by | Jul 1, 2020

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11: 29-30

In recent weeks, I’ve heard many colleagues and friends acknowledge their deep fatigue. Indeed, signs of fatigue are everywhere. I feel it myself. I’ve asked everyone on the diocesan staff to take time this summer to rest, even if a traditional vacation isn’t possible. I’ve asked regional deans to communicate the same message to our parish clergy, staff, and lay leaders. 

Our relationship to rest is complicated by many factors, both internal and external.

In an inequitable society, rest is experienced more as a privilege than an essential human need. In a time when work and income are uncertain, rest feels like a luxury we can’t afford. In the anxiety born of constant comparison and self-judgement, we often don’t allow ourselves to rest, even when given the opportunity. When all our normal patterns of life are disrupted, as they have in recent months, we may have forgotten what rest feels like. 

Then there is the clarion call to work for justice ringing in our ears. In the words of the Civil Rights leader Ella Baker: Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest. 

We cannot rest in the long road for justice, or in any work of lasting value. At the same time, we need rest. Our bodies daily need rest or we get sick. Our minds need rest or we can no longer think clearly. Our souls need rest or we lose grounding and perspective. Without adequate rest, we are at greater risk of having accidents, making poor decisions, or causing unintended harm when we mean to do good. 

As I bring all of these concerns and realities to prayer, what I hear is this: 

God knows our need for rest. 

God knows that we all need rest, in daily measure; in longer rhythms of sabbath time each week; and restorative seasons, when we can allow ourselves, like the soil, to lie fallow for a time, in order to continue to bear fruit.   

There are seasons in life and in society when rest seems nearly impossible, and we must rely on our inner reserves, the support of others, and the grace of God to keep going. Yet we aren’t meant to work at that pace all the time, but once we become accustomed to it, it takes time to recalibrate and find a more sustainable rhythm. 

Jesus was not one to shirk from work, and he calls us, his followers, into lives of sacrificial love and service. Yet he longs to give rest to our weary souls. 

In this unsettled, unrestful time, I hope that you find a way to practice rest, as one of the foundational disciplines in Jesus’ Way of Love. If it helps, remember that rest is one of God’s commandments–not a suggestion–for our own sake and that of others. Consider your relationship to rest and what keeps you from it. 

In your times of rest, pray for those who are still working–some far too hard, for far too long. And whenever you can, find ways to offer rest for others. In times like this, the gift of rest is priceless, both to give and to receive.