Like most of the world, I recently went on holidays over the Christmas/New Year period. It never ceases to amaze me the difference that a little respite can make. Sometimes I become so accustomed to the ordinary pace of working that I forget about that whole other pace of rest.
I am the first to put myself last. I am forever thinking of the needs of others, checking if everyone else is ok, even doing housework before sitting down and writing that blog. It is still so difficult for me to believe that, even on my day off, it is ok for me to rest if I need to do so.
Unfortunately I know I am not the only one out there who suffers from perpetual giving. We who must people-please are forever worrying about other peoples’ problems to the extreme detriment of ourselves. We have trouble leaving chores undone – or, worse yet, half-done – and cannot rest if someone else needs something from us.
I fantasise that someday I’ll be released from this compulsion to care for everybody else. In the meantime, I can take holidays.
Holidays have always held magical powers for me. They transport me physically and mentally to another place. They provide a window of opportunity, a chance to truly take respite from the world and its weariness. For me, a successful holiday is one in which I completely forget about my ordinary life.
During the recent holidays, I found myself at a beach one fine sunny day. Although the weather was cloudless and fine, a cold wind blew that cut effortlessly through any layers of clothing. It was both cold and warm and the beach was secluded. The notion of having some private time, without having any appointments pending or any other place to be, was stunning in its novelty.
I spent some time just standing on the shore, facing the ocean, watching the waves roll in and out. There is something so meditative, even mesmerising, about the rhythm of waves. They have a natural momentum, unforced yet relentless, and it seemed to speak to the restlessness in me. Waves have the capacity to quiet the ceaseless turnings of my mind. For those of us who have trouble “switching off”, we need the magic of nature to bring us back to ourselves again. Perhaps the Creator enjoys the power of the waves too.
On this particular day at the beach, watching the clear waters advance and recede, feeling the chill of the swirling wind, it was as though the elements were coming together with a purpose. In a moment, it was as though all the weights I carried within me were whipped out of me by the wind, leaving me breathless and staggering. The wind dumped my weights into the water – and then the rolling waves dragged them out to sea.
The unexpected intervention of wind and waves threw my disquiet into sharp relief. It was sudden and powerful, leaving me feeling lighter. I had not come to the beach seeking a spiritual experience, but somehow God had met me there at my point of need, through His creation providing respite.
This gave me cause to reflect on how God often surprises me with relief when I need it. Sometimes it comes in the form of a thunderstorm after a hard day. Sometimes it appears as a bird singing as I arrive home. Sometimes it takes the shape of a hug or text from a friend with whom I had lost contact. All of these things that make our world more beautiful also remind me of the love of a Father who never ceases to take concern with our deepest and simplest needs.
Despite whatever my beliefs about deservedness and rest may be, I know that respite is important. Whenever I take a break from work, even to attend a course or catch up on professional reading, I am starkly reminded of my need for mental and emotional refreshment. Our God took rest from creating the world – perhaps as a role model to us, knowing that we would need similar rest from the world. Perhaps one day we will learn from His example.
Our world is caught up in a culture of busyness. We are expected to be contactable around the clock, via phone, email, Facebook etc. even when on holiday. Workaholism is a widely accepted form of addiction. When asking a friend how they are, it is not unusual to hear the reply, “Yeah, I’ve been busy.” We have diaries and calendars and reminders, but do any of us actually plan rest times? What would happen if we came to a complete stop?
Maybe this is something for us to think about. Concepts of respite, and genuine self-care, are counter-cultural. I pray that God will help me to get better at discerning appropriate times of rest and actually taking them. I hope that you will join me.