The Spirituality of Rest

With the arrival of summer, there is an expectation of rest and play. But for many, true rest is elusive. The demands of work, family, and financial responsibilities often hinder our ability to slow down and embrace rest. In our society, busyness is glorified, and we often fear being still, as it may require us to confront our own heartache.

However, reflecting on the invitation of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30, we are prompted to consider the joy and sweetness that can be found when we rest. 

Dan mentioned in “Sabbath, Explained,” a previous podcast episode: “We need a taste of Eden to be able to continue engaging in the issues of a fallen world and our own fallen heart. But in that, it’s also a taste of the coming kingdom. A taste of what we are meant to know today and yet we will one day know in fullness.”

While we may not achieve instant transition from a hectic pace to complete stillness, taking gradual steps toward rest has the potential to bring about joy and transformation.

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Episode Transcript:

Dan: Rachael, sometimes I think it’s wise to offer those gracious beings who listen to us a context as to why we might be doing a particular podcast. This happens to be one of those. So let me give you the beginning. It was a lovely, lovely warm summer day and Becky said, why don’t you just take a half hour just out in the sun in a chair or a recliner or whatever and just sit or lie down. I’ll get you a blanket. And I’m like, what do you mean? She said, just go rest. And I’m like, oh yeah, I do have to finish a section of a book. And she said, don’t take anything. Just go listen to the birds, to the buzzing, to the crackling idol of the summer sun. And I’m like, hell no, I’m not going to do that. That is something akin to torture. So we’re going to talk about rest.

Rachael: Oh…

Dan: So you better lead here. Cause I, I’m, I’m already pissed. I just don’t want to do this.

Rachael: And I think to talk about rest in some ways we’ll have to talk about why? Why is rest so hard? Because, you know, when you’re describing what you’re being invited to that’s like, oh yeah, I love that. I could spend hours doing that. I mean,

Dan: Could you?

Rachael: I used to go to Golden Gardens near Ballard and just sit on a beach towel, watch people play and listen to the sound of the water lapping against the shore. I mean hours I used to lay in my hammock and listen to bugs and the trees in the wind. So yeah, I rest, I mean I was a single woman for, till I was 37. So yeah, I had a lot of free time on my hands too. If you didn’t cultivate a capacity to do nothing, I don’t know. I was just…

Dan: Well it let me remind you that without you, I would never have been able to finish or write a book on Sabbath. So Becky’s last remark to me when she saw my level of disquiet at the thought of resting, she was like, you know, you did write Sabbath. I mean I think that the framework I was able to bring was, I know I’m an inveterate Sabbath breaker and that rest is not a natural experience. And even in this conversation, she asked me the question, when did you have your first job? And my answer was quick, like oh nine is when I started working for my dad in the bakery. And again, it wasn’t every day, it wasn’t every night, et cetera. But I don’t think, and this is the arrogance, like, oh, when I rest I think I’m do I can really rest. And she’s like, you have to have an activity to rest. In other words, you have to have a distraction to avoid the potential to come back to work. And I don’t think it’s as simple as I’m a workaholic even if I am. I don’t think it’s just that I find my identity and my sense of connection and support even though it’s there with regard to. So as we begin to talk, you are more gifted at rest, let’s just say. So when you think about summer as we’re in the middle of, how for you do you approach something of the idle, the season? I want to say idle, I don’t mean idol. The rest of summer. The beauty, the sun. Yeah. It’s a season of intersection of rest and play. It doesn’t have the same frenetic reality of the fall. It doesn’t have that down sense of winter or that intensity of, in 12 weeks, 70% of the earth grows of spring. So there is a different hue, color, tone, really feel. So as you approach your own summer, even though we’re in it, how do you think about this given summer and the nature of rest?

Rachael: Yeah, that’s such a great question. And honestly it’s like, well in what season? like in what season of life? Not what season of the earth, but what season of life? Because certainly other seasons have looked different. And how I think about rest and the spaciousness of summer and where I lived because the Pacific Northwest, summer, it’s glorious. The days of summer are, so the contrast between winter and summer, the sun comes up at 4:30 in the morning and really goes down around 10, 10:30. And so there’s even a felt sense of time. It feels like time expands in the Pacific Northwest. I’m a little bit more south in Philadelphia, but even still this morning when we woke up at 6 with Evy, the sun was up and it will stay up until about 8:30, 9. And so there’s something about even the light, the way the light lingers that invites a different kind of posture. But with teenagers and an emerging toddler and swim team and baseball summer feels different these days… at work you know.

