Experiencing Rest


There’s an episode in the first season of Farscape where the crew ends up on a planet where the entire population does nothing but harvest magic turnips. They arrive just in time for the work day to be over, and the citizens are partying hard because tomorrow is Rest Day. And yet, the next morning, they all get up, and go back out to harvest those magic turnips. Rest Day will happen tomorrow, they say, so we need to work really hard today.

On and on it goes, and they never actually have Rest Day. Instead the magic turnips that they harvest have a mind-control effect that makes them super compliant to their supervisors. The promise of Rest Day becomes a figment, nothing more than a method of control.

Life can often times feel like that. Tomorrow is Rest Day, and then when it comes it turns out that it gets filled up with busyness and stress and work. Rest Day becomes elusive, a faint promise of something you might maybe get to enjoy in the future.

When I was in pastoral ministry, this was a reality. While parishoners (ideally) get Sunday as a Rest Day, for the pastoral staff it is often the busiest and most stressful day. And for those of us who do pastoral ministry bivocationally, Monday doesn’t become our Rest Day in replace of Sunday because Monday usually means it’s time to do the other job, the one that pays the bills.

And now, in my year of chaos (eight seminary classes from January to December; two little cheese-wearers), it becomes even more magnified. Rest has become nothing more than replacing one busy schedule with another. When I’m not doing school work I’m a full-time momma. When I’m not at home with the little cheese-wearers then I’m doing school work. And then I collapse on the couch in the evening and watch an episode (or four) of Doctor Who. But this collapsing isn’t rest either. Not true rest. Because even though I’ve stopped doing school work, and the little cheese-wearers are in bed, I’m still thinking about all that still has to be done.

It’s wearying and it takes its toll. That twelve page paper that needs to be done? Meh, I don’t care. That ever-growing pile of laundry? Meh, time to buy new clothes. But the worst is the grumpiness that sets in.

So how does a busy person cultivate rest? The first observation would be take a vacation, but even our vacations are busy. Our “vacation” in the spring was a trip of necessity to the US consulate with a day tacked on to play tourist.

Even our honeymoon six and a half years ago was busy-busy. We went to Disneyworld and walked and walked and tried to cram in as much as possible. (We have said that when we go back for our tenth anniversary, we’ll go for ten days, and alternate between going to the parks and sitting by the pool).

Something has to give. And so, we took the little bit of money that we had saved up and went away. I finished my papers that are due this Friday, we found a babysitter and we left.

No kids.

No schoolwork.

We stayed at a hotel with a pool.

We ordered pizza that was delivered to our hotel room which meant we got to eat supper in our jammies.

We watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Big Bang Theory while sitting in the jacuzzi tub.

Even though we woke up at 7am (so much for sleeping in), we didn’t actually get out of bed until 9:30.

We read the free newspaper that was under our door, and talked about current events. Chuck tried once again to explain the American political system to me, and I tried to figure out why a CANADIAN newspaper had more American stories than Canadian stories on its cover.

We experienced rest. Real rest. The tension and the stress and the craziness melted away. Why didn’t we do this sooner? Why did we keep saying we were too busy for this?

We all have busy seasons, and this year is a busy season for me. There is a benefit to the busy because it means I’ll be done my degree sooner. But even in the midst of the busyness there needs to be space for rest.

I’m finished my classes at Christmas. I’ve decided to take the entire month of January off. No school work. No prepping for my thesis. Of course, I can’t really take a month of from my momma “job” but it should be a step in the right direction. It should give me time to do some creative writing or some fun reading, or not.

No deadlines.

No oughts, shoulds or musts.

This realization about the importance of rest comes at a good time. I’m gearing up to take Spiritual Formation in three weeks. This crazy life is inspiring me to think about what a theology of rest looks like, and I might even be able to do my paper for that class on it.

So I pose this question to my blog readers: what books would you recommend I add to my reading list on the theology of rest?

  • Elizabeth D.

    Faaaaaaarscaaaaaaaape!!!!!!!! I didn’t realize y’all had started watching! We must discuss!

    More apropos to the post, I’d be quite curious to see what you come up with re: reading material–as long as it’s not too academic-theology-ish. My impulse would be to gravitate toward monastic writings for this sort of thing, I think, but it’s been long enough since I’ve done any serious reading in that area that I don’t know where I’d start. In less theological terms, I’ve been thinking I need more Annie Dillard and Wendell Berry in my life these days. Because I’ve been thinking a lot about this sort of thing recently, too, though probably more in terms of balance than in terms of rest. But a balanced life must include good rest. And rest that’s actually rest and not just time spent staring blankly at a screen (though there’s value to that from time to time, too). After the past two years (past ten years, probably past 25 years) of workaholic tendencies, this year I really want to focus on balance: time for work, but also time for leisure in the best sense of that word, including rest, exercise, social time, quiet time, time to enjoy hobbies and other non-work pursuits.

  • Alison

    Marva Dawn’s two books on Sabbath (? I seem to remember two – an earlier one that was general, and then one aimed at pastors) on Sabbath were the best on the topic I’ve read… I really need to go back and reread, but I remember very clearly her telling a story from when she was in graduate school about the fact of how all her school books and papers and such had to get put up for the sabbath too that always stood out to me (if only because I’ve never been able to do the same thing) – a lot of it dealt with the “resting” aspect of Sabbath-keeping…

  • Alison

    I went looking to see if I had any great quotes from either of Marva’s books in my evernote, but I think I must not have typed up my full notes (I’ve had several print “commonplace books” over the years and I think the one that got typed in so far was a “best of” that only had short quotations – I still have a stack of notebooks to type in when I find the time) but the quote I do have is a goody:

    p.5 “To cease working on the Sabbath means to quit laboring at anything that is work. Activity that is enjoyable and freeing and not undertaken for the purpose of accomplishment qualifies as acceptable for Sabbath time.”

    “for the purpose of accomplishment” is what I struggle with… because even a lot of my hobbies could be seen as that – I mean I do hope to accomplish whatever knitting project I set out to do, right? It’s one of the reasons I like to knit – I eventually do have SOMETHING to show for my time (I’m not someone who can handle sitting and doing nothing very well).