The Rest of Summer
The arrival of summer is a welcomed event in my calendar year. Even though this season passes as quickly as the others, for me it seems like life slows down, providing me with an opportunity to catch my breath just a bit. Summer is the time for some extended periods of rest, but I’ve got to work hard at it. That's right: rest is often the hardest work I must do.
The Goal of Rest
The reason I say this is because there is a purpose for rest, a goal to reach. And if I don’t reach that goal then I haven’t really rested. The goal of rest is restoration. The purpose for rest is to be “put back together,” to be made whole again so that I can once again engage well in the ordinary work that God has given me to do.
I’m reminded of this goal and purpose for rest when I contemplate the place that the Christian day of rest—the Lord’s Day—has on our weekly calendar. I’m not going to get into the debate here about the legitimacy of the first-day Sabbath over the seventh-day Sabbath. Nor am I wanting to discuss here whether or not the Christian Sabbath is to be included in the moral law and therefore obligatory on Christians. But I do see rest as a gift that God wants us to have and knows that we need. And the Lord’s Day reminds us of the kind of rest God wants to give.
Being the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day indicates that we begin our week of work and productivity with rest. We begin from a place of restoration since Jesus has completed the work necessary to reconcile us to God. At the same time, the Lord’s Day comes around again on the eighth day, calling us to retreat from our work and find our rest once more in the finished work of Jesus. We begin and end our work with rest.
In addition to the weekly routine of rest, there are also seasons, like summer perhaps, in which we might seek extended times of rest. But what kinds of things should we do as we seek this goal of restorative rest? Here are three things I do that I find beneficial, along with one thing I try to minimize as much as possible.
First, I try to find some extra time of sleep during times of restorative rest. While I enjoy getting things done, I know I can get wound up so tight that my productivity levels during my waking hours begin to plummet. Sometimes a nap is the most productive thing you can do with your time.
Sleep is one of those gifts that God has given to us that we can easily take for granted. Some people have a hard time sleeping and know all-to-well the difficulty of functioning with less than adequate amounts of sleep. There are also seasons in which we are practically forced into missing out on enough sleep, maybe because of the arrival of a newborn baby in the home or late-night conversations with teenagers. It is important in times like these to take note of how much sleep you may be missing and look for ways to catch up on some of it. Don’t neglect sleep as part of your plan to rest.
Read, Meditate, Pray
Another activity I use in restorative rest are prolonged periods of time for reading, meditation, and prayer. It takes extra time for me to silence my mind so I can unplug from the normal responsibilities and concerns of life and simply listen to God. I find doing some extra reading in the Bible and meditating on verses and passages with my journal helps me hear from God and talk to him in prayer. There’s nothing that feels as restorative as hearing the voice of God and sensing his presence through the inspired Word of God. Of course this is a discipline we ought to engage in regularly as well as in special times of rest, but there is a great temptation to seek rest without engaging the Scriptures. You may need a break, but you never need a break from God.
Another way I seek rest is by doing something different than normal. I need to get away from the usual, the routine, and the ordinary. This past month, I’ve gone on vacation and had two different retreats. Our vacation took us to Colorado, and during that trip my wife and I stole away to the Acts 29 South Central Pastors’ Retreat in Breckenridge, Colorado. It was great to see something different (mountains!) than what we normally see here in Oklahoma. It was also great to worship God with some other pastors without having to think about my own responsibilities in the service.
As I’m writing this, I’m finishing up my second retreat, this one a personal retreat. I stayed in a cabin by myself for a couple of days, away from the city. I too walks and rode a bike through the woods and spenta lot of time reading and praying. Just something different from the ordinary routine. It is amazing how healing this is to my soul. I recommend every Christian take a personal retreat like this every year, but be sure you prepare ahead of time for how to do it well. If you’re married, make sure your spouse gets a retreat as well as you.
Beware of Leisure
My one word of caution is to watch out for leisure. Leisure, according to Andy Crouch (The Tech-Wise Family) is “the kind of rest that doesn’t really restore our souls.” Crouch says that leisure is “purchased from other people who have to work to provide us our experiences of entertainment and rejuvenation.” It’s the difference, for example, between a game of pickup football in which we participate and a game of football which we watch on television. Leisure is “rest that requires others to work on our behalf.”
Gordon MacDonald (Ordering Your Private World) says that “leisure and amusement may be enjoyable, but they are to the private world of the individual like cotton candy to the digestive system. They provide a momentary lift, but they will not last.” I find leisure not only tempting to run to when I’m seeking rest, but also the very thing that contributes to my need for rest. I need to unplug from the constant need for distraction so that I can focus on that which brings deep rest and restoration.
In essence this means I need to put away my phone and get off the internet and stay away from pretty much anything with a screen. It’s harder than you might think if you haven’t done this in a while. But the reward of getting to a place of deeper rest is hard to describe. All I can say is that I know I need it.
And I’m guessing you probably do, too.