Photo credit: Me (The dust is free, a sign of my rest.)
Rest calls me. It taunts me after 11 pm, when I am awake and I know I should have been in bed half an hour ago. It evades me when I have fifteen minutes to spend any way I would like and I choose to return the shoes, coats, and socks to their racks, hooks, and drawers. Rest whispers to me from a place far enough away that it echoes, making it hard for me to identify quite where it resides and calls from.
Every Monday morning, our five-year-old, Eliot, wakes to his alarm with disappointment: “Five more days until the weekend, right, Mom?” He rubs his eyes and resists getting dressed, begs for a pyjama day, and questions a world that makes no sense to him, wondering, “Why do we have five school days and just two weekend days? I want two or three school days and then the rest weekend days!”
You and me both, Buddy. Change the world; if you lead, I will follow. For now, I’m making peace with reality and thanking God for another day to live this mystery that is my life, even if it is a Monday and we need to get dressed, change the laundry, eat breakfast, make lunches and go off to work and school.
Four years ago, when Eliot’s birth and the rage of hormones that followed bent me low, I found myself exhausted and entirely drained. Every morning I woke wishing for another full night’s sleep, aching to escape from the duties of being awake, and never feeling rejuvenated by the things that used to be restful. Even when I did manage to collapse into rest, I went nearly two years without feeling rested.
On a retreat, where I easily slept more than I reflected, I read a book by Heather King called Shirt of Flame. In it, she wrote a prayer that shot a spark into the heart of my weariness and refused to be extinguished: “Help me to accept myself the way I am, not giving up the idea of healing and growth, but giving up the idea that I am ever going to reach some future point where I can rest. I can rest here.”
I needed her prayer as desperately as I have needed anything in my life. The prayer was as earthy and relieving as finally getting access to a washroom after drinking too much water in preparation for a prenatal ultrasound appointment running two hours late. What if right in the middle of middle-of-the-night feedings, working full-time, feeling lost, battling depression, putting three meals a day on the table to be thrown on the floor, clinging to my husband – what if there is rest right here and not anywhere else?
Rest, I am learning, is not having as much leisure time as I want and very few obligations. Vacation is nice but it is not supposed to be a lump sum debt payment against what we have borrowed from daily living. I need to rest. Here. Now. No matter how ugly things are here, my survival depends on finding a way to rest in this mess.
When I have overdrawn on the resources of my life, it looks like months of over-eating junk food, avoiding exercise, justifying my impatience and arrogance, going to bed too late, being generally unsatisfied with my life and doing nothing about it. In these moments, rest feels like a punishment and I resist it. When these seasons give way to depressive lows, rest and care for myself altogether stops working. Overdrawn, I choose urgency, overwhelm, fear, chaos, and business almost every single time.
For me, the only way out is one restful, peaceful, compassionate decision at a time, especially when they do not feel like they are working. I physically have to set down my urgency, by shaking it out of my hands and breathing in second by second trust that hurried is not helping. I have to give myself a bedtime and make dates with myself for silence and put limits on my screen time. I buy fruit and vegetables and eat them even when I would rather order pizza. I put the names of my friends and family members in my calendar and make phone calls and practice asking for help. I let the dishes pile up on the counter and build forts and take my kids out to the park. To rest is to sink deeply into what is, to surrender with my whole heart into the people, place, tasks, and time that are right now.
If I cannot rest here, there is nowhere else. Very little has changed in my life since I found that prayer. There are still plenty of deadlines, hungry little people to feed, and big people with big problems in my life. But my heart has changed. It has softened and relaxed. Overstretched and strained by seasons of immense self-inflicted and other-assisted pressure, my heart has recovered from constantly working overtime.
I have yet to find a circumstance that is helped by my choking for air, exhausted panic, or desperate last ditch effort. What is true for my children is also true for me: most every circumstance can be immensely improved by a few deep breaths, a little snack and a short nap. Choosing to rest in the place I am today feels like resurrection. The only place I have to be is here. The only time I have to give is now. I can rest here.