Sounds a peaceful word, doesn’t it. A word we might want to run to, to soak in, to let it wash over us as we sink into all that it can offer.
But for some of us, the word is far from peaceful. Far from restful. Rest can, instead, be threatening.
This has struck me anew a few times over the past few weeks. I’ve been at a few talks where the speaker has been talking about rest, and how important it is. We live such busy lives these days, they say. We’re all rushing from pillar to post, we don’t get a moment to stop. We all wish we could stop the world and get off, don’t we?
Well… no. No, I don’t want to stop the world, because the world is already too slow for me, you see. I do not identify with the rushed life of a busy person, because my life is not particularly busy. There are busier times, but even they are in slow-motion compared to the life I once lived as a teacher. When I had some energy left in me. When pain didn’t plague many of my days. I don’t want to stop the world because each moment for me can be stretched out too far already. Living in sickness is like that – seconds turn to minutes, and minutes into hours, when those seconds and minutes and hours are steeped in pain – whether physical, mental or spiritual. Instead of wishing we have more time, we may wish for less. We may wish for time to pass more quickly, for sleep to come sooner and last longer.
It leaves a question for us ‘spoonie’ types: what does rest mean for us? And more specifically, what does Sabbath mean for us? I was present recently at a wonderful re-telling of creation events using godly play. I loved the way the storyteller brought the wonder and beauty and sheer awesomeness of creation to life, but when the seventh day came it plunged me into both joy and despair. On the seventh day, God rested. So we must rest. We must take time out from our lives and have a day off.
I’m completely with this. Rest is absolutely crucial. I am very possessive about my OH’s day off, because as a vicar he desperately needs that time. I think God’s ‘resting’ has given us a pattern for our lives, a healthy pattern where we work and we rest. Only, what happens when most of our days are already ‘rest’? When we can’t actually distinguish between ‘work’, ‘rest’, and ‘play’? There are times in my life which are like this; everything is indistinguishable, melting into a great mass of something people might look in on from outside and call ‘rest’ but I might call ‘work’ – it’s hard work to breathe when infection has taken root. It’s hard work to drag your body across the landing to the bathroom or to sit yourself up in bed or get yourself up and down the stairs. For some, it’s impossible, and all of their time is spent in bed. Caged in rest which is not really rest. What, then, can we say about Sabbath for people like these? Or for me when I am having a bad day/week/month?
People sometimes say to me that I must enjoy all the rest I have. It’s a bit of a kick in the face, to be honest, because there is no sense of enjoyment when pain racks my body and all my limbs ache so much it feels like my very bones are shrieking. I want to enjoy the rest. I want to luxuriate in a long bath and feel better for it, but when I am ill I cannot. Rest does not make me better, it is simply a necessity to carry me through the day and night. A necessity I fight with all my will because it hurts. Even holidays often feel like so much more un-rest.
I do not want to rest.
But I do want Sabbath. Because I have discovered that Sabbath is different. It goes deeper than rest, deeper than slobbing around watching Netflix and reading, deeper than having a lie-in, deeper than putting my feet up and laying my head back. All those things are just everyday activities for me; things that I might do to keep my body going. But a Sabbath rest takes me to a different place. It takes me to a soul-rest. And somehow, in the soul-rest, I find a body-rest as well, even in the midst of the sickness. I love Psalm 23:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
These words transport me to another place. The green pastures are the most beautiful place anyone could ever imagine, a place where things are as they should be, where broken things are put right. The quiet waters are the waters of the Holy Spirit, bubbling up and overflowing and strengthening and restoring. It’s in God my soul is restored, in the power of God’s love where I find my true rest. When I take time to look upwards rather than inwards I find that though I might be in pain, I actually lack nothing, because I’m by the quiet waters which wrap me and encapsulate me and hold me through the storm. If only I would remember to use some more of the too-much-time I have to spend in those green pastures, then I might just long more for that day of rest. Or days of rest. Or months. Or years.
If you are threatened by rest, if you cannot imagine what it is like to look forward to restorative and peaceful times which make you feel stronger, if you shudder at the thought of more of the same, then may you discover the sabbath rest, the soul-rest which drenches you in an immersive level of the kind of rest God meant you to know, deep in your heart. May you be restored within your pain and your sickness and your depression and your anxiety, knowing that you lack nothing at all in the God who made you and loves you beyond your wildest imaginings. May you be soothed, even while your body feels torn apart. Comforted, even though your mind is lost in sludge. Upheld, even while you wait through the long seconds, and minutes, and hours.
Be at peace, because it is well with your soul.
Rest. For some of us, the word is far from peaceful. Far from restful. Rest can, instead, be… Click To Tweet #SpoonieSabbath? What does it mean to rest when rest itself is too tiring? Too threatening? Click To Tweet