The Elusiveness of Rest

Why does rest seem such an illusive state to many of us? How is it that we somehow keep pushing ourselves, sometimes to our absolute limit, without even realizing it? Why do we feel guilty if we take a break? Why do we drive ourselves so ruthlessly?

For most of my adult life, rest was a foreign concept to me. In my late thirties, my chiropractor asked me what I do to relax. I looked at him blankly and couldn’t think of a single thing. My friends used to ask me what I did for “alone time” (since I homeschooled my kids), and I would respond with something to the effect that “alone time” is more a selfish, popular notion.

I constantly ran at full tilt, thoughtlessly adding more to my already overstuffed life. It seemed my yes’s were as prolific as my state of perpetual motion. It’s not surprising that at my breakneck speed, running was one of my great loves. My mantra was, “Why walk when you can run?”

Me crossing the finish line the Casino Niagara International Marathon in 2002. I ran my first long-distance race at ten years old and won and continued running and racing until 2006 when my back pain no longer allowed it.

There was never enough time in the day, and I would drop into bed at night, my brain full of all the things I had to do the next day while berating myself for those I hadn’t managed to accomplish—or not accomplish well enough. My to-do list regularly filled an 8 1/2 x 11 page! What an exhausting and chaotic way to live!

Fortunately for me, two things made a huge impact on my journey toward rest. One arrived about about thirteen years ago when my body rebelled and forced me to a literal standstill. The other was an intentional “Year of No” where I cleared my life of every single one of my commitments except those I needed to keep for family or friends. The first decision was forced on me, the other I chose as a result of how my life had so easily refilled a few years after the first.

Our front porch has become a favorite respite of mine. It’s where I enjoy my morning coffee and soak in the beauty of the waking day, the dew-soaked garden, and the chirping birds.

It’s humbling to ponder the reasons I chose to live my life at such a frenetic pace. I suppose for different personalities, the reasons we over-extend ourselves will look a little different, but perhaps there are some common threads, some of which you may recognize below.

A lot of my harried pace was linked to performance, striving, and people-pleasing. It wasn’t enough for me to take on a project or goal, I had to accomplish it to the absolute best of my ability. While there is nothing wrong with reaching for excellence, the way in which we do has much to say about our motives. Are we doing a project to garner accolades? Competing with others to be the best? Saying yes to please others? Constantly driving ourselves with unreasonable expectations or goals?

Lack of boundaries, saying yes without restraint, and not being intentional about taking time to rest lead to burnout. Some indicators of my maxed-out state were depression, anger, anxiety, resentment, forgetfulness, feeling overwhelmed, joylessness, and trouble falling asleep. Everything grew much more difficult. The smallest request felt like an enormous burden. Simple tasks such as answering an email took special effort and responding to friends attempting to choose a date to get together was daunting.

I’ve always loved plants and gardening, but during the years my life was over-stuffed, its upkeep became a chore and I had little time to sit and enjoy the fruits of my labor.

After my intentional “Year of No”, I discovered a sense of spaciousness in my life. This more balanced, simplified pace made room for stillness and space to recognize the beauty that was always present but which I had often overlooked. I began to appreciate the little things like sitting on my front porch, the first sips of my morning coffee, actually listening to the birds chirping, and enjoying my garden.

This uncluttered approach to life meant I could also more fully partake in the big things like time with my family and friends, and the found time to reach the goals and dreams I had often pushed aside for the sake of others’ demands and expectations. I was surprised to find that this slower pace was infinitely more fulfilling.

I learned that much of the striving and people-pleasing came from “fear of people” meaning that I cared too much about what others thought of me and drove myself in an effort to coax people to think well of me. The opposite of this is being secure in your identity, being present in truth, and loving others without abandoning yourself.

I’m slowly discovering what I should have known all along—I am loved by the One who made me, who loves me no matter how much I do or don’t do, and who is infinitely kinder to me than I am to myself. In Christ, I lack nothing and am fully accepted. In this, there is great security, peace, joy, and… rest.

It’s never easy to make room for rest and you may have to fight for it. It’s not a bad idea to schedule periods of rest into your day and into your calendar. Part of doing so ensures that you show up for yourself, are kinder to yourself, and are present and fully engaged in the parts of your life that really matter. If you’re not sure what those parts are, sit down and make a list of what is most important to you. Are you living in such a way that reflects the things that made the list? If not, adjust as necessary. Life is too short and too precious to not live intentionally!