Dan: Yeah. And to further complicate even this within maybe hours, we have a family from California about to move in for the summer, which we are out of the moon with excitement and already can’t wait till they leave. So the intersection of its a busy summer and summer tends to be vacation cookout, staying up later, outdoors, family visiting vacations, et cetera, et cetera. It’s not really a season of rest as we normally think of it, particularly as you name the Pacific Northwest, which is already fundamentally, I would say character wise, a very passive aggressive world. But it gains even more so a kind of mania the middle of

Rachael: So manic. Cause you’re like, here’s the two months of such and you feel like you have to make the most of it. I literally remember when the first fall rain would come, I would feel like, oh finally I can just go inside and do nothing and not feel like guilty.

Dan: So as we come back to this, and I hope the connection for most people will be, is this a season of rest and how do we make it? And what is the peril? If those of you can rest, just shut down, go to another podcast. But the bottom line is for those of us who know that rest is not easy because it’s a season like yours with lots of complexity in your family or same with regard to our family, yet there’s already a barrier, an obstacle to the very nature of what rest holds. How would you approach this as you’re talking to a friend perhaps like me over a podcast?

Rachael: Because of the work we did on Sabbath, I probably would get into Sabbath categories. And I’ve had the privilege of talking with you about something like a sabbatical or an intentional season of rest and play. And I think that’s the word I would come back to is it’s actually a spiritual practice. There is a deep intentionality. Rest doesn’t just come. Rest is not just dissociation or taking a nap. And I remember that’s something we had to really wrestle with so much in our Sabbath research. Rest is a slower, deeper kind of presence. It’s that capacity to really take in goodness and delight and anticipate it. And so it does require intentionality around what you’re going to stop doing or what kind of boundaries you’re going to set to set apart that space and time. I think it’s really hard because for so many of us, we keep ourselves busy because our heartache, the conflicts in our relationships, the exhaustion we actually feel if we stop, I mean how many people when they stop to go on a vacation get sick because when their body actually comes down… So this is hard and we’re coming out of a season of the whole world changing with what happened with the pandemic and the uprising of atrocious racial violence and injustice. And so there’s a lot of grief and a lot of heartache and a lot of change, a lot of trauma that also we are carrying in our bodies. And so my sense would be for a lot of people, myself included, listening like an invitation. I mean I’m a post, I have a almost one year old. I mean it’s like to stop and rest is to let some of that madness also enter. You can’t be present to the beauty of creation and slow down without also making space for some of the madness to be present.

Dan: And one term that I find really helpful, maybe not so much to get me into a place of rest, but is the reality allostasis, which is the notion that we ramp up over long periods of time and it becomes the quote, new normal and the intensity of engaging this, doing this, going here, having this crisis, having to deal this. For most of us we have been in years of a global crisis. And as you put it exceedingly well, racial, gender, the issues of conflict, of division, of questions, of deep and uncertainty and every dimension of ambiguity and uncertainty creates a rise of anxiety. Another word for anxiety is stress. Another word for stress is stress by a chemical. So we’ve been living high, not on the hog, but high on stressed by a chemical. So most of us are in not homeostasis, but allostasis that is, that ramped up. So when you begin, as you put it brilliantly, the number of times on vacation, the first several days either two things happen, I get sick and I get mean. And my children were able pretty early on to begin saying things like, dad, are you going to ruin the first few days of vacation? And if so, can you just go and be alone? And then when you get a little bit better come back. It was so heartbreaking to have them so capably predict that my body ramped up on allostasis. When you come down, it isn’t that you return to homeostasis, you literally lose the high of stress. But also the other biochemicals that shall we say give you a good mood, actually drop as well. So a lot, it’s sort of a situational depression that often occurs when we begin to let down. And I think when you’re aware that when you lose stress by a chemicals, even though most of us say, I don’t want them yet when you do serotonin, which moderates our moods, drops. So we are literally closer, at least into the realm of depression. And that feels like, oh my gosh, I can’t afford to let down given, even if you’re asking me for a half hour or an hour, if I begin to let down, I know what’s going to happen. I’m going to need time to metabolize a different way of being. And that feels scary and unrealistic.

