It happened in the midst of a crazy month, my sweet lesson on rest. My husband and I had received a call from social services a couple of weeks prior asking if we would be foster parents to a baby girl who was currently in the NICU. We prayed and said yes. It was believed that she would be discharged from the hospital within the week and would be coming home with us. Disappointingly, she didn’t leave the NICU right away like we had hoped. Thus, I went into a holding pattern of parenting four children, while trying to find time to spend in the hospital bonding with my new foster daughter. My emotions were raw and the questions remained unanswered: When would she be released to come home with us? How much time should I be spending with her in the NICU? How could I be in two places at once? The uncertainty went on and on.
One Sunday afternoon, midway through that month, I was feeling overly emotional, stressed, and exhausted. We had spent the morning at church and had eaten lunch with our extended family. My kids were taking their afternoon nap and my husband was at home, so I knew this was my opportunity to spend time with my foster baby. I lay down on the couch for just a minute, gathering the energy to get back in the van and drive to the hospital. The next thing I knew, I had been asleep for an hour. As I awoke, I had the distinct impression that the Holy Spirit was speaking to me: “I give sleep to those I love, and you needed rest. She will still be at the hospital when you awake.”
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 ESV
I had been going through the motions, feeling compelled to keep functioning past my exhaustion point. I was aware that I was beyond tired, but the need of the moment felt too great to allow myself to rest. The Lord sweetly reminded me that without rest, I could not do the hard things I was called to do.
Isn’t that the way of rest? We all know we need it, but the many demands placed on us keep us from allowing ourselves to stop. I’m not just referring to sleep; I mean real rest. We need time to disengage, allowing our batteries to be recharged.
Interestingly, we can only rest when we give ourselves permission to do so. God knew the intrinsic battle we would have against rest, so He gave us a Sabbath day and commanded that we take it. We are designed to need rest, both physically and spiritually.
Another barrier to being able to rest is stress and anxiety. Both sleep and relaxation are vulnerable activities. The human body’s fight or flight system is designed to help us survive a real or perceived threat. When there is a threat, the last thing the mind wants to do is let down its guard and go unconscious. Thus, when we are afraid or stressed, it is very hard to rest.
Feeling safe and loved is an important component to fighting anxiety, because we are designed to be in connection with others in times of stress. Just as a small child runs to his parents’ room after a nightmare to seek comfort, so we can seek safety and peace from our Heavenly Father. The Psalmist writes that God is a Comforter and a source of safety for us, so that we can sleep in peace.
Pause: When is the last time that you felt really rested? What were the elements that helped you feel at rest?
Renew: Think of a place that you feel safe, calm, and able to rest. If you cannot physically go there now, imagine that you are there. Use your senses – what do you hear, see, feel, and smell in that place?
Next: Make a plan to set apart time for rest this week. If one day is not possible, try a few hours, or one hour each day. Make a plan to exclude those things that keep you from resting (phones, emails, chores) and make it a point to enjoy the absence of those distractions. If sleep is what you really need, make a plan to take a nap during this time.
Like a toddler rebelling against the nap-time they so desperately need, we fight our need of rest. In order to be energized and invigorated to carry out our passions and responsibilities, we must make time to be still. May the Lord teach us more about how to rest, that He may replenish our souls and bodies.
Pause, Renew, Next!