What makes you weary? I trust you are weary. Following on from my post a month or so ago, if you are not weary I would be a little concerned you’re a bit short of conversation material. I’ve had a few conversational scrapes along these lines:
“Hi James, how are you? Busy?”
“Oh. You must be really tired though after everything last week.”
“Actually no. Slept quite well last night thanks, feeling quite fresh.”
“Oh.” Anxious look over my shoulder. Something about the weather. Excuses made. We part. Conversation over.
Ok I slightly exaggerate. But the essence is still there. Just as people expect us to be busy, we are also expected to be tired. Overworked. Stressed. Weary. And the truth is that often we are weary.
So the next question must be how do we rest? What does it mean to rest?
We all have different ways of resting: going on holiday/ staying at home; being with people/ being away from people; having a bath/ sitting in a Turkish mud bath; reading a book/ going for a run; seeing the family/ dumping the kids on the in-laws. The two steps generally involved are leaving something causing tiredness (work, kids) and doing something we enjoy instead. We partake in some much needed ‘me time’ to re-charge the batteries.
Does this cycle work? On one level we would have to say a resounding yes. A healthy cycle of work and rest is built into us by a creator God who worked for 6 days and was content to then rest when His work was done. This was then built into the very fabric of the Jewish national life with the Sabbath, which served both as a day to worship God and remember their dependence on Him, but also as a day to physically recover from a week of work. Even a daily cycle of wakefulness and sleep reminds us we are not machines with an indefinite ability to keep going. We need rest.
With that in mind, I find another question forming in my mind…. Is all our weariness a result of physical labour? Are we mainly physically weary or mentally weary? No doubt the two are linked: we work extra hours because we are worried about paying the mortgage; we don’t have a free evening for a month because we are worried about missing out; we overcommit because we can’t say no and risk damaging others’ opinions of us… whatever it may be.
If that is the case, does an extra hot bath or an extravagant spending spree or a holiday in the Bahamas get to the root of the problem? Does it bring us real rest, or simply perpetuate the cycle? May our rest even make our weariness worse (saving up and organising the leave for a holiday, only to face a mountain of emails on return)?!
The trigger for all these thoughts came through reading a wonderful passage in the Gospel of Matthew the other week:
“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.”
The idea of rest is a rich one in the Bible. The Sabbath rest was central to the rhythm of life. However, as the Israelites travelled in the desert during the exodus, they also looked forward to a land of rest, a place where they would no longer be journeying, where they would be free from their enemies and, ultimately, where God would dwell with His people. That is the ultimate goal- to dwell with God.
The context of Jesus’ offer is one of warning about judgement for those who don’t repent. How much of our weariness comes from an uncertainty about where we stand before God? We work hard to be good, to be successful and to experience it all in life, perhaps partly because we feel we have these fleeting moments in life to justify our existence? To prove that we’re ok? Dare I say it, to prove to God we’re ok?
And our efforts are so burdensome. We don’t succeed. We’re so weary. And what is our answer? We have a bath. Are we guilty of confusing rest with self- indulgence or leisure? And does it work?
Jesus here promises rest in the deepest sense of the word. Rest from self- justification, rest from fear of the future, rest from the search for significance, rest from God’s condemnation. A rest deep in the presence of God, beginning now, continued forever.
As a Christian, I will continue to have baths and holidays and read novels. But just as I am learning with my wife that some forms of rest may be relaxing but don’t deepen our relationship and draw us closer together (e.g. 5 episodes of Mad Men in a row), I do find myself thinking about how my rest can draw me closer to God, to be in that place where God dwells. What will that look like in reality? To be honest I don’t know yet. A walk where I look up at God’s creation rather than down at my iPhone emails? More time with friends who encourage me to love God more? More time contentedly on my own? Saying no more often one day a week so I have more energy to serve God for the other 6?
Who knows. No doubt the answer will be very simple. We make like so complicated. Rest is simple.