Rachael: Yeah. Well yeah. And I mean again, I know we’re, I’m assuming, and we’re going to talk, we’re going to get into some of the biblical passages that invite us to rest on most… like the one that we all would think about is Matthew 11. But there is, because I do think there is a sense of to move into a season of rest that we’re going to intention as rest and again realistically. So for all of us who have teenagers who are out of school or kids who are out of school, it’s hard. Summers can be hard because you, you’ve got to find ways to keep, you got to keep working and you got to find ways to keep your children occupied and not just on screens all the time. However, even in that you can set apart, what kind of mania are you willing to not be in the summer months when certain things cease? Or even if you have a four week window where there’s not sports or activities, but it’s like we actually have to let go of some things we have to unburden, right? Because even what we’re putting words to is we actually have to be honest about what are some of the things we’re carrying with us. And sometimes I think that actually takes rituals too of anytime I’m heading into a season that has a little bit more space, I typically have to, some projects that I do that are, they are my physical manifestation of letting go of some things. I have to clean, I have to deep clean and maybe clear out some closet space and then all of a sudden I feel like, okay, there’s a little more. Do you have any practices like that or does that just lead to, okay, now I’m going to just do all the projects instead of resting.

Dan: I think Becky would swoon if a project were creating order, cleaning out a closet. But no, I would not put myself in that. I admire that for you and others. Spring cleaning in preparation for the summer makes perfect sense. But that element of, and I just want to keep going back to your words, what do you carry? And we’ve carried certain things and normalized it even to a point likely that if you go just a little bit deeper, you know you’re carrying more than you “should”. But not only does it feel necessary, requisite, but also if you’re, at least I’ll admit that there’s a certain pride. I’ve got so many meetings today. I’ve got so many things to get done today. And the idea of a empty schedule, which sounds fabulous as I look at it and I go, Ooh, it’s not simple or easy. So what we carry probably has this at least intersection of fear and pride, power because of what we’re able to carry that likely other people can’t quite carry yet. On the other hand, that element of if I let go, what will happen? So when you think about what you carry, that you know is more how does that passage in Matthew 11, and let me just bring it into conversation. To me it’s really important to go… context. You know have at the beginning of chapter 11, Jesus acknowledging the relationship between him and John the Baptist and using that as a framework for exposing the Pharisees as you don’t want to critique him because the people love him. On the other hand, you don’t want to use what he’s saying and repent because it would disrupt your religious power. So he’s using his relationship, with John the Baptist to expose, but then he’s coming at least in the book of Matthew to one of the most clear statements of his relationship with the Father. And again, you can look at John 13-17 and you’ve got thousand statements of his unique relationship with the Father. But this is in Matthew one of the first, and he says, “at this time Jesus said, I praise you Father Lord of heaven and earth because you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned and revealed them to little children.” Again, important to know children were not valued. Children were less than any sense of care. They were a burden. That’s why the disciples wanted to make sure they had no contact with the rabbi. So the fact he’s essentially saying, this is for you who are little children, “all things have been committed to me by my father. No one knows the son except the father. No one knows the father except the son and those to whom the son chooses to reveal him.” And then the sweet invitation, “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. For I am gentle and humble and heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yokes, easy and my burden is light.” That has been a verse that as you can imagine, I’ve spent a lot of time in and a lot of conflict with. But I’m wondering what you have done with this, especially in the light of this conversation.

Rachael: Yeah, I mean, I think I could say myself, this is a passage that something in me goes, oh yeah right? How are we supposed to just, oh let me, so many of, I think that overwhelming things that feel heavy are work related or trying to provide sustenance for your family and living in a extreme capitalist society that in many ways we’re there… it’s the tyranny of constant labor just to survive to some extent. And I feel like I’m more privileged than a lot of people I know in that. So there’s something in me that’s like, sure Jesus, sure, let me just set down my heavy burdens. But there is also something in me that knows what it is to relinquish to God in many ways, the burdens that we will carry for our life that are too much, that do still joy, that seduce us into believing if we just try harder, work harder, they’ll become lighter eventually. And I think, so, mostly where I went when you were reading was I was thinking about some of the conversations we’ve had this winter and spring around grief and bitterness and some of these more what I would call emotional burdens, but things that can really take up a lot of space and feel quite heavy. And Evy’s going to turn one this summer, which feels like such a huge threshold. And I’m remembering being super pregnant like I was last summer, all summer long it was so hot. And so I do have this deep desire and I think we just had this awareness of our boys are just growing so fast, it’s just going so fast. And what would it mean to entrust Jesus in a way that’s not denying or minimizing the heavy things we carry, but at least acknowledging that I don’t carry them alone. And I’m not like that. It’s also, it is okay, it is. The work will continue without me if I take a step back for a moment and that it is okay to take in joy. I just think as a hypervigilant, traumatized person, I don’t want to go off on a tangent here, but we didn’t even talk about gun violence in the list of things we talked about, which just feels, so for me, that’s a huge burden I’m carrying into this summer that I feel like nowhere is safe, nowhere is sacred. How can you rest when you never know when you’re potentially going to be in harm’s way? And so again, it’s these realities that they don’t just magically go away because we decide to stop carrying them.

