The hard work of rest

Our family just returned from our vacation to British Columbia where we had a great time reconnecting with family and friends.

Part of our time away was spent at Purden Lake in northern BC.

Once again I experienced the irony of how resting can be hard work.  It does not come naturally to me. I might step out of the office and leave the building, but I’ll still take my work with me in my mind – thinking over sermons, wondering about particular people, planning meetings and ministries. My body might be out of town, but sometimes it takes two or three days before my brain begins its vacation. And often a day or two before our scheduled return, my brain already begins thinking it’s back in the office. Just because we say we’re resting or just because it looks like we’re resting, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are!

Taking a break is not easy. It means letting go, and I have a hard time doing that. I want to stay involved (read: I don’t want to be out of the loop and/or not in control). I want to be continually productive (read: I don’t want to disappoint people who might get the impression I’m lazy).

Nevertheless God tells me and you to take a break, to engage in Sabbath rest. In His mercy, He does not want to watch us burn out, even if it’s by doing good and worthwhile things. Our physical and emotional health is important to God.

But I think even more importantly, in telling me to rest, God is inviting me to trust. He reminds me that the world will not spin off its axis if I take a break. In her book Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, Marva Dawn speaks of God’s Sabbath invitation to rely on Him, to “let God be God in our lives” (p. 29). Sabbath rest teaches me to recognize when and where I am trying too hard on my own to secure my future without trusting God or sensing His presence. Rest keeps things in perspective.

I like Mark Buchanan’s double definition of Sabbath. In The Rest of God, he has the familiar definition that it is a day, typically Sunday in the Protestant tradition. But he also defines Sabbath as an attitude:

A Sabbath heart is restful even in the midst of unrest and upheaval.  It is attentive to the presence of God and others even in the welter of much coming and going, rising and falling.  It is still and knows God even when mountains fall into the sea.

You will never enter the Sabbath day without a Sabbath heart.  (p. 4)

It doesn’t come naturally (spiritual disciplines typically don’t), but part of trusting God means resting, observing Sabbath – Sabbath moments, Sabbath days, Sabbath seasons. It lets God be God. And it helps me be better at being the me God wants me to be.

(I originally wrote and posted this in July 2010
and our recent vacation brought it to mind again.)

4 thoughts on “The hard work of rest

  1. Carla Walhof says:

    Great perspective! Yet, easy to say, hard to do.
    Welcome back! You were missed! So glad you were able to “take a break” though.


  2. Stanley J. Groothof says:

    Thanks, Carla! We had a wonderful time in BC, but it’s good to be back, too! ~Stanley


  3. Marg Lise says:

    Hi Stanley, As I read your blog I totally get it. As I make my way back into my school office Monday, my mind this past week was already making lists of what I needed to do this first week back. And I so too always want to be in the loop as to what is going on at school and in control. The reminder that ultimately God is in control of all is a great reminder for me as I look at numbers for the next year. Taking Sabbath rest is so important in the lives of leaders and everyone. Blessings as you return to your work. Love to Monica and the kids.


  4. Stanley J. Groothof says:

    Thank you, Marg, for reading my blog and sharing your reflections on the subject! Blessings to you as you transition back into school routines, trusting in God’s help and strength. ~Stanley


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