Rest: Leaving the Land Alone

Lately I’ve been contemplating a sabbatical, the strange option in my job to take three months of restorative rest from the day to day responsibilities of caring for souls. In our hurried world, this feels so out of the ordinary and strange that I’m a bit embarrassed its an option.

Who couldn’t use three months to restore their soul in our world these days?

But I have this option and I’m figuring out if I should take it. If I take it, when do I take it? Also I must talk through that time with someone beforehand which is a good idea because taking 3 months away could be difficult. That’s like 3 months of being unmoored from a central part of my every day life…for what purpose?

The last thing I want is heightened anxiety for three months because I can’t figure out how to rest!

I looked back at some key passages today about rest because rest was a big part of what God’s people were to do after they came out of Egypt and oppression. I guess rest wasn’t really a part of their enslavement because it sure was hard for them too.

How fitting that candles, illuminating lights, are part of ushering in Sabbath rest for God’s people…

In fact they never really did rest the way God told them to and God had such a problem with it that he forced them to go on a long trip to a foreign, deserty place to rest for the few decades worth of Saturdays they missed.

But it wasn’t only Saturdays, one day a week, they were to rest. Every seventh year, God’s people were supposed to just… not farm the land. That is stunning. They trusted God to provide a double crop on the 6th year. Then, that seventh year they trusted God to provide enough from what came up on its own to feed them until the next year’s crops came to harvest.

Not surprising that they mostly failed to live that out. It’s pretty radical.

As I think about sabbatical for myself, I anticipate disorientation, doubt, identity crisis, and anxiety. I also expect surprise, identity formation, and trust to build as I notice the budding of new growth from richer soil of belonging to Christ rather than performance for Him.

It seems somewhat wrong to plan a sabbatical or feel that it needs to produce something. Isn’t that antithetical to the true meaning of sabbath rest? To just be?

But I can imagine my B.C. self standing in my fields that I chose not to work looking over at my neighbors fields all neatly furrowed and planted…and feeling mightily tempted to grab my plow.

To rest is so counter-cultural that I need support and encouragement to stand firm in waiting and trusting God to provide. I am most needy for Him to provide my identity apart from my usefulness and productivity in this world. Instead of seeing planning a sabbatical as striving to make rest productive, maybe it is more that I need to cultivate my heart and time for rest, knowing my heart will gaze upon the striving of the world and be tempted to define myself again on my usefulness.

Expecting new growth to happen in the sabbatical waiting is truly different than striving to produce that growth.

As my book mentor Eugene Peterson says,

“Maybe if they [pastors] would all go into the wilderness for three months, not read their emails, announce a moratorium on all conventions and conferences, take a deep, long, prayerful time of doing nothing–maybe some equilibrium might return.” (Letters to a Young Pastor, 140)

By equilibrium, he means a groundedness that is not rushing to fix every crisis while missing the opportunities right before us. To be present in the life and people God has for us in the every day is what Eugene senses that we miss when we do not take sabbath rests.

As I write, I realize I’m sensing the value of the gift of sabbatical rest more and more. Coincidentally, we are approaching 7 years in our current ministry assignment…

What is it about the number seven!?

I’m curious to know from my readers, what struggles do you experience with rest? How does rest provoke your soul?

Past Year’s Reads

Reading without caring about time remains at the top of my list of indulgent behaviors. When I can crack a good book and just read late, late into the night I know I’m relaxing.

I’m learning this concept of “Total Work” that we live under especially in the western world. A philosopher named Pieper wrote about how people are transformed into workers and nothing else. As I read about it, I realized how much I live in this reality of feeling like I always need to be productive even in rest. Reading is one activity that combats this tendency for me, especially reading fiction.

Every night I read fiction. There are so many books out there about our world and how to live in it (see that total work thing in play?) but fiction inhabits my nightstand as a means to just enjoy life. Good fiction hopefully!

So, what good books can I recommend these days? Oh so many!


