I am a doer by nature. There is always something needing done. Rest? What does that even mean? I’m a pastor. I know the commandments. It’s right there, “remember the sabbath and keep it holy.” (Exodus 20) The Bible specifically commands rest. Even the Lord rested. I also believe this is one of the most ignored commandments, specifically by Christians, including me!
We don’t intentionally break the commandment; we just become so busy we don’t realize we are doing it. Something is always scheduled for your day off. It’s important that you attend, right? What would people say? Skipping one week won’t matter, people work seven days a week all around me. Besides, if I don’t do it, who will? People are depending on me. But weeks stack on top of weeks and pretty soon months have gone by. The thing about rest is most of the time you don’t notice you need it until it’s too late.
God designed our bodies to work in a miraculous way. When something happens and you get into fight or flight mode your body is designed to “amp” up and handle it. (There are scientific terms to explain all this but we’ll just stick to laymen terms here.) The problem is…God also designed us to rest. When we don’t rest and keep “handling” it, we force ourselves to maintain the “amped” up mode. It’s kinda like swimming with a backpack on; it is not ideal, but manageable. But, start putting rocks in that backpack and eventually you won’t be able to tread water anymore.
When obeying the rest command, our body can fight off stresses thrown at it. When we ignore God’s perfect plan, we get ourselves in trouble. I fell victim to this snare recently.
Summer season started with a bang. I love camp! My family planned to serve at three summer camps. Each weekend we drove back and forth and I served in my role as worship pastor each Sunday. It was fantastic! My family served in various roles and we loved every minute of serving. We all agreed it would be a crazy month, but then we had a week of rest before the craziness of VBS and the school year would start. The third camp was wrapping up and we were all feeling great. Thursday night we were settling in for bed, recapping the three weeks and making plans for the return trip home the next day. The phone rings. My cousin had taken his life. The next week was filled with making plans to attend the funeral. Being in the ministry, we’ve dealt with death many times, but this one was different. The weight of his decision weighed on me in a way I wasn’t prepared for.
My extended family is quite large. Some of my older cousins I wouldn’t recognize if I passed them on the street. We aren’t all super close knit. But family is distinct. It doesn’t matter how many miles or years separate you, you’re still family. I wasn’t involved in his everyday life. In fact, many years had passed since I had even seen him. He had a wife and kids and a life I wasn’t a part of, but in this moment his decision made me rethink everything. The emotional toll the following days would have was something I could not have prepared for. The previous year my uncle, his father, had went missing. To this day, there is no trace of what happened to him. We all gathered for the funeral and afterward I stood in the place my uncle was last seen. I thought about the last time I had seen him. So many family events take place and there are so many people. We greet each other, we smile, we hug, ask about jobs and family and then leave. Never knowing what the next years might bring, not ever talking deep enough to understand the struggles they might be facing. On the ten-hour drive home, I could feel exhaustion setting in. Emotional fatigue is real and is a special kind of exhaustion.
But Sunday was coming and so was Vacation Bible School. VBS was great, we had a lot of kids and we had a great time. I was feeling good. I dealt with the emotional things the previous week had brought and God helped heal my heart and soften the questioning in my spirit. Sunday was great and I was so grateful that God had given me strength to make it through. Success!
Monday evening, I began to run a fever. Then the loss of feeling in my hands and feet. Sore throat, not being able to eat, not able to drink and eventual lack of air all led to landing myself on bed rest. Two weeks have passed and I am just now feeling a sense of normal again. What should have been a 24-hour bug turned into an ordeal because my backpack had too many rocks in it. I’m a pretty healthy person. I don’t even know the last time I stepped in a doctor’s office. And here I find myself on medication and finding the tiniest chores requiring a nap.
I ask myself what should I have done different? Some people react, “Well, definitely don’t do THREE weeks of camp next year!” But I think the bigger issue is I didn’t take the time after the funeral to allow myself to rest. As I write this I just read of a pastor taking his life. That’s actually what prompted me to write this. I don’t think we realize just how important self-care is. Especially those of us in ministry.
We just think we need to spend more time in prayer, depend on God more, keep on keeping on. All those things are good. But I think we need to unplug some. Rest. Take a day off, being unreachable. We are so accessible, all the time. No longer is any job just 8 to 5. Our phone and laptop make it 24/7. We tell ourselves that we have to be available all the time, maybe not physically in an office, but mentally and emotionally. When the phone pings, we better respond to it.
We have to recognize our humanity. I don’t think I did. I didn’t want to allow myself the rest emotionally and spiritually I probably needed. If anyone should have it together, it should be me. These are the lies we tell ourselves.
More than just physical rest, we need emotional and spiritual restoration. I’ve been forced to physically rest over the last two week, but along with that I found restoration. I discovered that taking time away, (even though forced) didn’t make me a bad person, it made me a better one. I wanted to be there now, it wasn’t just a duty. Sometimes things become a to-do list instead of a passion. We run ourselves so ragged that we reach a point of hopelessness. Things that once brought joy and meaning to our life become mundane jobs. Rest brings recovery and restoration. Restoration of vision, of passion, and of hope.
My final encouragement is this, you are never alone. My lead pastor often says that Satan loves to make us think that our problems are unique to us, nobody will understand. You’d be surprised how many people struggle just like you. Nobody is perfect and there is always hope. Please find someone to talk to. Find someone that can help you find rest for your soul and strength and joy in your life. God has a perfect plan for each one of us.