One day this summer, I decided to take eight giddy teenagers from our local youth group on a tubing trip down the river. I had never floated down the river in a tube and didn’t know quite what to expect, so when the day came, I gingerly settled into my tube in the cold spring-fed river and cast off. Once we grew accustomed to the cold water, play became the priority for the trip. Noisy splashing, dunking, flipping, and lots of laughter ensued. And why not? The river is one of the most fun and relaxing places one can be on a hot summer day. After the playfulness subsided, we lolled in our tubes, slowly drifting wherever the current took us. I may have even napped a bit while drifting down a slow, flat section.
About halfway into the four-hour float, I began to experience an urgency in my spirit. Rest and play had been nice for a small amount of time, but I felt we should hurry along. There was more in store for the day than just a lazy float down the river. So, I began to communicate subtle hints to the other members of our group. I began to paddle with my arms, offering to race others to see who could reach a certain spot most quickly. I prodded, “Let’s keep moving,” in an effort to hurry the still playful teenagers along.
Where did this urgency to finish the float and the resistance to rest come from? What was waiting for me that made me so anxious? Why was I so uncomfortable with being fully present and enjoying our time together? Urgency, anxiety, discomfort…were any of those things worth sacrificing rest for my body and soul or connection with these people? As I began to look deeper into this inner restlessness in my spirit, three issues surfaced: 1) value, 2) control, and 3) guilt and pride.
If you are anything like me, many days all that needs to be accomplished overwhelms. Work, family, relationships with friends, technology, exercise, entertainment, social media, church, books to be read, hobbies, house projects, and more clamor for my attention each day. And while I may long for an opportunity to rest and be still, my spirit resists. Why is that? To be honest, I resist rest and throw myself headlong into busyness and productivity because I think that these are what give me value. Obviously, the more things that need my attention, the more important I am!
Matthew 6:26 says “Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” I hear this and think it doesn’t apply to me because they are birds, and I am human. And yet, there is an important point Jesus is making here. As humans we are made in the image of God, and that alone is what makes us valuable. Nothing we do contributes to our worth. God simply created us in His image, thereby ascribing value to us that is not based on what we can produce.
Second, I think the clamor in our world deeply affects our souls and creates a resistance to anything that resembles slowing down. In many ways, isn’t never-ending activity an effort to establish control? We focus on gaining what we think we need rather than depending on God to meet our needs. When you get right down to it, this addiction to busyness and meeting our own needs is really idolatry. It’s placing ourselves and our productivity in the position of God, and without realizing it, our frantic pace wreaks havoc on our relationship with God. Again Matthew 6:31-32 says, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” We expend such energy to grasp or manage what we perceive we need in order to feel secure when God is already taking care of us. We just need to trust Him and relinquish our attempts at control.
Finally, when I find myself longing for and even choosing rest, guilt and pride lurk in the corners of my mind. Guilt accuses me of being lazy or challenges that I shouldn’t need rest. Pride taunts that rest is for those who are weak, but I am strong, capable, and competent. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). God never intended for us to be all-sufficient because He is. This is why God’s first job for Adam after he was created was to rest (Genesis 1:27-2:3). God created us with a need for rest because in rest we acknowledge our deep need of Him.
I have come to believe rest is an invitation and a gift to us from our heavenly Father, who loves us. Jesus took this invitation seriously and often chose to withdraw to places of rest and refreshment that could only come from God. And as Jesus returned from those interludes of rest to minister to the needs of the people, He bore fruit that was not drawn from his own well of productivity, but from the deep well of a loving relationship with the Father.
Are you resisting a rest? Jesus’ invitation to you is “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 in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 10:28-30).
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.