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens:

I ended my year with some Dickens, which I have not read for 20 some years. He’s just a lot, you know? But A Christmas Carol felt like an appropriate way to put my heart into the holidays. It did not disappoint or fail to convict either! If you haven’t read this one, I’m sure you can pick it up for a song at the used bookstore or on Kindle. Set it aside for Christmas 2022.


A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles:

How do you make a life within the walls of a hotel? Sounds a little too familiar, doesn’t it? The main character is sentenced to live out his days within a luxury hotel. He ends up leading a very full life within those walls, impacting many lives through some tumultuous times in Russian history. A delightful read.


Imperial Woman: The Story of the Last Empress of China by Pearl S. Buck:

This telling of Chinese history from the imagined perspective of the Empress enthralled me. Some of the themes of grievances are still in play today in world events. If you want to understand some of the tension between China and the west now, this is a more engaging method than some others. The loss of position and prominence for this empire and the efforts to regain a footing on the world stage explain so much of what we see in the news today. Maybe it can be seen with a little more empathy after reading this book.


Letters to a Young Pastor by Eugene Peterson and Eric Peterson:

Ok, this one is not fiction. It’s more a memoir but its so good I can’t keep it a secret.

Eric Peterson compiled these letters his dad sent him at his request to learn more about his dad’s interior thoughts on pastoring. Eugene fleshes out so very personally what it means to live out the unique role of shepherding others spiritually in this day and age when so much is so impersonal. Each chapter takes us into Eugene’s mind, heart, and struggles to form out in real time how to live as a “faithful failure.”

Every time I read the sign off at the end of each chapter, I think of my own dad who was also so proud of his kids and so invested in our lives and life work. Sitting with Eugene is a little bit like sitting with dad again.


The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles:

What can I say? When I read one book by an author and resonate deeply with it, I look for other books they’ve written. My kids gifted me this book for Christmas and I enjoyed it. An almost modern day hero’s journey, the story follows two brothers as they strive to make a life of their own in the world. Who do they need to keep in their lives? What does loyalty look like? It is a worthy read!


Beyond these books, I read quite a bit of suspenseful fiction of the unreliable narrator sort. Trying to figure out what the heck was going on was pretty entertaining for a good chunk of this past year. They are edgier and may keep you up at night but sometimes that’s pretty fun.

Was it good fiction? I’m not sure! The Death of Mrs. Westaway and One by One by Ruth Ware are my top recommendations in that category.

I’m stumbling back into writing on my blog so if you got this far, you get a gold star for plodding through my rusty, low bar attempt to just get words out again. Thank you!

Leave any book recommendations you think I should check out in the comments please.

On a Date with Jesus…

Friday in my day planner contained an enormous, bold X encompassing all the hours from 8 until 3.

But not for vacation, a shopping trip, or bingeing on Netflix. Friday’s assignment from 8 to 3 is time with Jesus. It has all kinds of names but on our ministry team’s calendar, it is marked DWL or Day With the Lord.img_7624

What a gift, right?  A whole day to spend with Jesus. Who doesn’t want that? My daughter commented that it was a vacation. And it certainly looks like that, and feels like that sometimes. I’m thankful that our director sees that we need to be refreshed to pour into the lives of others.

But it is also a challenge. A whole day with Jesus confronts my distractive tendencies, it stands against my desire to produce something, and it reveals the state of my heart. After about 2 hours, I start to squirm, wanting to do something else, wanting to check that phone, the social media, accomplish that task. All the while knowing and wanting to delight in Jesus longer. Ack! The Civil War of the Soul.

Spending extended time with Jesus is a discipline. Meaning, we gain capacity for more through practice and training. So often discipline conjures up a harsh experience that is no fun at all. Discipline…like eating limp broccoli or cleaning up your room when you don’t want to…gets a bad rap.

