How to live freely

I feel their fingers again, fingers of resentment and tight-fistedness squeezing the life out of joy and generosity. Why do I feel I have to carefully guard every moment, every penny, every ounce of energy, when You, Abba, are such an Extravagant Giver? Do I fear that you will decide to stop being generous? All that I give  is such a small portion of what you have lavished on me. Do I think I have to hoard what You have given in case You don’t give again? But You are not fickle like my heart. It is Your very nature to give lavishly. Can I not trust You in this?

“He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, will He not also along with Him graciously give us all things?”

I think of the story a friend recently told me from Sleeping with Bread by Dennis Linn. People working with orphans in post World War II Germany found that even once these starved orphans were given new homes with plenty of food, they were unable to sleep, fearful that there would not be food for the following day. They could not sleep until they were given a piece of bread to hold onto while they slept. Then, reassured that there would be food for tomorrow, they slept soundly.

I am learning that giving thanks for the extravagant gifts helps me to rest in God’s character and know that He who is my Provider will not stop providing. He will not stop loving. I can rest, confident that the One who has provided so lavishly for today will provide for tomorrow as well.

A few of the many blessings:

long Sunday afternoon naps

the smell of frying onions

mushroom sandwiches

a bright red tank top in my size on the clearance rack

Taize songs

Regent bookstore sales

flute and violin duets

a multiethnic group of small children delightedly chasing pigeons

a leisurely walk along the sea wall

being followed by a Canada goose

sunsets reflected in the water

holy experience

My favorite reason to rest

It never ceases to amaze me how I can turn almost anything into a burden. A new adventure, a new call, however exciting, can feel heavy when I take it into my own hands.

I’m not alone.

“Then they despised the pleasant land, having no faith in his promise.” (Psalm 106:24)

Why, when God calls me out of Egypt to the promised land of rest, do I complain about the trip, looking back to predictable slavery rather than forward to offered freedom? Why, when invited to lay my head on Jesus’ breast and listen to his heartbeat, do I persist in making do lists?

In my work, my most common complaint has been the pressure to “do,” to work faster and longer and accomplish more. Buried beneath the complaint lies a longing for space to listen to my Abba’s heartbeat and live in tune with it. But too often I have lived out of a sense of responsibility rather than response-ability. Too often I live according to perceived expectations rather than choosing to live at a pace that makes room for that which is most important to me. Why? Why do I do this? I fear that my life won’t matter, that I won’t make a difference. Ironically, in living out of that fear, I fail to respond to the call placed deep within to become who I am created to be, and thus miss out on the only way I can really make a unique and beautiful difference!

Why does God in his mercy call us to rest?

He made us. He does not forget that we are weak and fragile, and constantly needing refreshment in every level of our beings to live well.

He commands rest, too, as a reminder, a sign.

“. . .the Sabbath. . . will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever. . .” (Ex31:16-17)

A sign of what?

“Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.” (Ex 31:13)

“Keep my Sabbaths holy, that they may be a sign between us. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.” (Ezek 20:20)

Rest proclaims God’s being and doing as ultimate. God does not ask us to carry the burdens of the world – or even of making ourselves perfect. God carries the world’s burdens. He carries us.

And it gets better. My favorite reason to rest is that it brings God glory. I have often treated rest like a mere necessity to gain strength to get on with doing the things through which God can really glorify Himself. But God glorifies Himself not just through the work that He does in and through us, but through the rest that He provides for us:

“Like cattle that go down to the plain, they were given rest by the Spirit of the LORD. This is how you guided your people to make for yourself a glorious name.” (Isa 63:14)

Entering into God’s gift of rest glorifies God by showcasing God’s tender and extravagant care for His people. Isn’t that what the gospel is really all about? At its most basic, the good news is that God does for us what we can’t do for ourselves. He comes up with a way to make us holy. And he not only gives us the bare basics of freedom from hell, but so many incredible blessings both for now and for all of eternity. As John Piper notes, if you find a clear fresh spring of water, the best way to bring glory to that spring is not by getting a bucket and running around trying to bring more water to the spring but by drinking deeply from the spring and as you find yourself satisfied, saying, “Ahhhhhh! That was good!”

Abba, may my entering into your rest today bring you glory!

holy experience

Today I’m writing in community with others. If you wish to read what others have written about rest, click on the button above.

A Call to Rest

I hear it again. Someone who has not had a day off in three weeks. Another whose exhaustion is not touched by a week away. Doing good things. Great things. But my heart breaks as I wonder. . . How long can they continue?

I wonder. . . Is this really how it’s meant to be? Or are we missing out on the best?

And my heart breaks. It breaks because I’ve been there.

I will not soon forget the pain of finally having to admit (after six weeks of trying to work from bed) that my illness was not improving and that I had to leave my Central Asian home. I planned to return after a short break. When I was still sick after a month, I moved the target. I was going to be ready in another month. And another. It took me six months to finally resign my position in Central Asia and a year to be able to apply for disability insurance. I wasn’t disabled. I couldn’t be. I had obligations to meet, people to serve, lives to save. I was the doctor, not the patient. Surely soon my body would catch up with my desires and I would be okay again.

But I wasn’t.

Slowly, in the midst of the questions and illness and grief, I began to hear the freeing whisper that I am dust. Loved dust. Fragile and vulnerable and cherished and held. Nothing to prove. No need to earn the love. I heard the call to rest.

I had heard that call before. Several years previously I had studied what the Bible had to say about rest. I had spoken about it and led studies on it. I had been challenged by the pictures in Isaiah 28 and 30:

“He offered rest and comfort to all of you (or, as the NIV puts it, “He said, ‘This is the resting place, let the weary rest,’; and ‘This is the place of repose’”), but you refused to listen to him. That is why the LORD is going to teach you letter by letter, line by line, lesson by lesson. Then you will stumble with every step you take. You will be wounded, trapped, and taken prisoner.” (Is 28:12-13 Good News Bible) 

“This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:”In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’ Therefore you will flee! You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’ Therefore your pursuers will be swift! A thousand will flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you will all flee away, till you are left like a flagstaff on a mountaintop, like a banner on a hill.” (Is 30:15-17 New International Version)

The consequences of refusing to rest had startled and frightened me. But, faced daily with up to three hundred patients lining up at the gates of the hospital, I hadn’t rested. My sense of responsibility to the 150,000 people in our region had won and I had pressed on, responding to each need.

“Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.” (Is 30:18) For me, the crash was part of the compassion. It was perhaps the only way God could bring me out into a spacious place where I could learn the beauty of the call to rest, and of the One Who Calls.

I still sometimes struggle to rest. I still feel the pressure of deadlines and do lists. But slowly I’m learning that when I respect my limits and say no to some needs, God can handle the situation. (Case in point: when I finally did leave Central Asia after four months of being the only doctor, God provided four others!)

I’m learning that life, true, abundant joy-filled Life, is more about relationships than do-lists, and that I miss it if I don’t slow down and listen.

I am learning that my overdeveloped sense of responsibility more often reflects lack of faith than faith-full servant hood. In believing that I had to respond to every need myself, and failing to honor the way I am made (from dust, and still bearing the frailty of the same), I was also failing to trust that God (the Shaper of dust and Reality whose image we bear) could meet those needs another way.

Oh, God, give us grace to respond to your call to be still and remember Who You Are!