Like everyone else, I must admit I am tired of winter. In much of the northeast, there has been storm after storm after storm in the past few weeks. Nonetheless, I must concede that snow has two things going for it: 1) its crystalline beauty and 2) the way it forces us to slow. down.
For too long I lived as if busyness were a badge of honor. I burned the candle at both ends so often, my eyebrows were perpetually singed. I'm naturally a go, go, go girl (not a go-go girl, lest there be any confusion).
I think I was pushing myself, no, I know I was pushing myself in an effort to be more productive, efficient, helpful, and competent---in all areas of my life.
As singer Sam Smith puts it, "I know I'm not the only one." A friend of mine recently described an MRI to me this way: "You know how it goes...they put headphones on you. Then you get to lie horizontally, with your eyes closed... in the middle of the day! I was falling asleep last time I had one," she raved. "I felt like I was on vacation. It was great!" My sister says she has a friend that fell asleep in the dental chair at a recent appointment. Are we really that exhausted, that we can only relax during a medical appointment!? What are we doing to ourselves?
I know what it is to run yourself ragged. There are 7,653,231 things to do and only 24 hours in each day. Many activities on our calendars are necessary to our day-to-day lives---work obligations, bathing, studies. Others are meaningful and important---like family celebrations, connections with friends, cooking for our families. Aiming to do all of the above well is laudable. But what drives us to overload our schedules?
"We are so afraid of silence that we spend time chasing ourselves from event to event …to avoid looking in the mirror." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Bonhoeffer points to fear as the motivator behind our frenzied pace of activity. But to fully live and engage with our world, we must become comfortable with a rhythm of activity and rest, a time for outward focus and a time for introspection.
Fitness fans should understand this. You've heard of HIIT, High Intensity Interval Training and Tabata, right? Both workouts focus on periodic work. You go hard at one exercise for a certain period of time, then you take a break.
1. Go hard. 2. Rest. Repeat.
The key for a strong body is to work intermittently, not constantly. Why? The muscles need to be pushed to build endurance and strength, but they must also rest. Pushing too hard without breaks leads to injury.
We've got the "go hard" piece down. It's the "rest" part of the puzzle that we still need to learn to incorporate in our lives.
It helps me now to think of creating margins in my life as a soul-training exercise. Learning to rest takes commitment and risk. It's scary to step off the treadmill and just "be." It means you are not needed as CEO of the universe.
Here are some things I'm doing to train that rest muscle. (Please give me your tips when you comment.)
I'm learning that the word "no" can be a gift for me and others, too. It gives me more energy for the "yeses" in my life and allows for others to step in and meet needs. I'm turning off my computer around 11 each night (most nights, anyway). It gives me time to read the old-fashioned way, with a book in hand before bed. I'm putting my phone on airplane mode more frequently; it cuts down on the temptation to check it, and frees me from being on call 24/7. Even in my devotional time, I am learning that words are not always necessary. I can just bask in God's presence.
Which brings me to Psalm 23. The psalmist says "God makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters." And what follows that compulsory rest? "He restores my soul."