But what about discipline that trains us for more joy, more capacity to receive from God, more faith? Like training for a 5K, discipline allows us to go farther and experience more delight because we trusted God for more and got to see Him provide.

So, how do you develop the discipline for spending an extended time with Jesus? Here are a few things I’ve discovered that have helped my capacity and enjoyment of Jesus expand during a longer time spent with Him.

  • Be a hedonist. Hedonism has negative connotations when it pertains to seeking after our own pleasures apart from God. But what about seeking pleasure in God? By definition hedonism is the doctrine that pleasure is the sole or chief good in life. Well, pleasure in God, loving God, is the chief good in life, so go for it!

How I live out hedonism with Jesus:

Read what I want to read in the Bible as long as I want to read it and as slowly or quickly as I want to read it.

Journal whenever I want to journal

Enjoy a cup of coffee, a candle, or the warmth of my down comforter

Appreciate the ways God has brought good into my life

Indulge my creative side by writing a blog post which I always post on a different day due to the following reality…

Wear comfortable clothes.

  • Own my weakness. Days with the Lord have been part of my life for a long time. Years. I have experience with this discipline. Experience doesn’t mean good experience. It means I’ve had good days and I’ve had bad. Since we’re going for good and not regret,

Here are a couple of things I take into account:

I will desire to “produce” instead of “be”. I combat this by planning the whole week to eliminate as much temptation to be productive by completing what I need to complete or surrendering what I cannot complete in time.

I have a limited attention span. I will get to the limit. At that point, I can choose to tap out or change my routine and keep going. Changing my location, what I’m reading, or how I’m interacting helps. I will go to a coffee shop or to another room in our house. It helps to know I will need to face this reality and have a plan for how to adapt.

  • Ruthlessly Protect. Time with Jesus doesn’t just happen. There are too many things begging for my attention. Jesus invites but He doesn’t ever seem to shout or twist my arm or force me to connect with Him. I must choose to follow Him. So, I must choose to pattern my life to enable following Him not just for a Day with Jesus, but every day too. For a Day with Jesus, I find I must diligently protect that time.

Here are a few tips:

Dedicate the day in advance. How much in advance is up to you and up to your spiritual needs. Maybe you’re spiritually crashing and burning and tomorrow needs to be the day. Let folks know, cancel appointments, carve out the time.

At least a week helps to give the time to complete necessary work, eliminate distractions, and gather an idea of what you want to read or focus on.

Guard the Day. All week my mind was set on protecting Friday. Guarding against saving an errand for Friday, scheduling an appointment for Friday, leaving a text to answer on Friday.

Silence your Phone. This is a hard one for me as a mom. I feel that I cannot always do this with kids in school. If you can do it, do it.

  • Surrender. As a mom of three, I’ve had to accept that there are times when I cannot indulge a Day With the Lord in the way I dreamed. A kid gets sick and needs care. A house repair or errand just really cannot wait (think overflowing toilet, or power outage). Or, when our kids were babies and we lived overseas, my husband and I traded out halfway through the day. There was always a very awkward interchange about who got to go out in the morning and come back in time for nap time!

Even while I may have planned, God might have other plans.

On those days, as disappointing as they are, I began to begin to recognize that I could enjoy Jesus’ care for me in a different way. He sees me and He sees my plight. He can meet me where I am even if I don’t get to spend the day with Him like I wanted to. Sometimes I can rearrange and choose another day and try again. Sometimes I can’t.

Always I have every morning at 6 that I can wake up and spend time with Him.

A Day with Jesus will not make up for every day walking with Him. So, don’t wait for a day in the distant future to spend with Him, answer His invitation every day.

 

Slowing Down

The first few days of January is the time for me to slow down. Our town is relatively quiet. There are New Year’s events but mostly I stay home with some or all of my children while my husband works a conference.

Generally, I have longer times reading my Bible in the morning and I stay up late (way too late) reading good books. In the daytime I get a few things done while children play more than normal amounts of Xbox. I make some returns, pack up Christmas, think about Bible study plans for the spring, and generally slow down.

