No rest for the weary… we all know the expression, and probably the feeling as well. Sometimes it can sure feel true to life, but maybe it is more aptly, “the weary take no rest.”
I remember when I was seventeen and I arrived in Tubingen, Germany for a language immersion month before departing for my host family’s home in central Germany. Aside from the challenges with duvet covers and differences in bathroom utilities, one thing stood out to us: the calm, slow, quiet pace. It was so slow that it actually made many of us feel anxious. People sat along the Nekkar River watching swans and gondolas float by. People enjoyed long meals, just sitting in each others’ company, talking and sipping beers. It was relaxed and happy, but slow.
We, Americans, by contrast, ran all over that town like a storm. We were always seeking some new activity, some new experience. We never rested. Even as weary, jet-lagged travelers we refused sleep and sought excitement. It took a few solid weeks before we were able to sit down and watch the swans swim by, that summer.
Today, as a grown up, I watch my kids’ desperate attempts to avoid bedtime. “Mom, can I rub your back?” “Mom, can I get a sip of water?” “One more hug?” They hate the idea of laying down to rest, and all I want is a nap!
One day, I joked to myself about how I wish I could take a nap, when my boys were fighting theirs. It’s often in those moments, when I hear the voice of God. He loves to show me my own error through my children. That day, He spoke to me and said, “But, when I tell you it’s time to rest, you won’t listen either.” Boom. He sees me.
God created this world in six days. On the seventh day, He rested. He orchestrated the calendar to contain seven days, including rest on that last day of the week. He planned a rest for the land, years of rest for His people, and when they refused to rest, they suffered consequences of forced rest, in the form of captivity.
My family tries to keep the Sabbath holy unto the Lord, but we are pretty terrible at it. We all struggle with rest, and since we aren’t legalistically minded, nor are we Jewish with all the rules of the Sabbath, we sort of have developed our own guidelines, but we aren’t real clear on things when new situations arise.
Can we bake cookies together for fun? Or is that work? Maybe the baking feels like a fun family activity, but the cleaning up doesn’t. It’s fuzzy, and we are just plain bad at resting.
Yet, God says we need it, God commands it for our good, this rest.
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Even science supports the need for rest and research indicates that a weekly rest is most effective. A Scientific American article from 2013, entitled, Why Your Brain Needs Downtime, explains how our brains are wired to solve the most complex problems when at rest. You may notice that you are at your most creative in the shower, right when you first awaken from sleep, or while on vacation.
“Vacations likely revitalize the body and mind by distancing people from job-related stress;… by giving people the opportunity to get a good night’s sleep and to let their minds drift from one experience to the next,” the article states.
It goes on, however, to explain that a more recent analysis by Jessica de Bloom, at the University of Tampere in Finland, shows that the positive effects of vacation fade within just one week, but that even a mini-vacation, such as taking a walk, can help sustain those positive effects much longer.
So, the Bible and science both agree that we need rest, but, still, we fight against it. And my mind wanders to Mary. Not Mary, mother of Jesus. Not Mary Magdalene. The other Mary, Martha’s sister. I’m so much like Martha, always seeing what needs to be done, the sweeping, the cooking, the washing dishes, the toys on the floor, the crumbs on the table. I am ashamed that this is what Sabbath looks like to me – a mess for which I am constantly tempted to interrupt my much-needed rest.
Yet, Mary did what was best. Oh, how I need to be more like her! She sat at the feet of the Lord, listening, learning, loving attentively. And that, to me, is how the Sabbath should look. Mary got it right. Martha could only see the work that should be done. She was frustrated with Mary for not helping her. And all the while, Mary was choosing what was better — a loving rest at the feet of Jesus.
I am such a Martha figure. Maybe you are too, but if I can learn to rest in Tubingen, I can learn to rest here in the land of Motherhood too. If God commands us to rest, then perhaps He knows something we don’t, like how badly we humans need to rest, but also to rest in His presence.
So often, we Christians grow weary. We strive to do good things, to keep it all together, to have a tidy home, to show hospitality and to love others, but all the while we are missing what is best.
Maybe that is what the Bible is referring to when it says, “Let us not grow weary in doing good…” Unless we rest in Jesus, we will. Maybe it really isn’t a matter of the weary finding no rest, but rather those who refuse God’s rest becoming so desperately weary.
Do you rest in Jesus each Sabbath or do you find that difficult to do? What can you do to make sure you rest this week’s Sabbath?