This summer, a driving goal of mine was to create space to experience God through rest, rhythm and enjoyment of Him. Sounds great, right? In the weeks leading up to summer, I thought a lot about how beautiful and purposeful those words sounded together, and how expectant I was to enter into a season dedicated to re-establishing healthy cadence in my life. After what has felt like an eternity of running from one thing to the next, I was thirsty for a pause button; for REST that runs deeper than a good night of sleep.
If I’ve learned anything about myself over the years, it’s that I love control. One of the ways I gain this is through setting goals —and while this is a good thing in and of itself, I’ve also found that I tend to over-romanticize and idealize the reality of those goals.
If I’ve learned anything in the short time I learned about living at home for the summer, it’s that stillness exposes things.
Our lives are a never-ending cycle of intake and outtake, input and output. The word “bored” has become obsolete in our culture; entertainment is always within the click of a button or a swipe of a screen. The squares on our calendars struggle for breathing room, and in the hurry, we hardly recognize that the air’s become thin for us too.
Sometimes, it gets to the point where we do recognize the “bareness of our busy lives,” which Socrates so wisely warned us to beware of. Busyness is another conversation in and of itself, but what happens once we actually take the leap and hit the pause button?
At least for me, there is a certain undercurrent of electricity that accompanies my self-diagnosed busyness — and I love it. Having somewhere to be, something to do, or someone to help or talk to gives me a sense of accomplishment and purpose that — for the most part — I genuinely enjoy.
What happens when the semester ends, your people aren’t available, you’re transitioning between jobs, or even when the WiFi goes out?
We’re left alone. And we freak out. We’re strangers to space, and we’re unsure how to process “nothingness.” We turn to our to-do lists for comfort, and their emptiness — which we once longed for — fills us with a rising surge of discontent and discomfort.
I think that sometimes, we are so quick to fill the space and launch ourselves back into comfort that we forget to question why the presence of space bothered us in the first place.
Personally, what caught me off guard was how anxious and empty I felt the moment my “to-dos” and “to-sees” were removed. I thought rest was supposed to be rejuvenating and life-giving, not clouded by a sense of purposelessness. Was I doing rest wrong? Was I wasting my time?
The ugliness of my own heart began to reveal itself as I continued to process these things, and I was suddenly confronted with sin and struggle I hadn’t really taken the time to address in my hurry. So naturally, I took time to process and pray and all was well in the world again — right? Not quite. Instead of facing my fears and addressing what was being exposed, I tried to numb out the negative feelings I had by switching on the TV, scrolling through social media, and running around to coffee shops. If I just kept busy and filled my time with “stuff,” I’d feel better — and maybe then I would be able to finally achieve the rest I craved.
As I began to see my life with no filter, I struggled to regain the control I felt like I’d lost. I was becoming increasingly aware of the ways I wasn’t showing the love of Christ to others — especially to my own family. I was keeping count of all the ways I’d already failed this summer, and of all the ways I felt “stuck.” I wasn’t doubting God, but I wasn’t feeling his presence either — and this frustrated me, because I know from Scripture that “in His presence, there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16). My soul was thirsting to feel that presence and joy, like David in Psalm 42.
I was listening to a sermon by John Mark Comer on “The Dark Night of the Soul.” He talks about how when we are in a “dark night,” we are in a time of “refining and stripping down” – the end goal being “a heart posture of trust in God himself — not in our feelings or ideas about who God is.”
Whoa. What if my ideas and feelings about God were being confused with who God is? What if the Lord, in His sovereignty, was stripping away my ideology and my hurry to create space for knowing him more honestly and intimately? What if God, because of His mercy, was exposing my sin — not so I could count the ways I’ve failed, but so I could see my true emptiness apart from Him? What if God was trying to set me free from my “attachments and anxieties to live in joy and peace”?
I immediately started brainstorming all of the ways I could pass this season with flying colors, only to be stopped dead in my tracks when John Mark Comer noted that “the dark night isn’t something you do. It’s something God does TO you… rest is God’s work in your soul.”
Oh. I finally began to see that rest isn’t about what you do (or don’t do) while you’re “resting.” True rest is a posture of the heart, and sometimes, the Lord takes away so we can realize how empty we’ve become apart from Him.
In the stillness and the spaces — when everything in us wants to run—the Lord invites us in. He invites us to allow him to refine and re-work the desires of our hearts by showing us how desperately in need we are.
It makes sense that we struggle when faced with our emptiness and ugliness, because seeing those things proves our utter inability to save ourselves. Enter, the Gospel.
We have a Savior who died to set us free from the penalty of death and the weight of sin, and who delights in our hearts becoming more connected to His with the passing of each day. There is a future coming where sin is no longer a threat — but for now, we are purposed to live “worthy of the callings we’ve received” (Ephesians 4:1). “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
I don’t know about you, but I want to become more like the righteousness of God — and the only way to do that is to let go of the illusion of control and allow God to tend to the spaces in my heart that are not like Him.
Comer reflects that “there’s something about losing control that does a great work of freedom in us.” Maybe rest is not discovered through feeling “in control” of the stillness and spaces I find myself in. My focus for this summer is no longer on what I need to “do” to reach rest.
My prayer for myself (and for you) is that we would be graced with the humility and courage to accept the merciful invitations of the Lord in every season, even if doing so means letting go of the things we hold too tightly.
Editor’s note: A version of this article originally appeared in 2019.