Dan: Right. Well, and I think for me, what you’re naming is, look, this passage has been a comfort at seasons, but more like a provocation where I feel so exposed in between both my fear and pride. I can carry a whole lot. And if you can, oh that’s, well see if you can carry this extra pound, but if you can’t, I’ll do it. And they’re like, oh God, I just even saying it, I’m like, oh Jesus, what prideful flatulence is involved in that? So to step back and to be able to go, can I use it as a means of assessment? Which may sound very mechanical, but what am I carrying that right now feels really hard, really burdensome, really heavy? And is that an assessment tool to be able to say, well, okay, there is something here that is foul because the heaviness alone is enough of an indication that this is not what Jesus has for you. So what, again, you can’t change the dynamic of having two brilliant, beautiful adolescent boys out of school and a toddler who I think from my standpoint, having been a little bit around her, you need to be watching her 100% of the time,

Rachael: 24/7, there is not a break

Dan: You should be awake 24/7. Cause that child, if you want to keep that child alive, you better be hyper focused. So you can’t change that. You can’t just go, I’m going to the hammock folks for the next three hours. But then the question becomes, given the weight of that, are there other weights related to it that actually intensify that load in a way that needs to be exposed and needs to be addressed? And for Becky, this beginning conversation, she was like, let’s talk about your fear of boredom. I’m like, come on woman, you know too much. And I’m like, she’s saying if you were on the hammock for a half hour, you would be figuring out a podcast. You’d be planning the next portion of the book you’re working on. And I’m like, yeah, and that’s a problem? And she’s like, yes, yes it is, cause it’s not rest. It’s your play. And thank God that you enjoy that play. But would you actually let yourself be, and a word that we use in our culture now mindful, tuned into the sound of the world around you and be captured by it and let your heart be taken in by indeed your backyard beauty. And she said, I don’t think you can do that. Cause you need to be hyper-focused. And even if you were hyper-focused on the world around you, it’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking, will you let something down? And again, I’m not at a point where I can clearly know what I’m at war with other than I committed that over the next three days, which I did say 72 hours, I’ll take a shot at that 30 minutes. But when you think of letting down, letting go, even though you can’t let go your son’s summer or your daughter’s exploration, what needs to be let go for you to have a better taste of Matthew 11?

Rachael: Well first I just want to say I’m going to look forward to hearing how that 72, 72 hours, that 30 minutes sometime in 72 hours goes for you. So we’ll have to have a follow up conversation.

Dan: Do you want a picture to prove it, Becky? Say if you get close to the 30 minutes, I will come and take a photo.

Rachael: Yeah, I do. I want to see the picture. That’s such a good question. And I think part of the way that I have been, I think living into that question I don’t actually have an answer, is I have been, I did spend the spring preparing for summer and the play of summer. I brought bubbles for Evy, lots of bubbles, things that imagining we’ve been taking walks, evening walks in the garden in our concrete jungle. We live in South Philadelphia and there’s empty lots across the street from our row house that during the beginning of the pandemic, people got permission from the city to turn into gardens, like community gardens. And so we’ve been going on evening walks in the garden when we go to baseball games, we take a blanket and toys and just trying to take in this season. And so even as stupid as this will sound like I’ve imagined buying sunscreen as a way of preparing for the rest and play of summer because we’re going to be outside and we’ve been inside for so long and because it’s cold in Philly in the winter and it actually was a cold spring, so it was like, it’s hot, hot now. But just getting to have these kind of rituals of we’re going to be at the baseball field and there’s something about the sounds and smells and cheering and just getting, actually having the freedom and the privilege to be at a baseball game and our kids running around and doing something they love. And so it’s been really little ways that I’ve had to let go of. There’s a ton of house projects that we need to be working on. And for me there’s always a thousand lists of things that need to be done and need to be addressed. And yet there’s something in me, very defiant that is like we get to, we’re going to enjoy this season of connecting together. We’re going to eat slow meals, we’re going to let the evenings linger. Even though you’re supposed to put your baby to bed at the same time every night. We’re not going to do that. I’m letting the sleep schedule go. That is something I am letting go and unburdening myself with the 10, 11, 12 month sleep schedule because yeah, she will sleep and we’re going to take advantage of being outside and the cool of the evenings. I don’t know if that answers your question. That’s what came to mind.

