WE LIVE IN A CULTURE THAT VENERATES BUSY-NESS and sees rest as surrender. (Like surrender is a such bad thing). Yet it wasn’t always that way. A 2017 article from The Atlantic featured the fabulous title, “‘Ugh, I’m So Busy’: A Status Symbol for Our Time.” I just love that title because I can hear so many people saying exactly that, in that humble-brag kindof tone. You know what I mean. But it turns out that not so far back in the day, circa 1900 to be exact, “the economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen wrote that ‘conspicuous abstention from labor … becomes the conventional mark of superior pecuniary achievement (Pinkser).'” Like it was cool not to be busy. Until it wasn’t. Which brings me back to this idea of rest, which was also the topic of yesterday’s sermon.
Our church has been focusing on a sermon series called “Disobedient God.” It’s really good, basically pointing out the myriad ways we humans who are in relationship with God are often convinced that He hasn’t done quite right by us. Like Pastor Tate says, “he didn’t follow your to-do list – I mean your prayer request.” We started out in April with the exhortation that churches/people need to be more hospitable to unbelief and doubt. And I think this extends even past the spirtual. The idea that everyone is fully confident in their beliefs, in what they are doing, the decisions they have made, the restaurant they chose…! Imagine not having to act like you know everything. (Teachers are well aware that this is such a good opportunity for our students, when we express uncertainty about something. Because it means they can, too).
Anyway, the sermon series continued the following week by giving examples of how we replace God when he doesn’t do what we want Him to do. (And again, this can be taken outside the doors of the sanctuary. Like how many times have we gone back to what’s familiar when we don’t get what we want right away)? The next Sunday we were reminded that people also like to run from God, from responsibility, from that which we know to be true. Jonah ran hard, for example, only to be swallowed by a large fish and barfed up later. So, yeah, don’t run from answers just because you don’t like them.
Performance figures into all this as well. Like we think if we just do the “right thing” — act the “right way” — we’ll be rewarded, we’ll get what we want. I think we all know how well that works. Been in any relationships lately where you kept doing exactly what you thought the other person wanted you to do, hoping for a different outcome than the one that had been in existence for quite some time already? Whether spiritual, romantic, or professional, this is usually a losing game. So one thing we can do is to confess our disappointment, to humans and higher beings, instead of putting on a one-act play. Easier said than done, of course.
Another anecdote to all these human machinations? Rest. Like, just stop trying so hard to make things happen. So I decided last July, my birthday month, that I was not going to try to make anything happen for a whole four weeks. I had been really busy applying for jobs — it’s not like the Indeed commercials on TV whatsoever! I was also diligently seeking out new communities to fellowship in, play sports with, and civically engage amongst. I had been grinding for a solid two years. (I mean, for good reason; you come to a new city and don’t know but one soul, you better not be waiting around for folks to come to you).
Anyway for a whole month I avoided the job boards, ignored public event notices, didn’t even sign an online petition. I just did things that had no attachment to outcome. And whoah buddy, it was really interesting to realize how many things I engaged in throughout a given week that were fully attached to producing results. But I did stick to my promise and rested — on my laurels, perhaps. The laurels of all the efforts I had made to create spaces and opportunities over those last two years. Such a great phrase, “resting on my laurels,” conjuring up someone nobly sitting atop a pile of fresh greeenry. Well, it turns out that the phrase actually comes from the good ol’ Greek and Roman times when victorious and successful men (duh) received crowns of laurel in honor of their achievements. (Probably means that was happening somewhere on the African continent first, but that’s another story for another time).
I think I said here before that it really intrigues me that rester in French means “to stay.” So, as Pastor Tate said yesterday, rest does not necessarily mean inacitivity. It can simply mean staying in one place, but perhaps that could be emotionally or spirtually or rythmically even. That’s what I think. It’s about being intentional, mindful, all those words we throw around these days that have started to lose their meaning as they become applied to more and more busy stuff!
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.-Psalm 90:12
Pastor Tate said yesterday that people are scared to rest in part because we might see that the world keeps on turning without us. Yikes! That’s real. I mean have you ever had to stay home from a work thing, or miss a party, or be a no-show at a political rally? Then you come to find out that everything went just fine without you? The work meeting ended without a hitch and the committee emailed you the notes; the party was a blast and your friends stayed up later than ever; and the media featured all those righteous marchers on TV without you!? The acceptance of this principle might just result in FOMO* by the way. Our culture has messed up rest. Just look at that “rest on your laurels,” phrase again: it’s come to mean kicking back and taking things for granted, like you did your thing and that’s that. But it originated as merely a celebratory headpiece for some dude who was totally down to fight another day.
My favorite part of the sermon yesterday had to do with resistance. As in, “Rest is Resistance.” Clearly it is, culturally. Tate suggested resisting “the Egyptian in you.” Especially for African-Americans in this country, that’s deep. Like don’t give in to a slave work mentality, something that has been written about quite a lot. Basically the idea is that one works to work, having an internalized understanding that that is one’s role. This can be remembered in the body ancestrally, as well as taken on by those who grow up watching that model. The idea that one’s work need not be fulfilling or satisfying, but must produce results, has a lot of people refusing to rest until the grave. (Of course many enslaved Africans were well aware of this paradigm that was forced upon them, such that rest became their act of resisitance. I mean what is more rebellious to a slavemaster intent on taking full advantage of his infinite free labor than watching that labor stop working? Let it never be said that the enslaved did not resist, it was done so in a myriad of ways).
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.Psalm 23:1-2
I mean God knew he was actually going to have to maketh us lie down because we humans are so resisitant to rest. There are, of course, people who simply cannot, for various reasons, participate in the kind of rest discussed here. They do not even have the opportunity for a few hours sleep between shifts; or they are without safe shelter forced to be aware at all times simply for self-protection… But most of us, we are able to spend a little less time on that gerbil wheel and a little more time nestling in the fragrant cedar chips of life. (I had to keep that metaphor going, you know that). So steep yourself in God, advises Tate. And steep yourself in rest, in peace and quiet, in harmony, love, and music, in kindness, beauty, nature, words, and art. Just rester.
*Fear of missing out