I couldn't even begin to count the number of times my mum has warned me against burning the candle at both ends. For those unfamiliar with the expression, it means to be so busy that you are getting very little or no rest.
I am often stumped when asked what I do just to relax. It's not something that comes naturally or easily for me, and I notice my lack of rest and relaxation often when both ends of the candle have met in the middle and I am totally burnt out.
18 months into my latest life-change venture, I am completely and utterly exhausted. Every part of me is spent—physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. I knew I was tired, but as I work on resting, an even deeper sense of exhaustion is revealed. I've pushed myself too far and I need more than a good night's sleep to get my vitality back.
A balanced life?
While I personally work on restoring my vitality, I believe the more important issue is that of preventing another cycle of burnout and restoration.
What is wrong with the way I'm living that causes these cycles, and what is it that I'm supposed to do, particularly as a Christian, to maintain a life that effectively balances work, rest, worship, and play?
I am in a discipleship group which recently began discussing the rhythm of life and the balance of work and rest. I'm the first to admit that I didn't have a second of my day free to rest in the midst of working to deadline after deadline for a month. Being told that I needed to incorporate rest into my life was laughable. There was not a minute spare to be allocated to rest. Yet I can't keep going without some.
Here comes the 'BUT!'
I realised that if I believed that the Bible and the life of Jesus teaches that rest is not only important but a necessity then something in my life needed to change. I had to implement this teaching; I had to find a way to incorporate this funny little thing called 'rest' into my life.
In Mark 6, verses 30 to 32, after the feeding of the 5000, Jesus invites the disciples to get away from the crowds and take a rest. The work has been done, the demands have been met, and now it is time to retreat, to rest, and to be restored.
Jesus demonstrates a life lived in the balance of work and rest, and so should we. To give of ourselves, and then purposefully take time and space to rest and re-energise ourselves in order to be able to continue on giving of ourselves and serving. To find a balance between giving of and resting ourselves each day, each week, each month, and each year.
Is spiritual rest different?
Balance is needed for physical, mental and emotional rest and ultimately wellbeing. Does the same work for spiritual exertion and rest? I'm not so sure. Spiritual rest doesn't mean switching off your spirituality for an hour a night, or six weeks a year.
Spiritual rest is about abiding, remaining in Jesus, being focused on Him, and coming to Him to share His yoke and learn His ways. When God is our top priority, when He is who we seek and follow, we find rest from the worry of controlling our own lives. As we rest and remain in Jesus, fruitfulness is the result. In a sense, spiritual 'work' flows out of resting in Jesus.
My challenge to myself in combatting the cycle of burnout and restoration is to find my spiritual rest in Jesus as my number one, and to be diligent in giving myself the time and space to rest my body, mind, and soul.
What these times of rest look like will be different for everyone, but key words that come to my mind as someone living in the modern, Western world are 'unplug', 'disconnect', 'turn off'. Slow down, look away from the screen, get outside, and breathe.