The phone chimes pretty rarely and just about absolutely nothing is on the calendar as far as appointments or meetings. I can wear the same thing multiple days if I want, as long as its clean, or I can wear all the things that are comfortable, even if they don’t match! Its divine…and uncomfortable at times.

I realize during this time how much I like to do things to feel worthwhile. Spending the time with myself is like looking someone in the face for just a little longer than is socially acceptable. It’s a bit uncomfortable and revealing.  And, I think it is absolutely necessary to slow down enough to look yourself in the face long and hard at least once a year.img_6469

When I slow down I relearn stuff about myself. I regain my affection for cooking. It actually occurs to me that I would like to try a new recipe that I wouldn’t enjoy tackling when school is in session and life is busy. I stack up scheduled posts on my blog.

Slowing down restores my spiritual health. Reading the Bible a little longer and without much of an agenda is like having a date with my husband where there’s nothing we have to get at the store or plan and there’s no time we have to be home. It’s just free time together.

My life is a little peculiar in that it is very seasonal and shifts very quickly from a lot of people intensive time and scheduling then changes to working on more back burner stuff like planning and development. Then, we take the 6 week work related trip most summers! Not everyone has that kind of work.

So, how do you take time to face yourself? Consider wrestling with this question and figuring out some creative solutions like taking a day off for a long weekend spent without obligations. Or, wipe a week clear of anything that doesn’t absolutely have to be done. For a tax accountant, that won’t be April, but there’s probably a few days somewhere that the cycle of the job is at a low ebb.

It’s taken living in the U.S. for almost 5 years and our current home almost 4, to discover some rhythms. That’s one of the hard things about a move internationally, a change in jobs, or a significant life change like becoming a mother or kids going to school or leaving the nest. There are new rhythms and it takes at least 2 years to figure them out!

The first year, everything is new and I constantly adjusted. The second year, I remembered the first year and tried to figure out what was an every year thing, or an anomaly. The third year solidified some distinct patterns to life like this first week of the year slow down.

I’m glad I have it because next month our oldest kid gets her learner’s permit. Hopefully all these stored up reserves will be enough! She swears she is going to drive like a grandma and we need to worry about our middle kid who has some Michael Schumacher speed in him.

We will see. He’s 2 years away from a permit so I have 2 more slow downs before he drives.

 

restoration

Flea Market Flip ran last week on HGTV while I exercised. Teams picked out old junky furniture and restored it in a nicely equipped workshop. Then, they resold it to people who found out they paid way too much when they watched the show a few months later. That show cracked open a door in my mind.

Can I be a Flea Market Flipper too?

I browsed Goodwill hoping to find a bike for my son a few days later. I found a bike for my son. I also found a table for me. Do I need a table? Why, no, I do not. But, the table needed me, so I took it home. Now it sits in my garage waiting for me to restore it.  IMG_0372

Which brings up a curious point of drama in this story because I don’t actually know how to do that. So, I pinterested.

I discovered a few options for this kind of project. One involved a few cans of superior grade spray paint. After that, there’s the small step up. I can buy a can of some kind of primer, sealer, base type paint and slather it all over before painting the table some daring color.

I’m not a particularly daring person so picking the color intimidates me. I’d leave that to my friend, Lori.

Then there’s classic restoration. It’s time intensive and complicated. It takes elbow grease and new tools. Sanding, staining, putty, glue, varnish, oils. The result is a beautiful, classical table in the style first envisioned by the maker.

I’m not sure I’m up for that. And, do I want another dark wood table? Not really.

Of course, all of this connects on a deeper level for me. If you haven’t gotten there yet. I am the table. A little loose and damaged needing quite a bit of sanding and staining to bring out what’s underneath all the crud. I’ve always needed restoration. I’ll always need restoration.  Until the end of days I will need restoration.