Intentionally clearing space in my life created room to fully engage with my kids and ensure I don’t miss moments like these… swimming with my grandson.

“God loves you more in a moment than anyone could in a lifetime.” ~ Author Unknown

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. ” ~ Matthew 11:28

Why Don’t We Feel Beautiful?

Girl on swing

I needed a head shot for the back of my book. During the photo shoot, the photographer told me about the number of women in their 40’s and 50’s she has listened to bemoan their appearance. That same week, while visiting some friends, there was an exchange about aging and someone postulated that those who are considered beautiful have a harder time growing old because they have farther to fall.

I thought about these two conversations, about wrinkles, and the way we – both men and women – view the aging process. I remember that as a child I thought wrinkles were beautiful, especially the smile lines around aging eyes. It’s sad that something so natural and inevitable should be something we’re ashamed of. I wondered why so we often don’t feel beautiful – really at any age – and why we’re so desperately trying to appear young. I could think of 5 reasons:

1. We have a corrupt view of true beauty born from dissatisfaction. Marketing campaigns tell us that to be accepted we must look young, fit, and beautiful, wear the right clothes and expensive jewelry, drive the right car, and smell fantastic. And we’re busy chasing after all of that because we believe them. It has become all-important, and we have become more and more insecure and dissatisfied with ourselves. As a result, we’ve lost our ability to notice truly beautiful things, exchanging them instead for the fleeting and the superficial.

2. We compare ourselves to others. Dissatisfaction also seeps in when we play the comparison game. When we make a habit of comparing, we fail to celebrate the endless variety and forms of beauty found in ourselves and others, and end up feeling dissatisfied with ourselves or our lives. It’s this dissatisfaction that steals our peace. It drives us to want more and be more, instead of feeling comfortable in our own skin and enjoying the unique beauty found in every human being.

3. We struggle to love ourselves. Perhaps you were bullied, or told you were ugly, or worse. When we look in the mirror and think we look ugly, or are tempted to believe the lie that tells us we aren’t enough or are worthless, we need to fight back. Here’s the truth: true beauty far exceeds your exterior appearance, or any label or insult you were given. God has infused our lives with His love, and that love has made us so much more beautiful in the unseen places that any make-up, wrinkle cream, fancy clothes, or photoshopped image ever could.

The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.  ~ 1 Samuel 16:7

But there’s more. When we meet God, He changes us from the inside-out, and continues to do so until our last breath. He offers His healing and love to every area of our lives, both seen and unseen. We were made in His image and that makes us infinitely precious. When we accept that we are accepted, we can begin to love ourselves and grow in confidence far beyond appearances.

4. We have an identity crisis. When our identity in God is secure, it’s difficult to be insecure. It’s not a bad thing to wish to be attractive – and most of us make an effort to do so – or to notice beauty in another. It’s when our exterior becomes our primary focus and ultimate goal that it begins to tamper with our true identity, our true beauty, and the freedom we find in Christ. When we believe we are unconditionally loved by Him, and that His love isn’t based on anything we’ve done or failed to do, our identity grows secure in Him. The pomp of the world becomes a lot less shiny, and we care less and less about how others perceive us. We relate to others more openly and freely, seeing them instead as one of God’s walking, breathing masterpieces and His prized possessions. We come to see ourselves the same way. Paradoxically, the less anxious we are about our exterior, the more beautiful we become.

5. We forget to be thankful for the living, breathing, creative masterpieces that we are. That leaves us feeling empty, no matter the full bellies, full closets, or full wallets. All of the stuff fails to satisfy us. Until we begin to be grateful. Until we understand that we are loved by God and made with a purpose for a purpose. Then we begin to be made beautiful through and through.

Let’s choose to celebrate the beautiful, marvelous, miraculous, and unique human beings God has made us to be, use our resources (time, talents, and finances) to build up things that won’t fade but that last in eternity. Let’s choose to be so securely tucked in God’s unconditional love that true beauty can be seen in us and we can glimpse it in others.

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  1. What do you think it would take to make you feel more beautiful?
  2. Of the list above, which area do you most struggle with?
  3. Try to set aside daily time with God and let Him secure your identity and self-worth.
  4. Write a list of the beautiful things you are thankful for.