Our Worship Task Group meeting last night began with several members of the group explaining, somewhat apologetically, that they had gotten worn out recently and needed to rest. The comments reminded me of an off-hand comment that a woman I met at a retreat once made. We were "checking in" about our spiritual lives, and when it came to her turn she said, "I have mostly been devoting myself to the spiritual discipline of deep rest."
I was a bit shocked. I had never thought of rest as a spiritual discipline. The very word "discipline" seemed to me to imply something that was hard to do, something that took effort. Rest, as I understood it, was what you did in between episodes of doing hard things with great effort. For example, you drive along on a highway and then you pull over at a Rest Stop, and there you take a break from driving. So it is with me. I spend the day pushing to get everything done and then I fall into bed exhausted, and do my best to get some rest so that I can start running around again in the morning.
But that woman's words stuck with me, and I thought about them for the rest of the retreat. There was something about them that rang true with me. For one thing, it does take effort and intention for me to rest. I can always think of something more to do, so taking time to be quiet, to breathe deeply, to give a friend or a family member my full attention requires a conscious decision to step away from all my doing for a time. For another thing, I recognize that those times when I do make a conscious effort to rest have a different quality than the rest that I take when I'm totally exhausted and couldn't possibly do one more thing.
What if we all committed ourselves to the Spiritual Discipline of Deep Rest? In order to do so, we would have to value rest--and not just work. We would have to decide at the outset of the day, the week, the year, that one of the things we are going to make time and space for is rest. We would have to think carefully about what helps us to rest, deeply. Collapsing on the couch and watching television can be restful, but if we have an intention to seek deep rest as a spiritual disicipline, I'm not sure TV would be a big part of our lives. I think sleep would be, though. And listening to music. And staring up at the stars.
Why apologize for needing to rest? It's not weakness; it's not failure. Why not celebrate rest as part of our spiritual lives? Why not invite others to rest, right along with us?