We've been talking this week about rest - physical rest and spiritual rest - and even though we haven't been talking about sleep specifically, we have been able to draw some helpful comparisons between sleep and spiritual rest. As much as we've said that rest is so much more than sleep, we have to be clear about one other thing that leads to a common misunderstanding:
Rest is not idleness.
Rest, real rest, is not "doing nothing." It is also not refusing to do anything. Too often, we see someone who is claiming to try to rest who says, "I can't do that right now. I'm resting." But resting is not idleness; it is a movement.
It is a movement toward the goodness of God, which is known powerfully through stillness. It is a settling of the soul into an active rhythm of engagement.
We'll go back to sleep again because it's just so easy to do when we're talking about this subject, but what are you doing when you sleep? To many of us, so driven by our go-go-go-and-accomplish culture, we're not doing anything when we sleep. We're not getting anything done, so we must not be doing anything. We go to sleep, and all of the things that we needed to do before we laid down are somehow still there when we get up, untouched. Our to-do list seems exactly as long after a nap as it was before it. Because sleep doesn't do anything.
But just because it doesn't do anything doesn't mean we're not doing anything. It doesn't mean nothing is happening. Actually, a lot is happening while we sleep.
While we sleep, our bodies are putting themselves back together. They are creating new cells, fighting threats, restoring us to our solid baseline - and that's not nothing. Our brains are processing all of the things that we've experienced since we last slept, sorting out memories into keepers and those than can go in the rubbish bin, creating new pathways to solidify the things that we have learned over the past few hours.
Sleep doesn't look active, but a lot is going on. A lot is being accomplished, even if it's not things that we could check off a list.
The same is true with rest - it's not idle. A lot is going on. Rest is a restorative and a building process, a time when we are putting ourselves back together, creating new cells, building new pathways, storing new memories. We're processing a lot when we rest, putting the pieces together, and it's not nothing.
As such, we have to remember that even at rest, we are active beings, and we need not be afraid of having our rest "interrupted" by movement. It's just that whatever movement we engage in at rest must be purposeful movement. It must have at its center the emphasis on rest.
Monks have written about this for centuries, but we don't seem to understand it the way most of us are wired. There are ways to restfully wash the dishes, to restfully mow the yard. To be at rest while accomplishing that next thing, whatever it is. We're so wired to think that rest requires nothingness, but the contemplatives have always known that rest is a state of being that can accommodate nearly anything, as long as we are restfully intentional about it.
To that end, here is a good question to ask yourself in seasons or periods of rest: if someone were to interrupt your rest, would you be prone to fly off the handle at them, start yelling and screaming or holding a grudge, maybe curse a little, tell them that you can't be bothered right now and push them away because you're "resting"? Well, gosh, that doesn't sound very restful! In fact, I would say that if this is the case, you are not really resting at all.
What would it mean to you if your rest was more than idleness? If when you were at rest, you were doing more than nothing?