So, what kind of restoration am I opting for? It depends on the day or the hour or the minute. Mostly, I want the fast spray paint type of restoration. Just get me looking a little better. Cover over the worst of the transgressions. Blot out the huge blemish on the surface.

But, there are days when I understand that spray paint fails to do the job. It’s fast, easy, and noticeable on pieces that got a lot of problems. I got a lot of problems. I don’t really ask often because who wants to know the truth about themselves?  But we all kind of know, don’t we?

It takes creativity and time but in some areas I take a step further and really try to cover up the problems. It’s takes years to manufacture the hard shell that covers the really big stuff, those huge gaping wounds and gashes. Add a daring coat of paint to distract. Voila. I’m repurposed.

I’m longing more these days for more restoration in my life. I know its painful to feel sanded, stripped, and scrubbed but I want it. I can see a glimpse of what can be and I want more.

I’m in a good workshop now. Lots of skilled restorers of lives, lots of tools, lots of space, and gentle spirits that walk with the Lord. It’s a good time to restore. I’m realizing I need to keep a workshop in my life in years to come too. A place and people who restore. A place where I can be involved in the restoration of others too.

One person mentioned a few weeks ago that when we’re tired…bone tired…we need to work backwards from the physical through the mental and relational back to the spiritual. I ponder that these days and I wonder if the table is God’s answer to my prayers. I prayed that I’d connect with Him in a new way soon, that I’d see His hand.

Did He give me this flea market find to engage me in the ongoing work He’s doing in my life? Why, yes! I think that’s exactly what He did.

So, now back to the real table that is not me. I want to go buy that good primer, sealer, coater all-in-one paint today.

The allegory only goes so far, folks. I’m going to paint that table in my garage.

 

 

 

Entering the Rest

20140121-101129.jpgThese days I spend my days with family enjoying the warmth and sunshine of Thailand.

Mornings I read and journal on a balcony to the sounds of rustling palm trees.  Afterwards, we all suit up and head to the pool to swim and play.  The hotel room offers cool shade for the afternoon rest.  We walk on the beach at sunset catching hermit crabs and finding shells.  We sink our toes in the sand underneath our dinner table by the beach.  Idyllic, right?

But my heart grows restless in the midst of all this wonder.  Instead of an increasing relaxation I find an uneasiness rise up.  It’s hard to enjoy and enter the rest.

The world says we are entitled to this time.  Our Human Resources handbook says we accrued the weeks.  Our bosses approved our timing.  We saved to afford our accomodations.  Beyond that is the self-justification.  We never take all our allotted vacation time.

But my heart knows something deeper.  It knows I don’t deserve it and I didn’t earn it and I can’t pay it back.  It is a gift, a grace, a display of God’s generosity that I can never repay.  And I want to pay.  I really want to pay!  I feel that in repaying it I can more fully enjoy it.  But there is no way to repay it…no way.  I’m caught.

So God leaves me with a choice to accept the gift with thankfulness or do what I do now…struggle to find a way to pay and in doing so, rebel.  Because in wanting to deserve, to earn, to pay I strive to be equal with God Himself!  And I startle at the realization.  I want to be equal to God, always have and, this side of heaven, always will to some extent.

So I miss out on the rest…or I was missing out.

In the coming days I hope to enter the rest He provides.  Enter it boldly.  Not the vacation rest but the real rest my heart seeks…the rest from thinking I can earn, deserve, repay, prove.  To receive the gift of His Son who paid all on my behalf.  I need no longer strive.

I need only accept the gift with a smile, that gift that is so priceless I cease from all rebellious endeavors to repay it.  I bind myself to the Gift-giver heart and soul.  Even that is a gift for my wayward, wandering, rebellious soul.

To be anchored by His undeserved favor, the true rest for my weary soul.

