When you’re craving rest: gifts at summer’s start

I walked over the bridge toward church yesterday with hundreds of half-marathon runners on my right. It was 9:30 a.m. and already hot. As usual with this sort of thing, there were a few observers gathered on the sidelines clapping and cheering and calling out encouragement. But there was one supporter who stood out. As the runners ran past him, uphill, many of them used a little extra breath to call out their thanks and blessing to him. Why? He knew that on a hot day as the runners neared the 19k mark, the best way he could offer support was not with words alone but with a spray bottle full of cool water, spritzed in the face of any runner who nodded their desire.

As I watched, the grace in the picture brought tears to my eyes. Around this time of year I often find myself weary. I’m there again. The year was busy, crescendoing to a climax in late spring, and I’m grateful for a bit of in-between time, a pause before new deadlines settle in. One evening last week I sat journaling my prayer for this summer, knowing that I need deep rest but not feeling entirely sure what the specifics might look like. What rests me deeply? I know the core of the answer: the kind of deep rest I crave can only be found in the arms of the One who calls all who are weary to come, promising “and I will rest you.”1 But I don’t always know the details of how he’ll rest me.

And then as I sat, bringing my weary self to Jesus to be rested, I realized he was (yet again) ahead of me. Even before I had fully recognized my fatigue and had come asking him to rest me, he had noticed my weariness and was gently guiding me toward simple understandings and practices that open me to him in my weariness and help me—body, soul, and spirit—to rest. Before I reached the 19k mark, he was already there, ready and waiting to offer the refreshment he knew I’d need.

He’s nudged me toward the habit of taking my lunch outside to eat, pausing to feel the sun and the breeze and breathe deeply of the goodness of my Creator.

He’s kept summoning me back to remember many times a day, “This moment is a gift from the One who loves you.” That one reminder alone, as it draws me from my preoccupation with the past or the future and settles me into the present and into his love goes far, far, in refreshing me.

He’s brought alongside a couple of companions who, through their written words, are helping me settle into rest: Ted Loder’s Guerrilla’s of Grace, and Emily P. Freeman’s Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World. Just a page or two or three of either of these books feels like cool water spritzed gently on my tired, overheated self. I read and I feel myself breathe a little more deeply. My shoulders relax. Sometimes there are tears of relief and rest.

And then within two weeks two people said more or less the same thing to me in two different contexts and about two different issues: “Seems like your own David and Goliath story. Time to take off the armor and pick up the stones.” I hadn’t thought about the David and Goliath story in a long time. And if I had, I think I’d have written the headline for the story as “Small guy beats big guy through God’s strength,” or, to paraphrase Jesus’ promise to Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” The bit that God seems to be wanting me to notice now is the way that happens. Middle-sized guy (the king, the supposed expert in fighting such battles) tries to get small guy to wear his armor to fight the big guy. Small guy tries it on and says, “I can’t fight the big guy in this. I can barely move” and takes it off and picks up his slingshot and goes into battle as himself—his small self whose whole trust is in his big God, not in someone else’s armor.

If I’m honest, that part makes me uncomfortable. Some part of me wants to wear someone else’s armor, to hide behind what looks safer, what has been tried, what everyone is doing. (“But all the blogging experts say I should do it this way.”)

But there’s another part of me that’s tired of trying to walk around in armor that is too heavy for me. That part finds hope in this bit of the story. Enough hope to take a good look at what actually works for me, at who I am and who God is and what he might have suited me for, and to begin stripping off the armor and laying aside plans and protocols and expectations that might fit someone else perfectly but that leave me unable to walk. Stripping off those expectations, that part of me realizes I can breathe again, and wants to sing and dance and shout for joy as I realize all over again, and more deeply, that God actually likes the way he’s made me, that he actually wants me to be me and not someone else, that he really means it when he says, “If you’re tired of carrying burdens that are too heavy, come to me and learn from me and take up the yoke that I’ve made for us to carry together. The only burden I will put on you is one made to fit you, one designed for us to carry together, not one that was made for someone else and will chafe your shoulders and rub you raw” (Matt 11:28-30 paraphrase).

 

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1As I’ve often heard Darrell Johnson say, and have written here before, the English translation of Matthew 11:28, “and I will give you rest,” is the best our language can do to translate what the original Greek actually says, “and I will rest you.” Rest is something Jesus does for us and to us as we live in him, not a “thing” he gives us to take away and do ourselves.

Willing or willful?

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“I’m willing,” I say to God. “I’m willing to write it. But I don’t have words.” I sit with my laptop waiting for the words to come.

A question comes instead. “Are you willing not to write it?”

Huh.

Am I?

The faces of the people I don’t want to disappoint crowd into my mind. The sense of responsibility pulls tighter, tighter, threatening to strangle if I dare try to walk away. I sit with it and ask God about it.

There’s a lot to be said for hard work, perseverance, dependability.

It also has a dark side. “Discipline, spiritual or otherwise,” notes David Benner, “is a good servant but a bad master. It is not the summum bonum—the supreme good. When it is valued in and of itself, the disciplined life easily leads to rigidity and pride.” (Desiring God’s Will, p. 25)

Unless I’m willing to listen to God and either do something or not do it, my actions are willful rather than willing.

