Resting Through Rejoicing
Rest is important. This may seem too obvious to need stating, but then again, some of my good friends will be surprised that I put rest and important in the same sentence. My personal sleep practices notwithstanding, the psalmist indicates that rest is part of God’s design for us when he says, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2).1 This brings up the following question: why don’t I actually make room for rest?
Part of the reason is the tendency to behave as if I was a machine. Assuming that the purpose of life centers on maximizing productivity, I try to run hard and fast for as long as possible. Failing to make good use of time is a sin, and your energy giving out before the day has slipped into the late evening is an inexplicable failure which should produce a redoubling of effort.
The analysis here isn’t completely off. We are stewards of our time and should use it well. Wasting time is squandering a valuable resource. The question though is what does it mean to waste time? Usually, we equate wasted time with unproductive time. Well-used time is time spent on practical matters, completing tangible tasks. Examples include jobs done, housework taken care of, emails written, phone calls made, bills paid, Bible chapters read, prayers said, blog posts written . . . we could keep expanding this list for a while.
Despite what it gets right, the machine perspective contains an erroneous assumption: we are at the center of the universe. The only way for my world to center around my work is for the world to center on me. Paul corrects our focus when he writes of Christ, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36). There is something greater and grander than us at the center of reality. This does not detract from the seriousness of our lives, but it does put that seriousness in its proper place. Fr. James Schall puts it this way:
Real things are not less because other real things are more. If the whole of what we do—if the whole world—is merely “child’s play,” as Plato also intimated, it is not because there is no drama among us. Rather, it is because we are already included in a drama of infinitely greater grandeur than anything we could possibly make or even imagine by ourselves.2
In this understanding is a key to rest. Recognizing God’s glory and importance involves focusing on Him. At the same time, the burden of my cares is reduced because they are seen in comparison with the ruler of creation. The psalmist again captures this idea when he writes, “I lift my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2). In order to see and rejoice in God’s glory and grace, I need to look up from myself. Rest comes, in part, from rejoicing in who God is.
How do we go about rejoicing in God? Part of the answer lies in rejoicing in the gifts He has given us. At this point, Tolkien’s description of Frodo’s experience at Rivendell is fascinating:
Frodo was now safe in the Last Homely House east of the Sea. That house was, as Bilbo had long ago reported, “a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep, or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all”. Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness.3
This restorative nature of Rivendell seems to be related to the fact that it is a house of food, sleep, stories, music, and thought. In this list, we see a partial list of the simple joys of life. If we are looking at them right though, each of these simple joys should point us back to God. As James reminds us, every good and perfect gift is from Him.4
In the end, resting is about rejoicing in something other than ourselves. It is about rejoicing in God. We accomplish this by delighting in the ordinary things of life. As we focus on enjoying God in and through His creation, we are reminded that He is at the center of reality. This realization should adjust the way that we approach and view our lives. Once again, Fr. Schall provides thoughts worth pondering:
We seek the prize to which we are called, not the one we create for ourselves. When we find only ourselves, we find Hell. But when we find that we are made for a delight that already exists at the end of things, we find Joy.5
How do we create an atmosphere of peace for those around us? To put it another way, how do we create a bit of Rivendell wherever we go?
What simple joys will you be intentionally enjoying this week?
2. James V. Schall. On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs (Wilmington: ISI Books, 2001). 14
3. J. R. R. Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993). 241.
4. James 1:17
5. Schall. On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs, 14.