Lessons from the Breakfast Buffet

I took on the job of teaching the kids how to maximize the breakfast buffet. We are on vacation and my reasoning runs like this: well-stuffed children will not need a large lunch thus saving time and energy and money. We can just snack our way to dinner. A perfect vacation plan for me, a mom.20140112-120836.jpg

Except that the kids don’t know how to overeat. They naturally stop when satisfied! Unlike me, their parent, my children enjoy their most tasty treats on the buffet and then they do this weird thing…they stop. I get a few more bites in them but it is a challenge neither of us enjoys.

I, however, make sure I get the best of the buffet meaning that I eat the most delectable items. Cereal? That is cheap. Eggs Benedict? More please. I strategize to make sure I squeeze out the most from my experience before my stomach fills to the point of bursting.

Who enjoyed the feast more though? Me who got the most out of it? Or the kids who freely enjoyed it?

Ok. Ink on paper makes it clear. Of course they enjoyed it more! And I see how I miss out when I try to squeeze the last drop of value out of experiences like buffet breakfasts. Instead of taking in the delight of eating a meal I did not shop for, cook, or need to clean up I expend that energy trying to force a maximum perceived benefit. Striving after the wind.

I watch my kids receive with joy and I see what I want to become–an open receptor of these wonderful experiences. I want to receive with thanks what the Lord brings. I want to enjoy without the pressure of enjoying it the most. The most and the best add pressure and a drive that blocks my receptors. The most and the best increasingly seem like a trap that inhibits being in the moment and giving thanks for the gifts He gives.

I continue to decompress here on vacation. Maybe this realization is part of the casting off of the driven-ness I fall into in daily life. I do recognize this striving after the wind in more places than the breakfast buffet on vacation and I grieve what I missed.

A heart of gratitude and thankfulness for what is. Enjoyment of the moment. A settled confidence that another day will come with more to receive from the Great Gift Giver.

That’s a lot to miss out on. It is worth way more than a well-played breakfast buffet.

What blocks your ability to receive freely from the Lord?

 

Climbing Past Restlessness

Every so often I travel alone.  I pack my bag with only my things.  Anticipation takes over greater parts of the days leading to my departure.  The expectation of caring only for myself looms on the horizon.  No one to dress but myself.  No one to feed but myself.  No time to eat but when I hunger.  Before the horizon zooms into reality I stock the fridge and imagine what might bring my husband some comfort for the task of all three children, all day, all alone.

Then, I journey.  Traveling alone means stretches of silence interspersed with bursts of speech…to the check-in agent, to passport control, to buy food, to the one who sits beside me.  But more silence accompanies me than usual on journeys alone.  More silence than children talking over each other talking to me.  More than the constant communication that makes home life run, soothes hurt feelings, or delves into deep issues of the heart.

I welcome silence…for a time.  I open books, ponder deep thoughts, fill pages in journals, watch movies.  Then I approach the seeming end of my thoughts or stack of books and my heart grows restless.  Like a mountain to be tackled with the promise of rest on the opposite side, I climb increasingly anxious to summit.

Activity fills most of my days.  Preparing food, giving direction, teaching, answering, asking.  The abrupt halt throws me forward like a passenger into a taut seatbelt.  Responsibilities pause yet I keep moving.  I require longer to slow down.  The mounting rise of restlessness washes over me.  I now know to wait and be still.  God has more for me than restlessness.

Given long enough I overcome the peak and enter the meadow of rest.  True rest.  Allowing inactivity and not labeling it “lazy” or “selfish.”  I see life marching on without my voice when I call home.  I know He values my voice but the knowledge that God does not need me frees me somehow.

I observe more of nature and life around me.  New, quiet thoughts come to me.  I feel lighter.  He upholds all, maintains all, sustains all.  I sustain small pockets of valuable life as He permits and because He sustains me, but He sustains all.

Rest acknowledges God is God.  I am not.  True rest puts me in my place and God in His.  He is Father, I am child again.

What do you learn about God when you rest?  What do you learn about yourself?