David Benner pictures the difference:

“Looked at carefully, willfulness is more against something than for something. My willful self refuses to quit as I seek to push through my writing block or finish lecture preparation even when my spirit is dry and my body is telling me to take a break. A spirit of willingness invites me to pause and turn to God, simply opening to God for a moment, letting God bring perspective and clarity about my need to stop writing for the night or throw out what I’ve started and wait for the gift of a fresh idea. Willfulness, in either circumstance, is my fight against quitting, against attending to my body, against attending to God’s Spirit. The act of willing surrender is a choice of openness, a choice of abandonment of self-determination, a choice of cooperation with God.” (Ibid, p. 23-24)

The summum bonum is God. God’s glory. God’s will—which, as He says over and over through His word, is a lot about bringing us close to live deep in His love.

Willingness calls me to trust that God’s way works—that if I pay attention to the nudges of His Spirit and learn to live in His love, I will bear much fruit (John 15:5). The nature of the fruit and the timing of harvest will be different than my driven attempts to force productivity, but the harvest will come. And it will be good.

And willingness calls me to trust that God loves His people and cares about our well-being. It calls me to trust that, scandalous as it may seem, Jesus really means it when He calls us to come and learn to live gently.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)

Becoming your proper size: how to really rest this summer

They call it paradise and, aside from the daddy long legs stalking me in the shower, it pretty much is. A soft blue and yellow bedroom with hydrangea blossoms on the dresser and a recliner in the corner, lounge chairs by the waterfall in the back garden, kayaks to paddle among the islands. These are all part of it, but they’re not the heart of the paradise.

It’s the freedom to be my proper size that brings the peace and lets me rest.

There’s a lack of urgency that resides here. A comfort with being human. . . with beauty and mess and hunger and joy, fatigue and tears and laughter. Dirty dishes and fruitflies are part of life, taken care of in their time, but coexisting quite happily for a while with sweet nectarines and gouda sandwiches and fresh blackberries capped with ginger yoghurt cream. On the days that I can, she’s happy for me to wipe the crumbs off her counter.  When illness takes hold, she knows how to make a bed in the warm air where I can listen to the bees and watch the sun set the maple keys aflame. She has done it for others. I am human and small and it’s okay. Life is not an emergency and I can lay down control.

Living in the real world

I am sad to leave this place, to start back to my busier life. I fear being pressed and pulled by the world ungently, urgently, forcing me to the center where I do not belong, driving me (by dint of my exaggerated self-importance) to shoulder burdens I was not meant to carry. Urgency takes my eyes off the One who has it all under control, making me think that I need to control it. It tricks me into thinking that the world of the urgent is the real world and rest a brief and tantalizing illusion.

But Jesus speaks:

“Come to me, all you weary and burdened ones, and I will rest you. . . “

It’s a permanent offer, and one without condemnation. No fear of our humanness. Just invitation. “Come. I will rest you.” These days apart I have tasted the real world, the world of welcome and invitation and the love that invites rest. The urgent is the illusion.

His rest can happen in the chaos, miles from recliners and kayaks; His rest comes with staying our proper size, and that can happen anywhere.

 “. . . 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. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

He is humble – having a true view of reality – and when we step out of our do-it-yourself yoke, out of the world’s expectations, and into his yoke with him, we begin to see rightly too, regaining our proper size.  He is gentle, and, walking with him, we learn to live gently, not urgently.

Living gently: it’s a lot about listening and responding. A child gently handling an animal senses its timidity, its fragility, and responds with respect and care. A gentle mother hears the heart cries beneath the angry words and responds to her child in healing love. A gentle life is not driven by the urgent but makes space to listen to the heartbeat of God and others and self, and act in tender response.

This is how Jesus rests us: He helps us live our proper size. Small and fragile and (rightly) dependent, and cherished and made great in his love (. . . but more on that soon.) Rejoice with me, will you, at this invitation to put down the burden intended for greater shoulders and rest in His love?

Shout for joy to the Lord all the earth. . . .

It is he who made us and we are his,

We are his people and the sheep of his pasture. (Psalm 100)

 

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A repost from the archives, part of a summer series leaning into God’s repeated command to remember.

 

The art of the incarnation

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I’ve loved reading the facebook posts of an author-friend as she’s been editing the manuscript for her latest book. She treats each character differently:

“One of them might–if she’s lucky–get a yell of “Incoming!” from me before I demolish one of her scenes; another gets treated very gently with lots of slow work.”

Her process intrigues me, and helps me understand: a huge part of art is learning to know your characters and understand the nature of your material. Learning to work with rather than against. Not to conquer or overcome, or to reshape it against its nature, but to listen to it, learn from it, honor its uniqueness in the way you work with it.

Watching her has given me a picture of the way God works with us, his poiema1—differently in each life, but never randomly, always honoring the nature of our being.

“Let me teach you, because I am . . . gentle. . . . For my yoke fits perfectly. . .” (Matt 11:28-30 NLT)

I listen to Israel’s refrain: “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter.” (Isaiah 64:8).

We know how this works. The most sensitive and skilled sculptor we can imagine knows his material almost perfectly. He has worked with it, shaped it, paid attention to how it responds. He knows how to work with it to bring out the best in it.

But he only ever knows his material from the outside. Even the best musician doesn’t become music; the best painter doesn’t become paint.

And this is where the analogy gets turned on its head, as every analogy does when God’s love is involved. The God who knew everything perfectly, who not only created us but created the clay from which He shaped us—the God in whom we exist—wasn’t content with even that degree of closeness to his material. He wanted to know us from the inside. He wanted us to know that He knew us from the inside: knew what it was to be tired and hungry and sick, to need a bath and have his mouth water at the smell of baking bread and long for the comfort of a hug. He wanted us to know that, knowing us, He loved us. And so the potter became clay, the poet the poiema. God became flesh.

 

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1For we are God’s poiema. . .” (Eph 2:10)