HEATHER NELSON | CONTRIBUTOR
I’ve long viewed rest as a luxury that I couldn’t afford. I was too busy. I’m a part-time counselor/writer/speaker, pastor’s wife, and a mom of young children. When was there time to rest? Rest seemed indulgent, until it became a necessity when I hit burnout in the fall of 2015.
God stopped me in my busy performance-driven tracks, and forced me to be still. Psalm 46:10 has long been a favorite verse of mine – “Be still and know that I am God.” I know that being still is a precedent for part b of this verse, “I [God] will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” I have counseled many others about the value of solitude, going away and being with God the Father as Jesus did throughout his ministry. The practice of Sabbath rest one day out of seven has long been a spiritual discipline which I’ve championed for others, while practicing it inconsistently throughout my life. Isaiah 30:15 is also a favorite verse for me – that in quietness and trust is strength; and salvation comes through repentance and rest. Yet for all my head knowledge, without the regular practice of holistic rest, I grew exhausted and weary as my heart and soul lost sight of rest.
What is Rest?
Before I give you five reasons we need to rest (especially as women), let me first define rest. Rest is the regular rhythm of taking a break from the usual demands and stresses of life and ministry. Rest includes all of these components: mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical. Ideal rest would be restful in each area, but that’s difficult to find in our American pace of life (and the reality of the responsibilities on our plates as women, many of whom are managing households and children). So I will suggest that you think about an activity (or lack of activity) that is restful for you in each area.
What will motivate you to follow to rest? (For the ironic reality is that it does take work and planning to rest!) Let me suggest five reasons why we need to rest.
5 Reasons to Rest
1. Rest is biblical. God ordained rest in the creative order of the universe. God who is omnipotent rested from all his work on the seventh day. Did God need to rest per se? Of course not, but God knew that we would need to rest, and so he built rest into creation’s order.
2. Rest fuels our ministry. Without time to be and abide, sitting at Jesus’ feet as Mary did, we cannot continue to pour out our lives in sacrificial service. We are finite, and we reach our limits quickly. Remembering that our most important spiritual work is to abide in the vine (John 15) frees us to rest in Jesus’ completed work for us and sink deeply into his infinite love for us.
3. Rest prevents burnout. Ministry burnout has physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental components. It’s the feeling of being depleted in every area, and needing radical rest to recover. The extreme rest needed to recover from burnout is almost impossible to find as wives, mothers, and ministry leaders. Wouldn’t it be better to take breaks along the way in order to prevent burnout?
4. Rest is a way to practice faith in God’s sovereignty. When I get too busy, my practical theology becomes, “If I don’t do this, it won’t get done.” It becomes quite humanistic, leaving the power of the Spirit out of the equation and forgetting that God is sovereign even over my limits. If the work I am doing is God’s work, it will not be hindered by my rest from it.
5. Rest reconnects us to our most important relationships. These are the relationships that fuel us – that refresh us. Before my husband and I took a sabbatical, we felt very disconnected from each other. As we rested together, we realized that we had been getting lost in doing and had forgotten to reconnect with one another – the only ones with whom we are connected by a vow. This is true if you are single, too, and I would dare say, even more true. When I was in ministry as a single woman in my 20s, rest was even more marginalized and I could get lost in the busyness of my life more easily, failing to take time with my friends and roommates.
Take some time in the next day or week to sit down and think about restful activities for you, and a regular rhythm of rest for you. Think in terms of holistic rest (spiritual, mental, emotional, physical) and daily/weekly/seasonal rhythms of rest. Consider setting goals in each area, and then talk about this with a friend or your husband.
Remember the words of Jesus and say, “yes!” to the invitation he gives you: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Rest is a gift from the hand of our Father. Who are we to refuse it?