Single in the City: Rest

Shobana Vetrivel   |   November 14, 2014 

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Our culture defines how successful we are by how busy and visible we are - if we work 24/7, if we are accessible on every device, if we are the last to leave the office and the first to come in, if we can flaunt our achievements, then we are on the road to success.

Henri Nouwen says it well, “In general we are very busy people.  Our calendars are filled with appointments, our days and weeks filled with engagements, and our years filled with plans and projects.  There is seldom a period in which we do not know what to do, and we move through life in such a distracted way that we do not even take the time and rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say, or do are worth thinking, saying or doing.”

Is the alternative to busyness then to be laid back, irresponsible and shy away from too much work? I would be the first to say certainly not! The principle is always more work than rest, six days of work and one day of rest, six years of working the land and one sabbatical year of rest. Rest is truly rest only when it is preceded by work, it cannot cease if it never began and there can be no fruit without the hard work of cultivation.

Maybe I should put a disclaimer here: I’m not getting into a theological discourse of the Sabbath, what it is, whether and how it applies, what it entails, etc. I am convinced however that rest as a principle of the Sabbath has huge implications on our life today.

I started this year with the decision to take a sabbatical, a year off to slow down and restore myself physically and spiritually. Even though I judiciously allocate times of rest and vacation within my work schedule, health complications and incessant fatigue pushed me to make the decision. This led me to think through the implications and necessity of rest as a vital spiritual discipline.

To rest is to give our bodies the time they need to recuperate from the physical striving, to engage in an activity that recharges us. It looks different for different people – my way to recharge is to be alone with a good book or a meaningful conversation over coffee or a good nap. If I don’t schedule that into my week, the effects show up in my words and actions.

To rest is to allow our souls to be restored, to take the time to strengthen our inner lives. To let ourselves just “be” - nourished by the Shepherd who makes you lie down in green pastures, leads you beside still waters, and restores your soul. To find rest for our souls in the One who invites us to come when we are weary.

To rest is to display trust. I personally do not like taking risks or being open to the risk of failure, so I plan around every possibility and probability of my own or someone else’s failure. So I naturally scale up the levels of stress and striving, mostly self-imposed, to measure up to some standard of success and competence.

The command to rest from working the land during the sabbatical year was to signify Israel’s trust in God to provide for them. It takes trust to let go and rest in God’s provision, power and perfect competence. It ultimately points to our resting in Christ and His work and not our works.  It is liberating and gives us the impetus we need to endure in our work.

“There are times… we simply have to sit back for a while and do nothing. And for a man who has let himself be drawn completely out of himself by his activity, nothing is more difficult than to sit still and rest, doing nothing at all. The very act of resting is the hardest and most courageous act he can perform: and often it is quite beyond his power.” Thomas Merton

It takes courage to build in rhythms of rest into our busy schedules. The invitation to rest is open, not only from our work but also from our ceaseless striving to measure up, to be visible and to be successful.  Jesus beckons us to rest in Him, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

Photo Credit:  Unsplash

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Shobana Vetrivel

Shobana Vetrivel enjoys the hustle and bustle of city life and the adventure of living in New Delhi. She has an educational background in social development and theology and has worked in both development and ministry settings. She currently works with Delhi School of Theology and is pursuing a PhD in Practical Theology. Books, travelling, theology, coffee and deep conversations are a few of her favourite things.  
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2 comments on “Single in the City: Rest”

  1. Well said, Shobi! Like you, I've done the work of building rest into my usually harried schedule. But those times are also the first thing to be thrown out when something unexpected comes up... or I'm behind on a deadline... or I'm stressed while packing to leave... Today I woke feeling heavy and unable to face the world, and I KNOW it's because I've been blowing off times of rest for a couple weeks now. It does need to be fought for, and that DOES take courage. Thank you for this articulate reminder!

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