Dan: It does. Well and I think even as you’re putting words to it, I, I’m going back to part of the conversation with my beloved and one of the things she said is if you light down on the hammock or just sit in a chair, you, you’re going to begin to have a sense of your grief. And not just your grief, but the grief that you hold with regard to others. And your busyness is in some ways a form of boundary. I can’t think about my grief or the grief of others because I’ve got to do the podcast and then I’ve got to meet here. So the boundary… busy is a boundary, busy is a idolatry, busy is an escape. And she named that dear friend has a beloved puppy, a beloved dog that has just been diagnosed with cancer. A dear, dear friend, and this is all today. And a dear friend lost his job, which in the context is incredibly stupid of the employer because of the incredible value he brings to this organization. But a political morass that created a drama and he was handling it with incredible integrity and cause of that he got fired. So I know that if I go those two realities that have come out literally an hour before we began this podcast, I feel it. I feel it. And I want to call, I want to pray. I angry, I’m confused with our living God. And it’s just a speck, not of what I carry, but what I know, God carries. So the realm of being able to go, let go, this sounds dangerous. Let go humans suffering for a half hour, let go. Even your questions about what it means to trust God, let go. Will you just take in warmth, beauty, kindness for a brief moment? I think I’m getting closer to what I’m at war with.

Rachael: Yeah. I think what you’re naming is just is why so rest is so deeply desired and yet so utterly terrifying. Because I think… and it is what you’re, the 30 minute boundary line feels so kind. Cause it still feels really long if it’s something, it doesn’t feel like a normative practice. And I think that that’s what I would say is do we also have permission to grow faithfulness in the small, because to enter rest and really be present to beauty and to delight and to taking in goodness is really risky. And like you said, and it opens our hearts to be present to things that actually we’ve talked about how making space for grief paradoxically does bring rest. It does invite a different kind of rest to the heart than our avoidance of grief and trying to keep grief at bay. That’s not like always, that’s not always the case. Sometimes grief can feel really debilitating, but there’s something about the honor of grief, what is meant to be grieved and being present with people who can grieve with us. But I’m just thinking about what do you do if you’re in a marriage that part of what you long for is someone who will join you in the rest. And so you set your heart up to practice that, but they can’t join you. And so it’s like, I don’t think anything we get to do in this realm is without profound tension. Which is why I think practicing in the small grows our capacity to bear that tension and still take in what it is we’re meant to take in.

Dan: Well, and it’s interesting, I haven’t thought of it until you put words to it, but the small itself is the easy compared to the large. And so if I’m trying to be faithful to the large and I’m not willing to take the half hour, then already there’s a certain rebellion and as you put it, you had a defiance to create that, I’m more of the stance of I have the defiance, I won’t go there. And yet to be able to go, oh, let it go. You literally can come back to the grief you feel on behalf of your friends, but not now, not for the next 30 minutes. And I know my own mind well enough to know the moment I tried to go, I’m not going to think about it. It will take a Jesus be with me, I want, and then concentrate, if you will, to take in what do I see with the birds flying by or the sounds that are reverberating. So I think that feels like even as we talk, I’m grateful for this because a part of me goes, oh, I think I’m just maybe an inch closer to being able to go, oh, I think you don’t want to hold grief, you can’t give up grief. Hold that ambivalence. And that’s something you need to be able to give as this is a burden that you’re not meant to carry. So if my burden is easy, I can use that as an assessment tool. Maybe I won’t come to any point of clarity other than at least I know I am, I’m carrying something here that doesn’t seem to fit what Matthew 11. But in that, to be able to carry what I am meant to carry, even if it looks pretty heavy to the outside world, is actually easy compared to bearing what I’m not.

Rachael: Well I will wish for you a kind of being still and present that you do see the tiny, tiny bugs in the multiple layers up in the atmosphere.

Dan: Well it, let’s just say if in the next 72 hours I choose to repent, I’ll document, have my wife document it and send you a photo.

Rachael: I’ll look forward to anticipating that.