As our family prepared for vacation one year, we were consumed with checklists and activities. While helping my daughter into the car, I suggested that she rest while we traveled. She replied, “My brain is too busy. It’s hard work to rest.”
Her comment stopped me. I thought about how, in our home, activity is equated with productivity. We check things off of lists and move on to the next task. We have after-school practices, homework and chores, and charts and lists to organize the work, making rest, well, hard work.
So often this was true in my spiritual life, too. My brain was too busy focusing on the next task to be truly present. If there was a food drive at school, I would organize the donations. If my church held a prayer night, I made sure refreshments were there. I raced from activity to activity, checking them off the list. The one thing that remained absent on my checklist, however, was rest. Not the physical resting that comes after a long day of work, but purposeful and intentional rest.
Jesus himself offers this rest when he says, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). While I was studying this passage, I learned that rest, used here, comes from the Greek word “anapauo,” which means to refresh. It made me think — When was the last time I felt refreshed on a spiritual level? I needed to find a way to renew my spirit beyond my prayer life. Scripture tells us Jesus would withdraw to be in prayer (Luke 5:16). I decided to try that, retreating to our backyard to a quiet spot. I sat in a chair, alone, with a cup of tea, and immediately began thinking of things I needed to do, felt guilty about being away from my children and turned the time into a vent session to God. I wasn’t exactly becoming refreshed and renewed.
As a mom raising four daughters, I’ve learned I have to schedule intentional time for spiritual rest. Just as I plan for time to grocery shop or to get ready for work, I need to deliberately make the time for sitting in silence with God. If I don’t plan for it, the time is easily allocated to other distractions and demands. When I first started to plan time away once a week for spiritual rest, I felt guilty about taking an hour that could be used for other activities. Other times, I’d be halfway through saying a prayer and realize I hadn’t truly focused on a single word. This idea of spiritual rest wasn’t working, and I would tell myself that if I were going to take an hour away from my children and home, it should be “accomplishing” something. So, I soon quit making the commitment to this time alone with God.
Then, one day as I was cleaning, my youngest daughter kept stepping on the back of my feet. With every step I took, she was right behind me. After tripping over her yet again, I said, “Why are you walking right behind me?” She said, “My teacher said to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. But I don’t see him. So I’m walking in yours.” I was speechless. My daughter had reminded me that my role was to teach her how to follow Christ. I had been teaching them how to do things for God, not necessarily to be there with God. The truth is, by taking the time to just be present with God, I am teaching them that being present is the most important activity to share with those you love. I still wish I had more hours each week, but the hour of spiritual rest is never sacrificed.
In this dedicated time with God, I have found silence is key to resting with him. I try to retreat from the world and just withdraw into solitude. I choose a spot that is away from family and distractions. For me, true spiritual renewal is dependent on listening much more than talking. I don’t bring a list of needs and failures. Those conversations happen, just not in this time of rest. I ask God what I need to hear today, and then I sit and listen. When I began, my thoughts wandered to schedules and lists. I glanced at my watch. Now, I am learning what it means to just be in his presence. Some days, I leave renewed, challenged, and refreshed. Some days, a word or phrase triggers an hour of journaling. On days that I am truly distracted, I will choose a Bible verse to meditate upon and then just allow the silence to override my thoughts. The more I’m in silence, the more I can embrace silence, and my soul stops worrying and planning and just rests. The hour looks different every time, but the goal is always to leave more peaceful and renewed.
This peace has translated into change in other facets of my life, too. I’m learning to listen more, embrace silence in our family life, and not be so concerned by the marks on the checklist. I am more present to my family and less task-driven. Because I am learning to listen better, my prayer life is no longer a monologue but a true time of exchange. I’m not always successful, especially with the busy days of summer. But I’m learning it doesn’t have to be hard work to rest.