Slowing down and smelling the roses: Reflections on Rest
I’ve never been very good at resting. And neither is my husband. His life motto is that he will ‘rest when he is in a rest home’! And all the women in my mother’s side of the family are similar. My grandmother, now in her early eighties can still be found gardening, milking cows, feeding calves and sometimes chopping wood! However last year I had a distinct impression that I really should slow down and smell the roses. Well as much as one can slow down with three children six and under! And we have lovely fragrant roses in our garden, even though my approach to gardening is to leave it alone. (Or leave it to my husband, as we have ‘pink jobs’ and ‘blue jobs’ in our household and the ‘blue jobs’ are the outdoor ones). But if it were left to me, it really would be survival of the fittest in our garden. So with the school holidays almost drawing to a close, one at kindergarten, another at a morning holiday programme, and my busy little bee asleep, I can sit down with a coffee, listen to some gentle music and reflect on the topic of rest.
Busyness is almost a badge of honour in our society and I have recently reflected on whether there is any honour in being busy? We seem to live in a society that is increasingly hectic and fast paced, with technology contributing to this too. I read an article recently on the ‘Overwhelmed Epidemic’. It summed up many of the problems in our society quite well. We know that rest seems to be an important component for one’s health – just as important as diet and exercise. Try telling this to my husband who is an ‘active relaxer’. I shouldn’t have to lecture him about the value of rest given that he works in the medical profession!
Why does rest seems to be so often undervalued in our culture? We often feel like we should be ‘doing’ all the time. Take the example of new mothers. If a mother has a hospital birth she is often discharged from hospital early, often before feeding is established if she chooses to breast feed. This is quite a contrast from the old fashioned notion of confinement which does seem to be common sense. That of taking things slowly and resting each day, and also slowly introducing one’s infant to the world around them so that they are not over-stimulated by the onslaught of sensations around them. I will admit that I took my third child out to the supermarket when she was four days old. A few people approached me and asked me why I was out with such a young baby, and my reply was that my husband had the flu and we didn’t have anyone else around to do the shopping for us. After all, we had to eat. Perhaps I didn’t like to ask anyone – my friends are all busy with their own families. And the option of online grocery shopping didn’t even occur to me in my sleep deprived state!
Some busyness is unavoidable in life, there is a household to manage, perhaps a garden, perhaps a job with ever increasing demands and expectations. There maybe a family, perhaps with the 24-7 needs of young children. Perhaps there are aging parents to care for, not to mention time for church perhaps, seeing friends, hobbies and keeping fit. But some busyness results from what we choose to put our hand up for. Research has demonstrated that our bodies can cope with physical exertion such as that of hard physical labour, but when the stress is mental or emotional it seems to really take it’s toll. And much of the stress that we experience in our society seems to be mental. Perhaps many of us are not as physically active as we could be, engaging in exercise which may help to offset any mental stress we may be experiencing, but again it’s often about finding the time. When I make the time, my favourite exercise would have to be taking a long walk on the beach.
A friend who is of the older generation commented recently that there seems to be many pressures on young families these days. I wonder what those pressures are? Those of us of a younger generation don’t know any different. Many families require two incomes these days, not necessarily because of higher material aspirations, but just to pay basic bills and a mortgage on a modest home. And for stay at home parents such as myself, there is the feeling that society thinks that because you are at home, you have time to join this committee and help with this sausage sizzle or that fair, when in reality when one has very young children, there isn’t alot of extra time. I know I spend time blogging, but this is really an outlet of rest and recreation for me. And I’m involved in ministry in our church which I really enjoy. But like many, I know what it is like to feel over-committed and over-scheduled, and I’m going to be careful with what I put my hand up for in future. After all, the spirit is willing, but the body is weak (Matthew 26:41) and there are only so many hours in the day.
I have heard similar sentiments from many mothers, especially those who are not currently in the work force. They often have this sense that they should always be ‘looking busy’. I find this rather sad, as they are doing alot, and the most important work in one’s life – that of the work done between the four walls of one’s own home. They value their job, but it’s a pity that society doesn’t often seem to. In the words of one of my cyberspace friends, I’m learning to just be in the moment with my children, and to not feel like I have to be ‘doing’ something all the time. I’d like to be a ‘Mary’ rather than a ‘Martha’. A fairly counter-cultural concept in this crazy world in which we live.
I have often questioned what is behind our busyness. Is it a performance orientation? Is it people-pleasing? Is it to cover up pain in our soul? Sometimes it can be a challenge to say no when we feel that we aren’t meeting the expectations of those around us. I’m also learning not to rush my children, as another friend so aptly described – rushing one’s children often seems to have the opposite effect. I’ve also recently questioned whether my children are too busy? I can’t speak for other families, and I’ve learned not to offer advice or an opinion to someone unless it is asked for. All families are different, but it seems that too many activities can sometimes place stress on families, and can be overwhelming for children. For our family, we have decided to stick with one to two activities per child at the most, as this seems to be manageable. That way, they can have more time to just play, especially in the outdoors. And I’m cultivating the art of simplicity. This looks like pony tails instead of french plaits in the mornings (doing hair is not my forte), and instant coffee instead of a cappuccino out of our coffee machine (although it has to be nice instant coffee as I must admit that I am a bit of a coffee snob!).
As a Christian, I’ve reflected on what the Bible says about the subject of rest. We are called to enter God’s rest (Hebrews 4:1). God doesn’t want us to be run ragged, with our hearts robbed of joy. He wants to move us from ‘striving to thriving’ through resting in Him and in His promises. As Joyce Meyer says, ‘Do your best, and then rest’. We can cast our care on God (1 Peter 5:7) because His burden is easy and his yoke is light. Jesus said ‘Come to me you who are weary and laden and I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11:28). Even youths become weary, but isn’t it comforting to know that God never gets tired. He promises that ‘those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength, they shall rise up with wings as eagles, they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint’ (Isaiah 40:31). God says in Exodus 33:14 “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” He also promises to give sleep to His beloved (Psalm 127:2). Those of us who have survived the sleep deprived stage with young children (or are hopefully through the worst of it like we are) develop a new appreciation for the gift of sleep!
We can give ourselves permission to rest, and we can be diligent about taking time out to enter God’s rest. We just have to come, quiet and still our soul, to know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). Then we can rest in the river of His presence.