Columnists > Soul Food

Savoring rest

It needs to be more than a sweet summer memory

Issue: "Madness in the Methodist," July 25, 1998

A favorite period of my life was when our children still needed to be driven to the pool in the summertime. At the entrance, a big sign discharged my guilt for entering that magic time: "No Children Under 12 Unless Accompanied By Adult."

In the mornings we did the chores. At noon we left for the pool. Those were dreamy hot days when I would lie on a towel with a book, until my arms glistened in the heat, and my hair dampened with sweat. The water was so cold it could have stunned a walrus, but there was a purity of pleasure, when I sliced through the water until my body temperature dropped. Hauling myself out of the pool, I would lie dripping as I passed into a daze of warmth and sleepiness. Hours drifted by with the kids swimming until they shivered, then lying beside me on the warm cement, where like dampened butterflies the heat restored them.

Our feet were pink and skinned from the bottom of the pool. Our bodies were tanned and our hands white-webbed between the fingers. Dampened, clustered eyelashes and sun-bleached hair made our girls' eyes a striking green.

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There are memories: the fading smell of chlorine in our suits; damp spots left on the seats of the car; wet towels thrown over the clothesline in the backyard.

That stage of life is gone-the simplicity and beauty of mothering while I rested. Now there are no signs at the gate to tell me it's okay to take a break. The rush of adrenaline and the roar of postmodern life is nearly constant. My hands steadily search out the things they must do. My mind races ahead to the next order of business or back to the ones left undone. Now the decision to pass that gate must be deliberate. It is rooted in obedience. It is based on my human need for God to restore my soul. It is based on the knowledge of Scripture: I was created finite and God said it was good. It is based on the luxurious memory of what happens when I am slow: I rest. I think. I pray. Creativity and energy reemerge.

Charles Simeon (1759-1836) was a minister of Trinity Church in Cambridge, England, for 54 years. He was a faithful, passionate teacher of God's Word and a discipler of young men. His influence on a generation was almost incalculable despite cruel opposition. The church wardens of Trinity Church were so opposed to his appointment as their curate that for 12 years they locked the pews-pews at that time were family-sized enclosures-and stayed home. During all that time, Mr. Simeon patiently taught those who came (more and more each Lord's Day) while they stood packed into the aisles to hear him preach the Word of God.

In his personal reminiscences, Mr. Simeon confesses a most astonishing thing about rest: "For the first 24 years of my ministry I went on without a single Sabbath's intermission. I was then a whole year breaking down. For the next 13 years I was quite lost to work, often unable to preach at all, seldom more than once a day, unfit for my weekly Tuesday parties [studies]."

Many of us have been so long without rest that we are unable to enjoy times of forced waiting or required rest. We've lost (or never found) the ability to enter it with joy or to choose it before it is chosen for us. We've all experienced the broken leg, the migraine headache, or the emergency appendectomy that put us flat on our back with obligations canceled, office work on hold, the yard unmowed, and the bathroom uncleaned. What ought to amaze and shame us is how easily life goes on during our absence.

Noelle Oxenhandler says, "When thinking, speaking, and doing are one, this is magic time. God time." A time "completely free of usefulness, suspended between wakefulness and sleep. This is the time zone of wonder, when we fall out of the habitual, the taken-for-granted, and are startled by what is." Entering such a time renews. It is the precious time that comes after we have done our part and surrender the work of our hands to a far greater power. It is the spiritual act of being led by a shepherd, of lying down in green pastures, and being led beside still waters. It is the place where the soul is restored.


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