder, that when we’re in pre-school they make us take naps when we don’t want to and when we’re adults and crave naps they won’t let us?) Don’t discount the importance of physical rest: recent news reports have been full of near misses due to air traffic controllers sleeping on the job and, according to AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, one in six fatal car crashes involves a drowsy driver.[iv]
With so many options to choose from, it probably behooves us to shoot for a balanced diet of restful activities. If in doubt about where to start, I’d opt for spiritual rest and “connect with something greater” by asking God what to do next. Rest was his idea to begin with; he’s probably got some great ideas about how to go about it.
Day of Rest
Determining when exactly “Sabbath” falls on the calendar can vary widely depending on one’s tradition and/or doctrine. My personal feeling is too much emphasis on a specific day of the week feels a little pharisaical, but it’s your call. Whether you choose to rest on Saturday, Sunday, or another day to be named later, the point is that it needs to be done. God didn’t give Moses the “Ten Suggestions,” you know. So let’s get out there and . . . rest.
[i] Edlund, Matthew (2010). The Power of Rest: Why Sleep Alone Is Not Enough. A 30-Day Plan to Reset Your Body. Harper Collins, Inc. Kindle Edition
Susan Ellingburg is a natural-born Texan who sings at every opportunity, reads as much as possible, and cherishes every day she gets to spend with friends. She's a serious foodie and not-so-serious gardener who is determined not to let being single stand in the way of living an amazing life. Read Susan's blog at TastingGod.wordpress.com.
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