How to Rest for Real
The difference between recharging and laziness.
As I glanced at my calendar for the week last weekend, I felt a sinking feeling come over me. Most nights were full of social commitments, church events and errands that had to be run. The dishwasher hadn’t been emptied in two days, I needed to call a friend back and exercise was—well, exercise usually falls to the bottom of the To-Do List Totem Pole. Let’s not kid ourselves. As the week went by, I felt more and more worn out. Working all day, running around all night, rinse, repeat—it was draining. On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to go to a prayer event at church. My husband and I just couldn’t make ourselves go, instead resorting to frozen pizza and a Big Bang Theory marathon.
I felt ridiculously guilty. I had the opportunity to go bond with my community, be in conversation with my Creator and rejuvenate my soul—but all I wanted to do was relax. The thought of getting in my car and spending an hour in a chilly church, kneeling on sore knees, forcing myself to make small talk sounded like torture. Because here’s the truth: some of us are just prone to comfort. We like our sweatpants, our popcorn bowls and our Parenthood Netflix binges. And there are usually a thousand other more productive things we could be doing—going to Mass, having a conversation with a friend we love, spending one-on-one time with our significant other, praying, reading something that’s good for our soul, exercising, journaling—the list goes on. But there are so many days when I get home from my office and really, truly—I just want to take a nap.
So when is that OK and when is it just laziness or sloth? I have plenty of justifications in my mind. I work hard at an 8-to-5 with a 45 minute commute. I’m a wife who tries to keep healthy meals on the table, not frozen pizza. I have a wide social circle and I’m frequently grabbing dinner with friends, investing in their hearts and hearing about their days. So some nights, I just want to curl up in bed and recharge.
So often, this can feel guilt-inducing. Like, what kind of Christian would rather go to bed early with a good book than go care for her fellow (wo)man? Answer: me. The me kind. After discussing this issue with a few friends, I realized that I was far from the only person that felt this way. We’re all busy, all tired, that’s an old story. But when is it allowed to choose rest over evangelization? Over prayer? Over Jesus?
Everyone had different opinions. Frustrated, I turned to the Bible, at 5 a.m. as the sun was beginning to peek up and my coffee was brewing. Psalm 62 jumped out at me instantly: “My soul finds rest in God alone.” Maybe part of the problem is that the things we’re choosing to relax with aren’t giving us true rest. Maybe we don’t have to always stay late after events, chatting and eating snacks and glancing at our iPhones. Maybe we don’t have to join every small group, Bible study, prayer circle, but instead need to make sure we’re making time for our relationship with the One who created time. Maybe the secret lies in just knowing ourselves, knowing our own limits and our own intentions.
I once heard a priest say that the Devil and the Holy Spirit so often tell us the same message: “You should be holy.” But one uplifts and one pours guilt like pancake batter on a griddle. Which feeling is motivating you toward actions? A soft, encouraging voice reminding you of an appointment you made with God? Or a guilt-inducing, heart-aching buzz in you ear?
Matthew 11:28 reads “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” If you feel constantly weary and burdened, evaluate your reasons for doing what you’re doing. Make sure your intentions are truly for God and not for your own gratification or to appease your guilt. Once your motivations are pointed in the right direction, holy leisure suddenly makes all kinds of sense. After all, God calls us to a designated weekly day of rest.
Pope Francis said “People who work must take the time to relax, to be with their families, to enjoy themselves, read, listen to music, play a sport.” We must take the time to rejuvenate our souls—not to go against God, but so that we may better work for Him. So that we remind ourselves of the true important things.
When you look through your schedule, pause and reflect. Which of these activities are authentically bringing you closer to God, and which are just obligations you’ve imposed upon yourself? Let the Holy Spirit flow through your schedule, one day at a time, and leisure will find its true and righteous place.