When telling others of our plans to travel around the country for a year, I frequently used the phrase: “Rest, Restore, Reset” to encapsulate our goals. But truthfully, I saw “Rest” as mostly optional for myself. I was… unaware.
Now, to be sure, after the six week rush of ‘remaking’ our house, outfitting car and camper, and closing out ministry, all during the holiday season, some physical rest was needed. We headed south and east, intending to visit friends and stay near the ocean all the way to Florida. Dave and Terry Mayo followed us to Assateague Island for that first weekend to ‘hold our hand’ as we launched our first days of living in an A-Liner Camper. And we are glad they did.
We continued to stop in and visit family and friends over the next three weeks as we made our way south to Naples, Florida. I remember keenly the ‘gifts’ that met us each day: sunrises and sunsets, flora and fauna, weather, chance meetings, gracious hospitality, and providential places to stay. It seemed there was not a day where we did not feel a specific, surprising kindness from God. They were tangible, continual, delightful. It was admittedly hard to receive. All we could do was say – “Thank you!”
During this time of experiencing daily new tastes, scents, sights, and sounds, I was also adjusting to a new way of life. We were now living out of a 15 1/2 x 6 1/2 foot hard sided A-Frame popup camper (smaller than a tiny house). We were continually on the move, normally staying only two nights in any one place. We were habitually wondering – “Where will we stay tonight?” As a person who finds comfort in the familiar, aspects of this journey were challenging.
In the midst of this activity I started to notice several things about myself. I was pulling back from contact with people. I didn’t initiate conversations. I wasn’t taking many pictures. I didn’t feel like writing. Why? These responses were totally foreign to me. What, if anything, did they reveal? I also found myself wrestling with questions like: “How does one rest?” “Where is rest found?” “What do I need to rest from?” In short: “What is rest?”
Gradually, over the course of weeks and months, I began to receive some clarity. I recognized, for example, that rest does not work like a switch. Rather, it’s gradual, very gradual, like a large body of water slowly cooling. The rest I needed was not going to take days or weeks, but months. That seemed strange to me. But then I reflected that it takes many months to heal from major surgery or brain trauma. Why should that not be similar for the soul?And is self-awareness the best indicator of one’s need for prolonged rest? Could my warning light simply be broken?
One of the three small books I took with me on this journey was “Zeal Without Burnout” by Christopher Ash. It’s a small book, but pointed. Ash makes the case that: “We need sleep, and God does not. We need Sabbath rest, and God does not. We need friends, and God does not. We need inward renewal, and God does not.” He shares numerous stories in the book of men and women unaware of their need for rest, and the consequences they faced. Could I be in that category? Being human is humbling. In my quest to avoid humble dependence, do i impair my physical, mental or psychological being? Does ‘Steve’ get damaged?
I love the picture of God working with Elijah which is recorded in I Kings 19:4-8. Elijah, in his multiple year pursuit to see Israel return to the Lord, hits the wall big time. He just wants to die. What does God do? Rebuke him? Give him a seventh heaven experience? Walk away and leave him in his self pity and misery? No. He gives him food, drink, sleep and time away. As the Psalmist writes:
For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. Psalms 103:14
Let me get a little more specific. During this time I read very little scripture. For these three months I was not involved in focused intercession. I was doing almost no ‘othering’, except to Yvonne – no serving, studying, seeking after. This was different for me. Way different.
Concurrently, my church back home was going through a series on Galatians. That book passionately proclaims a message so radical some find it heretical: “… by works of the law no one will be justified.” – Galatians 2:16 Grace abounds in that book, against the backdrop of all the things we try to sneak into our faith to help make us feel acceptable before God, worthy and worthwhile, if not to him then to ourselves… and Paul says that’s dangerous.
In my travels I was living Galatians grace. Everyday I was aware of God’s goodness and kindness towards us in every sight, sound, moment and event. And I was clearly not doing anything to engender that kind of treatment. I was a person celebrated at a party day after day and I was clueless as to the why. Truthfully, it was difficult – just to receive… receive lavishly, abundantly, surprisingly.
And maybe somewhere in that experience is the heartbeat of rest. It’s: “I can’t, you can.” “I don’t, you do.” “I haven’t, you have.” This truth is bedrock to all Christian faith and experience. Scripture records thousands of years of Israelite failure, miserable failure, towards God, repeated again and again. It all seems to drive home one singular point: “I cannot save myself!! I need a Savior.”
And what I have seen more clearly in this time is – HE LONGS TO BE THAT SAVIOR!! Oh, he doesn’t forebear taking care of us. He relishes it!!! He isn’t compelled or manipulated or cajoled into blessing us. HE DESIRES TO BLESS!! This is His nature. This is his being! Cut him deep and he bleeds Hesed – incomprehensible kindness, overflowing generosity, abundant love, eternal self-giving.
So here’s my takeaway three months into this journey: We will only experience, can only experience, true, lasting, healing rest when we know and accept and embrace God for who he is.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28