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?”
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.
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.
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!
“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