Ah, rest. We love it. It’s that beautiful place where we get to take a break. Where we get to do nothing, be it laying on a beach, binge watch the new Unsolved Mysteries series on Netflix, or read a novel by our favorite author.
But what happens when we don’t find that magical intersection of a finished to-do list and no other pressing tasks? Or the strange feeling when being still isn’t particularly restful anymore? Or maybe the typical “rest activities” just aren’t feasible options for your day off? (Parents of little kids, I see you.) That’s when we need to find a different way to rest.
Which begs the question: is “doing rest” a real thing?
Can you really catch your breath while you’re up and moving around?
Recognizing what is restful
For some of us, a quiet day inside is the epitome of rest. And for some of us, it just isn’t.
I didn’t realize how true that was until hiking with my husband a couple of years ago. Yes, I know I talk about my husband a lot, and with good reason. God has this uncanny habit of using Ryan’s gentle manner to point things out to me.
On this particular day, we were hiking a summit trail in the quiet Milford Town Forest, walking amongst the reds, yellows and golds of fall, when our conversation led Ryan to say this:
“The only time you’re really peaceful is in the mountains.”
It seems a little oxymoronic. Because when we’re in the mountains, we’re not sitting still. We’re not lounging in a secluded spot, gazing up at the clouds and enjoying the breeze. Oh no, we’re booking it on a trail, or bushwhacking to a waterfall, or scrambling our way up a mountain. We’re moving, working hard and sweating a lot.
And that is one of my most restful places to be.
I had never noticed how restful hiking is to me until he said that. Sure, I can stay home and enjoy the quiet for a while, but truth be told, some of my most restful moments are when I’m out, preferably on a mountain somewhere, and away from normal life. Shoot, even walking around the neighborhood can be more calming than sitting still — it is a joke in my family now that they “need to take mom for a walk.”
That was when I realized rest is more complex than most people think.
The heart of rest
If rest was just about taking a nap, there would be a lot more people living restfully in the world today. But many of us need a different kind of rest — something deeper and more powerful than a few Z’s.
Like I said in my post about unplugging your brain, we need to take the time for mental and emotional rest. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got the brain of an overachiever — I think about things constantly. Finding that quiet headspace where I can turn my brain off is often where I need to go to do rest well.
That is the mystical balance of hiking for me. I’m physically moving just enough so I have to focus on what I’m doing, not what I’ve been worrying about. And I’ve got two personal rules while hiking:
Leave all my issues at the car
Phones for emergencies and photography only
The other perk to hiking is I get to finish. It’s amazing how much stress I can get from not being able to finish a task. When we go hike, we pick trails we can finish. Sometimes it’s a short trail, other times we push ourselves and do a long trail.
That being said, there is grace for not finishing a trail, especially since we bring the kids. But the underlying message is there; the satisfaction of accomplishing something.
I believe that is the kind of rest we crave — the deep soul satisfaction that comes with the job-well-done of finishing or accomplishing something. Because when we enter into that kind of rest, we realize we don’t need to prove anything to anyone. We can stop striving and simply accept.
Doing rest doesn’t fit any one mold
For years I thought resting meant just what I said before — some form of sedentary or low-energy activity. I remember trying to develop the good habit of maintain one guiltless day off a week. It would be a day of staying home and forsaking all projects — even the ones I wanted to work on — and picking random low-key activities to occupy my time.
It was a terrible way for me to rest.
Because at the end of the day, I actually felt more stressed than I did that morning.
That is because I didn’t understand what kind of rest I needed, or how to get it.
Rest isn’t meant to be tyrannical. It is meant to recharge us. And doing good, solid soul rest is about giving ourselves the break of unplugging our brains, taking some pressure off, maybe finishing something, or even letting off a little steam.
And yes, it can take work. That’s why we call it “doing rest,” because it takes effort to make it a priority. It takes practice to make it routine. And sometimes, what we find restful looks like work to someone else.
I have a friend who says we shouldn’t rest so we can work more, but we work so we can rest more. Because rest is good. It is a God-given gift. If we live our lives for punching the proverbial clock, we’re simply using our business to add a symbol of importance to our lives. But if we are working so we can enter into rest, we become okay with ourselves without needing work to validate our lives and identities.
Make doing rest a frequent goal
I remember listening to a life coach talk about taking a short break every hour as a way to maintain energy throughout the day. Though it sounded lovely, let’s face it, that just isn’t possible for a lot of us. Gosh, even the last police agency I dispatched for — before becoming a full time mom — only gave us a 30 minute break for every 8 hour shift.
As for those of us who no longer have a traditional vocation, finding time to take breaks is still a trick. In my case, I’ve got two little tyrannical, independent-minded people scampering about my home that don’t know the meaning of the word “rest.” You get my drift.
Still, that doesn’t mean rest is impossible.
Whenever it is possible, I will plan activities that involve “doing rest” frequently, sometimes throughout the day and most certainly throughout the week. And yes, hiking it a go-to for us right now. Since we live in the outdoor-enthusiasts’ paradise of rural New Hampshire, it is a great medium for us; the kids can run amok without the boundary of walls, I get to be out in the mountains, and my husband can practice photography (which is a restful activity for him).
It might look different in each season
Don’t get me wrong, getting out for a hike hasn’t always been my doing-rest-go-to. For example, when working graveyard shifts as an emergency dispatcher, my day off was almost completely reserved for sleep. It was what I needed at the time.
Another activity for me is writing. I’m in a season right now where doing rest means spending a couple hours working on a novel. It’s amazing how much more energy I have after letting my imagination run a little wild and plink-ing away at the keys.
As I said, practicing photography is restful to Ryan right now. He’ll load up his backpack with all his photography gear, bushwhack to a new site, and click away for a couple hours. That is what doing rest looks like for him right now.
And sometimes in all reality, there are seasons where doing rest doesn’t happen. I love the way Justin Whitmel Early talks about rest in his book, The Common Rule. He addresses those seasons where rest just doesn’t happen. Be it an ill kiddo or parent, a new baby, personal tragedy, et cetera.
The goal is to create the habit of rest, have grace for seasons when it doesn’t happen, but to not look at those rough seasons as the norm. Remember what they are — just a season. And those are the times to be intentional and lean all the harder into doing rest. Because if rest is hard to come by, that is when we need it the most.
Are you in the habit of doing rest, and what does that look like for you? Comment below!
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