Rest: not an option but a command
At this time of year when temperatures soar and the heat drains away our energy, a holiday is the first thing that comes to mind, and with it the desired rest. And yet what is it that we are seeking and yearning for when we think of holidays?
“A change is as good as a rest” we’re often told, but does a ‘holiday’, a change from the normal routine, necessarily mean rest? And again, what do we mean by ‘rest’, particularly from a Christian perspective?
For the Christian, rest is not an option but a command. We must necessarily make time for everything as we live the rhythm of the seasons of our lives. Our hectic and chaotic lives leave us practically breathless as we shift from one job to the other, one duty to the next, an inbox full of unanswered e-mails and a calendar full of ‘things to do’.
We crave for a change – for a time when we can leave everything behind and live in a bubble; a short time when we can forget the preoccupations of our daily life. But is this what holidays are for? Will this give us the rest we so desperately need?
The very etymology of the word ‘holiday’ reveals that, in reality, it is not a mere get-away that we are looking for. ‘Holiday’, coming from Holyday, implies holy time – an intense human need for time of rest; time for connection with God and fellow humans.
What we are truly looking for is a space where we can connect deeply, where we can feel comfortable and be ourselves without the undue pressures of daily life. We need to find that specific place where we do not have to feel the restlessness of our aching heart; where we can be still. There is a direct link between the spiritual and the physical state of our being. What really gives rest to a person’s heart is to feel loved and to love in return.
One can have the most luxurious dream holiday but still remain empty. Experience teaches us that what really gives us rest is the nourishment of intimate bonds of relationships.
Our true search is for a soul-mate, for intimacy with family and friends; simply put, we can deeply rest when our relationships are in order and life-giving. In the words of Henry Nouwen, “we are not restful persons who occasionally get restless, but rather restless persons who occasionally find rest”.
What holidays can give us is time: time to think, to reflect, to pray, to read. Holidays provide time for growth, as we evaluate the year and plan targets for the next. For a Christian, time is not to be wasted, as we become increasingly aware of how limited and fragile life is. We are called to live the moment as we realise that only when we have space to think can we truly enter within ourselves and actually experience what lies within.
Rest is the capacity to find the key to one’s heart and to open it, as only when one finds rest in one’s heart can it be offered as a source of rest to others. We all know from experience how difficult it is to capture the present moment and live it fully.
The guilt of the past and fear of the future always dwell within us, haunting our peace.
In Jewish tradition, the Sabbath is a day of rest, a day to stop and focus on why we carry out the activities that consume our lives. The Sabbath is the time to re-visit the map of our lives and see if we are still moving in the right direction.
We rest because God rested. We only rest when we have time to pray, to think, to laugh and to love. Rest is not something we can turn on and off like a water tap. It needs a body and a mindset which are slowed down enough to be attentive to our deepest needs. Only when these needs are met, can we find the rest we long for, the rest that must pervade all the areas of our lives.
Fr Cilia is a member of the Missionary Society of St Paul.