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Rest for the soul

Posted by Brooke Newman, 30 Apr 2020

Over the next few weeks we'll be sharing a number of articles from the Summer 2018 edition of Crossway, which seem particularly relevant at the moment, beginning with Brooke Newman's exploration of true rest in the mess of a busy life.

Jesus says, “Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. “ Matthew 11:28-30

Rest.

Rest is a gift from God. Our earthly rest is a type or shadow of that eternal peace and rest when all things are made new. God designed us to need rest. We are even asleep for a huge fraction of our lives, and this cycle of sleep and wakefulness reminds us of our dependence on God and our finite capacity.

Effective rest isn’t easy to come by though. Most of us live frenetic, busy lives, scurrying from place to place, juggling a multitude of roles and responsibilities. Our pattern might be a mad bustle through the months till we crash, with all our hopes for rest pinned on a special holiday—-never a good place to pin expectations! Too often, illness, traffic, car trouble and family issues make these moments far from the idyllic scene we had pictured.  We all have probably experienced coming back from a holiday more exhausted than we were before.

If strife, anxiety, and practical disasters are the most common destroyers of rest, peace must be a necessary ingredient for real rest. We long for peace and rest, but where can we find it in our fallen world and messy lives?  We can’t do away with disasters, conflict, or our responsibilities. We cannot reach the rest that is out of this world, the rest we will enjoy in the new Creation.  So how do we find rest while we still live in the mess?

God commanded a day of rest in the fourth commandment.  What a fabulous commandment! Rest one day in seven and enjoy the fruit of your work! We ought not to wait for weeks on end for that expected holiday. God established this pattern even before the fall, and he took the trouble to enact it himself when he created the world.

We serve a God who comissioned us with work to do but also delights to give us rest, so why is it so hard to take hold of that rest?

There was a time in my life where rest came easily: when I was a child. School ended and there was an endless stretch of summer weeks in which to read and play. I never worried about getting enough sleep, I never worried about my next meal. I just asked my mother what was for dinner and got excited about the miraculous arrival of food hot on the plate. I was anxiety free. I trusted my parents completely for my wellbeing and never gave it much thought. The basis of the peace I had as a child was a dependent faith: I trusted others for my needs and was at peace.

I am now a minister’s wife with three boys and a girl all currently under 8 years old.  Life is busy. My husband’s busy day is Sunday which is the obvious day for a sabbath rest. Now my hands are the hands that sustain, clothe, discipline, and perpetually feed my very hungry children along with making sure they don’t do themselves any permanent injury.  My work follows me everywhere. I cannot shut it out of view.  Even if we were to go to some picturesque holiday resort, I would be surrounded by a crowd of noise and you would find me making sure that my children didn’t drown instead of lying peacefully in the sun!

It is easy to think that when you hit a certain time of life rest must be impossible, at least until retirement.  But surely if God wants us to have rest than it stands to reason rest must be possible!  The biggest barrier to rest for me now is my lack of childlike faith.  Faith leads to peace, the kind of peace that doesn’t make sense. The letter to the Philippians says, “Do not be anxious for anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”4:6-7

This is a peace that is like a castle around your soul guarding you from outside turmoil, making rest possible even when circumstances might be at odds with that.  A minister once said that we like to try and guard our peace by controlling our circumstances, but it is the other way around: this peace will guard us.  Handing over all my work and worries to God is the first step to effective rest.

It is possible to stop working and still not be resting. It is easy to end a day off just as exhausted as it began, despite the lack of work done. As a mother of young ones, if I stop work, mess just doesn’t get cleaned up and Monday can start to loom in a terrifying fashion. Faith means trusting God for Monday, giving over my problems to God and letting His peace do its job. It is that or toil away through what was supposed to be a sabbath. Anxious idleness never gave anyone a rest but God’s peace can do its job even in a mess and noise that you would as soon do without. 

I have come to learn that rest is possible even in chaos if my heart is quiet and I am trusting God completely with my life and letting tomorrow worry about itself.

The Jews had a preparation time before their sabbath and a little moderate preparation goes a long way to enjoying a restful time. Buying in easy food and removing sources of anxiety (piles of laundry in my case but it could just as easily be emails) can help a lot. To take one of Jesus’ examples in a slightly different direction, it doesn’t help your day of rest to go ahead and push the ox into the well! 

Even when physical rest is out of reach, we always and everywhere have access to rest for our souls if only we will come to Jesus for it: Come to him all who labour and are heavy laden, and he will give you rest.

Brooke Newman is a vicar's wife and busy mother now of five young children.

Photo by Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

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