EBWU Conference - Lisbon, Portugal - 10-13 October 2024

Sacred Rest

By Alexandra Anderson, December 2019

‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’

When I was in Poland in October for the EBWU conference I shared a room with a very interesting young woman who could only sleep with what she called ‘white noise’ in the background. She had a special app on her phone which she could switch on and it would play a sort of low, steady fizzing noise - all night! It sounded a bit like a waterfall. My roommate slept like a baby with this familiar noise buzzing away somewhere in her subconscious but I didn’t sleep a wink. Added to that the sound of running water made me need the bathroom at least twice in the night. The result was that by mid-afternoon next day I was exhausted. During the break I slipped outside sat on a bench and cried. Not because I was sad – I was just so tired. Ever felt like that? Getting enough rest is so important. Jesus knew that when he told the disciples to come away with him to rest and to eat.

Recently I read Mark 6:30-34 and Psalm 23, and it struck me that both these texts talk about rest. Jesus tells his disciples to rest and eat after their marathon teaching and healing campaign, and the Psalmist describes God as a Shepherd who makes us lie down in green pastures. So this week of Advent amid the Christmas hype, I’ve been thinking about what it means to really rest. I tried to imagine myself resting by those still waters and my first reaction to the Psalmists image of rest was that if God was going to insist that I lie down in green pastures, the pastures would have to have wi-fi coverage! I am sure that is not the kind of rest that the Psalmist or Jesus intended.

Being busy has become synonymous with virtuous. Working too hard is worn like a badge of honour. People admire us when we say we are ‘sooo busy’. Perhaps we’ve made an idol of multi-tasking and hyper-activity. We have forgotten how to switch off.

It was predicted that in the future, working hours would be short and holidays long. “Our grandchildren”, said John Maynard Keynes in 1930, would work about “three hours a day”—and probably only by choice. Economic progress and technological advances had already shrunk working hours considerably by his day, and there was no reason to believe this trend would not continue. Fast cars and ever more time-saving tools and appliances guaranteed more speed and less drudgery in every sphere of life. Social psychologists began to fret: whatever would people do with all their free time? But it hasn’t worked out like that, has it?

We have every convenience at our fingertips and yet we’re exhausted. Busyness is an epidemic. Even in our ‘leisure time’ there is an endless stream of background noise, things vying for our attention – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, podcasts, Netflix and then back to Facebook to see if anything has happened in the 5 minutes since we last checked. Has anyone liked something about me? Was something I said worthy of being shared?

Rest is enshrined in the creation story itself. In Genesis 2:2,3 we read that after creating the world, on the 7th day God rested. It’s the 4th commandment in Exodus 20, 8-10 . Jesus was a busy man but… he also took breaks.

Walter Brueggemann goes as far as to say that the Sabbath functions as a form of resistance. In a society defined by a market driven economy it is counter-cultural. The Sabbath provides a healthy, realistic alternative to a frenetic, anxious lifestyle. It’s about sharing food and time with loved ones. It was not meant to be just not working, but was meant to restore, recharge, revitalise the person and the community. This was the source of the kind of deep rest Jesus talks of, the Shalom of God’s peace.

‘Sacred rest is a break from the am-I-productive-enough, lovable enough, safe enough, thin enough, rich enough, strong enough-worthiness system we live under’, says one theologian. Jesus came to save sinners, to heal and love the over-functioning, to give rest to the weary, and the restless. So rest from all that Christmas shopping and over-eating. Rest knowing that you are justified, not by your busyness, but by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Rest in the knowledge of how deeply God loves you. Not because of who you are, but because of who God is. Rest in that. Not because you should. But because you can.