Find rest, oh my soul, in God alone;
my hope comes from Him.
Come to Me, all you who are weary
and I will give you rest.
To find rest implies that one must look for it. In this place in-between the first and second comings of Christ, finding rest is not always an easy thing. There are distractions, limitations in understanding, seeing, and hearing. And because we are not yet who we shall be, we believe we can actually work hard enough to become worthy of rest.
In the first chapter of Sally Breedlove’s book, Choosing Rest, we are given the story of man’s expulsion from the first garden of rest and the loss of paradise. “Every generation since then has known that something is wrong. Longings and restlessness, sorrow and death find their way into even the best places of our existence.” It is the nature of this place where we live and breathe and set up our homes on our way toward the promised rest of the kingdom of heaven. We long for our completion. We pray for peace in our families, our friendships, our nation, our world. We strive to “do it right” and create that place where healing eases the pain of not yet arriving. Where is the promised rest for our weary arms and weak knees? When can we put down the burden of our dying selves? How long must we wait for the completion of our transformation in Christ to bring an end to our restlessness and aching and groaning?”
Jesus says,“Come unto Me…I will give you rest.”
Often I think of those imprisoned on the plantations in the South in the 1800’s. I imagine how they would look to the promises in Christ to make it possible to rise in the morning and move through the day enslaved to others. I can hear them singing. Sweet, mournful, hopeful music expressing their souls’ longings, moving their aching, abused bodies through the wilderness of what was so terribly wrong. Freedom was their destiny…a freedom even greater than they hoped for. But, until they knew the realization of that freedom they looked for the promise of rest. In their looking they found Christ calling to them from over the Jordan. There was the focus of their souls’ song. They sang of their true home on the other side.
So, I try to sing in the middle of my cocoon of transformation from slavery to freedom. I know that rest in the midst of this life is possible. In fact it is Christ’s gift. I have tasted it. It is a gift yet at the same time, it must be discovered. It must be accepted and learned and cultivated. It must be practiced. And we know it is a “foretaste of glory divine”.
For me, His rest is offered in this lifetime through a husband that remains present while I wander, He receives me with the surety of his open arms each time I return. God knew that I needed this man to help me find rest in a dry and weary land. Each day I receive a morsel of rest through my sister’s practiced promise of daily contact. A devoted friend of years walked with me through the dark and frightening places within. She suffered through my times of silence and withdrawal, waiting for me to be ready to talk. She has known me through and through and still believed in my value and affirmed me with her unconditional love. Another friend loved me enough to get in my face and make me promise to “stay” when it seemed rest was not for me in this world. All of these gifts of rest come from the One who says “Come unto Me”.
I know that many in the body of Christ have called unto me to “Come” and in answering that call into rest, I can let down my facade and relax into the “real” me. I know they love me and accept me and give of themselves that I might find rest. Christ has offered His rest through all of these. It is in His love poured through these vessels that I am able to just “be”. I work to resist the ever present temptation to say I am not worthy. Instead, I focus on the love of Christ in His broken Body of believers and accept that love as it is poured into me. I practice breathing in the good and breathing out the waste. With my focus on Christ and the rhythm of my life in Him lived out through love accepted and love given, rest is entered. Fear is cast out. Unbelief gives way to faith. The birth of the new finds its way through these times of labor.
My good friend Jeannie and I started our families at the same time. We lived next door when we had our firstborn sons and around the block when our second ones came two weeks apart. We were equally idealistic in our approach to birthing and nurturing infants. We were determined to give the best to our children so it seemed logical that we practice “natural” childbirth with no medication and as little trauma as possible. This would involve training on our part.
Dave and I chose to learn the Lamaze technique of childbirth. We were to learn how to rest in the midst of pain. We used these techniques through three childbirths. Sometimes it was productive, at other times I “lost it”. But now, twenty years after my last child was born I still remember the basic principles: Focus. Breathe. Relax.
Jeannie and I have returned to those principles of finding rest in pain as we discuss the difficulty of giving birth to new life here in our middle years. Parenting young adult children has brought the painful challenge of letting go of our babies for whom we spent so much of ourselves. Now, when they are seeking to find their own ways, it seems that so much of the time “they know not what they do”. We taste the fear and ache with longing to take them in our arms and nurse them to health or hold their hands and guide them safely to the next place. Instead we are left to find and cultivate rest in the midst of the pain of letting go, of restlessness as we wait for them to figure it out, and through the angst and the sorrow of leaving the old behind.
My son,Jim, and I sat at the end of the cat walk over the dunes, with only the stars to give us light. We were the only ones left awake. The conversation somehow moved onto the subject of love and the difficulty of receiving it. The Creator of this young man is aware of his limitations. He knows the angst that clings to his chest day in and day out. He knows the fears that weave their ways throughout his brilliant mind. He knows the pain that is given birth by the imperfections to which he must adapt. The Lord hasn’t taken any of this away. Since the moment Jim was born his “demons” have been ever present. But, as we sat under God’s light and talked about the many people in his life that have and do love him, I could sense once again His maker’s voice in my ear, “My love is enough.” So I pressed on with the exhortation that rose up through my heart, “You need to accept this love that is given to you. It is a gift. You don’t have to be worthy. You need the love offered to you to be able to be who you were created to be. You don’t have to be able to love these people the way they love you right now. But, you need to let them love you as it is what they were created for.” It is here in this giving and receiving love that we find rest in our labors and eventually from our labors.
I choose to believe that the rest Christ offers us is not just in green pastures or found beside still waters. Surely He offers us rest greater than what we find on the porch at the lake or in the hammock in the backyard, or even on the catwalk steps at the beach. He wants us to enter His rest that is nothing less than His kingdom that has come and permeates even the places that are barren. How then can we know this rest?
Focus. Breathe. Relax. Rest is a gift found in the love of Christ poured out for us. But, we must choose to accept and then to allow Him to take up residence. He comes to us walking on the water, in the fire of the furnace, alongside us on the road. He shows up in an email, a gift, a walk on the trail with a friend, in the worship of the body on a Sunday morning. He surprises us over and over again through the forgiveness of one we have hurt or neglected. He waits for us as we try to catch up. We know He will remain, as we find Him the same each time we return. He sits with us when we have to talk and talk and talk. He holds us when we sob through the pain of loss. He gently, firmly urges us to focus on Him. He disciplines us for our good. He breathes into us the breath of new life and convinces us to breathe out the old. Our bodies and minds and souls relax into Him. We can find peace and rest in the middle of the wilderness. It is possible. It is the promise. But, it most often is not what we first imagined. He doesn’t take away the pain of the birthing process. He doesn’t permit us to bypass the Garden of Gethsemene where we accept the cup of fellowship in His sufferings. He doesn’t spare us our cross to bear or our death to die.
We enter His promised rest when our lives are lost to Him... When we have set our eyes on Him and our hearts are focused on Him ... When we cease to strive in just our own strength and depend on our own wisdom to give us guidance, but trust in the One who is all wise. We rest when we accept the love poured out on our behalf, through Christ and through the ones to whom He has given His love that they might be His flesh and blood. It is when we can relax and find a rhythm of receiving and letting go that rest is possible in the middle of the labor. From this labor a new life is given birth. The pain is pain. Hurt is hurt. Yet there is rest. It is and it shall be found. “Find rest, Oh my soul, in God alone.” “Come unto Me…I will give you rest.” It is a promise.