If you ever ride public transportation in Boston, you’re familiar with this sign. It’s a simple system. When your stop approaches, you press a long, thin yellow strip, which lights up an electronic sign in red that reads, “Stop Requested.” This, of course, indicates to the driver that you would like to get off at the next stop. When I am riding the T, I always know where I am going and make sure that the red sign is illuminated as we approach my stop. It’s essential to ensure that I don’t get off at the wrong stop and get lost. Yet, in my spiritual life, sometimes I forget to pay attention. Sometimes, I miss the announcements, forget to press the button, and wind up disoriented and scattered.
I work too much. Maybe it’s my nature. Maybe it’s my upbringing. Maybe it’s the culture we live in. But for me, it’s so easy to work too much. As a Campus Minister, it seems like there is always another event to plan, another meeting to attend, another student to meet with. But it doesn’t end at work either. At home, there’s another meal to cook, more dishes to clean, another task to complete. It’s as if the work never ends. Between work and home, I could spend all my time working on something. All of this work wearies me and leaves me exhausted, so passages like this always give me comfort:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt.11:28).
When I hear this, I imagine Christ standing before me, arms open wide, ready, eager to embrace me, rescue me from my struggle, and give me the rest for which I so long. God wants to give me rest. It’s a beautiful thought. It moves me. But recently, I’ve begun to wonder, “Why does it take exhaustion for me to come to Christ and receive rest? Why do I wait until I can’t keep going to take the time for the rest I need?”
We are made for rest. I used to think that we were made to do, that the goal of each day was to accomplish as much as possible. But I’ve come to believe that we’re also made to be, made for rest. “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath” (Mk. 2:27). It’s right on the lips of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. God created the sabbath for us because God wants to give us rest. And God wants to give us rest because it is good and holy and necessary, not just when we are tired and weary from our labor, and not just when we need it and can’t go on without taking a break.
We need regular rest because when we stop to rest we remember our blessings, and when we feel blessed, we turn to God in praise. Theologian and minister Timothy Keller suggests that sabbath means a deep rest, a deep peace, not just a passing moment here and there. “When Jesus says, ‘I am the Lord of the sabbath,’ Jesus means that he is the Sabbath. He is the source of the deep rest we need” (The King’s Cross, 42). Thus, Jesus not only invites us to rest; he invites us to come to him, the wellspring of the deep rest that we really need.
But what does that look like for you and me? For me, it looks like setting aside 10 minutes a day to sit on my couch, close my eyes, and rest. It means shutting off my mind, settling my heart, and resting deeply in the knowledge knowing that the God of all the universe is holding me in his soft but firm, gentle but strong, mighty, magnificent hands.
This is what Lent looks like for me this year, and this is what receiving the mercy of God means to me. It means having the courage to stop running around trying to do everything and save the world. It means giving myself permission to slow down, to pause, to rest. It means trusting that God is faithful to his word and will give me the rest for which I yearn, the rest for which I was made.
But it all begins with awareness that I am not a human “doing”. I am a human being, and sometimes, I just need to “be”. I never forget to request my stop on the subway. Maybe in time, I will stop forgetting to do it in my prayer life.