By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.—Genesis 2:2
Last week I had a perfect day of rest. Almost.
Carey and I were out of town to celebrate our anniversary. (We were a few weeks late. We got married in the middle of December, which, it turns out, is kind of a busy time for pastors). There is a Christian retreat center at Lake Tahoe that has a simple little cabin right on the water pastors can use for a reasonable fee. We left our kids with my mom and hit the road on Thursday afternoon. On Friday morning, I woke up before Carey and had a quiet time sitting on the couch, looking out at the lake and the snow-covered trees.
The scene was beautiful, but there was something else that made the time truly special: there wasn’t a clock in sight. The truth is that my times in prayer and Bible study are usually rushed, because I have a job and a family. Most mornings, I get up early so I have the house to myself, but even then, the clock is always ticking. The day’s responsibilities are calling, my phone is starting to make noise, and there is the feeling that I need to get this done and move on to the next thing. On this morning, though, I read several chapters of scripture, prayed through my entire prayer list, talked to God about some burdens on my heart, and then spent time in a book I’ve been enjoying. All of this while taking generous breaks to stare out the window, without a clue what time it was or how long this was all taking. It was glorious.
The rest of the day was the same. My best friend and I ate good food, talked about our lives, napped, sat and read in complete silence, watched movies together…it was one of the most restful days I’ve had in a long time. Really, it was a perfect day, except for one small thing.
On Thursday as we were leaving town I started to notice a tickle in my throat. By that night it was more like a sore throat. Friday morning during my quiet time it was a really sore throat. Friday afternoon I had a headache, and by the time I went to bed Friday I had to admit that I was feverish. It took several cough drops to get through the night, and the next day I had to ask Carey to take over the drive home. We really did have a good time, and I stand by my statement that Friday was a near-perfect day of rest, except for the fact that I had COVID.
Then we got home, I took a test, and we recorded the Sunday morning sermon so I could stay home. Carey, of course, came down with it too. Then our kids, although theirs seems to be pretty mild. As I write this we are quarantined for the week, and we’ve had to shut down the church office because several other members of our staff are sick as well. Please pray for all of us, for quick and complete healing, and for the peace of God in the meantime.
All of this has caused me to reflect a bit on the issue of rest. The Bible talks a lot about rest, and you and I live in a culture that is pretty terrible at it. In a nutshell, here are some of the big ideas about rest that come up in the Bible:
- Rest is a gift from God. He has created the world, and us, to function best in a natural rhythm of work and rest.
- People don’t trust God enough to rest when He tells us, because we want to be in control and manage everything, and we’re afraid of what will happen if we take our hands off the steering wheel for two seconds and let God run the universe.
- When we don’t rest, there are consequences, which sometimes include a period of forced rest. For Israel, this meant exile from the Promised Land; for us it means things like burnout, hospital stays, etc.
- When we rest, we experience God in ways we never see when our wheels are spinning.
- On the other hand, even when we do rest, our rest will never be perfect. Sin taints everything in this world, so there are always reminders that we are not home yet. We go on vacation and get a flat tire. (Or, if you’re a pastor, someone in the congregation passes away). We block out a Saturday to do nothing and spend it in the emergency room when our child falls on their bike. We get away for our anniversary and come down with COVID. Or maybe we just spend a whole day staring at a screen, telling ourselves we’ve earned it, and then find that we aren’t as refreshed as we had hoped. Perfect rest will come only when we lay our burdens down and enter the presence of God for eternity. For now, He allows a certain amount of frustration to color our attempts to find rest, so we remember where contentment truly comes from.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.—Romans 8:22
But again, while our rest in this life will never be perfect, we still need it. We need to make time for it and be intentional about it, but then have reasonable expectations so we won’t be too angry when it isn’t perfect. I’m grateful for that day in the cabin. I don’t love being sick, or being stuck in the house all week, but I recognize that it’s something God is using to slow me down. Until He takes me home, I have to take my rest where I can get it. He is in control, and it’s good to be forced to remember that every once in a while.
I hope you have a productive, healthy week. And I hope you have some productive, healthy rest. May God teach us all to trust Him more in every season and circumstance.
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest…—Hebrews 4:9-11