It took me years to understand a simple concept that obedience might have taught me – the absolute and slightly mysterious need for rest.
During my senior year of college my wife and I made a resolution to set aside our Sundays as true Sabbaths – oases of rest in the week – and to do only things that refreshed us personally. This was not easy to achieve. Our church was in the suburbs, far from our downtown apartment, and our involvement was heavy in the music and worship ministry there. Our social calendar was full, and we both had work and homework and hobbies and families… the things we all carry – gladly, of course. But we made a mutual pact, and probably because it was mutual we were mostly able to keep it.
Our formula was one specific to us, and perhaps to others, and I record it here only as an example:
In the morning we had responsibilities, but we determined to view those responsibilities as an act of worship. Our 8 AM choir rehearsal was not just part of a busy internship, but an opportunity to sing words of thanksgiving and adoration with our church family. We took comfort in the liturgies and prayers, comfort in the repetition and familiarity, comfort in the new mercies every Sunday morning. Comfort in a cup of watery church coffee and windmill cookies, served with a smile and the ask – how was your week? Here, in the church, is where we as fellow laborers, fellow artists, fellow humans, belong and find our being.
As a musician, it took me a long while to let this shape my identity in the church. Viewing our Sunday rituals as restorative, and my contributions as acts of worship instead of career-boosters or networking, was what tipped the balance.
We would often be invited over to lunch following our afternoon choir rehearsal, and we ate in homes of almost all of the parishioners there, learning more about them and answering the dozens of questions. This was tiring for me – I’m an introvert, after all – but there is something weirdly refreshing about expressing genuine interest in someone else. If you’ll allow the word magical, I think it applies, for it captures how puzzled I am by this phenomenon.
When we returned home, mid-afternoon, we read books that had nothing to do with classes or education. Stories refreshed us – deep, cool pools full of the sheer beauty of words and action. Required reading dulled the impact, as always, but a book about wizards from the young adult section of the Chicago Public Library made me think again about learning with a sense of wonder. Or, if we didn’t read books, we napped.
These days, with three kids, we have to work to keep the afternoon nap a thing. I fought it as a child, so I suppose I deserve the afternoon combat (“If you don’t go to sleep now I’m coming in there, and you’ll regret it!”) But in college I dropped off faster than anything.
That was a great discovery – a 20-some-minute afternoon nap, no more, no less, preceded by a cup of coffee and followed by a glass of water – was incredible. We think we don’t need these things when we grow old, until we try them and realize the absolute necessity. Kind of like exercise, or eating right.
And in the evenings, after our quiet afternoons, we craved company. We ate meals with friends, or hosted at our small apartment, or called up random people on a whim to go walking in the city or have a picnic involving nothing more than a gallon of Breyers cookies and cream and five spoons.
We came home, set up our schedules for the week, did some minor homework, and went to bed early.
I think, in retrospect, we were developing an understanding of how we were meant to function as human beings. We were developing the humility to see that we weren’t invincible, that we needed rest, that we needed community; mostly, that we needed God.
We were also realizing that rest is not necessarily the complete cessation of labor. When we sat and mindlessly watched TV or lazed around doing nothing, we often came out of it more tired than ever. Recently, one of the most rejuvenating tasks I’m engaged in is simply washing the dishes, or cutting up fruits and vegetables for a meal. These are normal, easy activities that restore and create in the world within which I’m designed to restore and create.
If I were to proffer some sort of encouragement or meditation on this Friday of Labor Day weekend, it would be to put some serious thought and time into planning how you will find rest for your soul this long weekend. We labor so long throughout the week, sometimes non-stop, we labor at our art, we labor to achieve. This weekend, labor well, and then stop laboring and take some time to enjoy the work of God’s hands – His creation, His stories, His people. Look at everything around you, and realize how very good it is, and on the seventh day, rest. And maybe even extend your Sabbath to Monday…