by Neha Shaw
What do you do when you lay down for a thirty minute nap and wake up three hours later? Finding myself in this position twice in the span of one week alarmed me. Thankfully, I had not missed any classes or other engagements in my slumber, yet I still felt guilty and panicked over the few short working hours I believed I had lost. When I mentioned my predicament to a friend, she simply offered that maybe my body really needed those extra hours of rest. Her comment struck a chord with me as I realized how readily I had neglected rest when life grew busy. After this, I became aware of others around me forgetting to rest and growing increasingly stressed as they piled activities and tasks onto their plates.
As we enter a more hectic part of the year with the semester’s imminent close and the approaching holidays, we often bump rest to the bottom of our priority lists. We find ourselves burdened with academic, work, and family obligations, filling our necessary rest time with more tasks. When physical, mental, and spiritual well-being are cast aside, the consequences extend beyond just feeling tired. The pursuit of rest must be an active one, especially in busy times. Finding time to give the body, mind, and soul peace and time off makes a significant and positive difference in both daily functioning and in preparation for Christmas during this Advent season.
Sufficient sleep is typically the first notion of rest that comes to mind, with time off from obligations to decompress as a close second. Both of these choices provide crucial outlets for physical and mental recharging, but it is also necessary to consider spiritual wellness as the key facet of the quest for rest. As a Christian, I believe that rest is rooted in time spent in God’s presence. For a while, I could not wrap my head around this seemingly abstract concept. I have recently learned more about what resting in God’s presence looks like, especially after looking further into the Psalms and finding more opportunities to rest.
While fleeing from his son Absalom, David wrote, “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me” (Psalms 3:5). David faced the threat of death by his own son’s hand, yet he still found comfort and rest as he relied on God for sustenance, comfort, and peace. In Psalm 107:23-32, the author describes merchants at sea that were tossed by a tempest and high waves. They were delivered from their perilous situation as God “stilled the storm to a whisper,” and “the waves of the seas were hushed” (Psalms 107:29).
Both of these situations illustrate rest found in harrowing times. Running from intended murder and riding massive, terrifying waves do not yield rest. On the contrary, these situations seem to elicit adrenaline, fear, and exhaustion. The peace found amidst the turmoil here cannot be obtained by sleeping a few additional hours or taking a TV break from homework. Instead, the key actor in both of the previous illustrations is God, as He sustains David and stills the sea surrounding the merchants. Thus, spiritual rest comes not by our own action, but by our reliance on God’s stability, provision, and protection. Finding refuge in God’s unchanging character can provide the best relief from draining, ever-changing circumstances. In practical terms, cultivating a place of rest in God’s solid character can look like meditation on scripture, reflecting specifically on what passages and stories say about who God is, as well as time in prayer, asking God for peace and praising Him for His role as our rock.
Life will constantly be busy in one way or another, and present circumstances are ever-changing, but the Psalms emphasize that God is the best source of rest because of His unchanging character. As we enter into the weeks leading up to Christmas, change will float all around us. Resting in God’s presence often manifests itself in prayer and the uplifting of praise and burdens to God. As Jesus began His ministry on the earth, He took some time away from the disciples, religious leaders, and worldly demands surrounding Him. He “went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12). While preaching throughout Galilee, “very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed” (Mark 1:35). Though He seemed to be boxed in by activity, questions, and needs, Jesus prioritized His time with God and never sacrificed His time with God for the world’s pressures or demands. He demonstrated both the immense value and practical implementation of spiritual rest in His own life. From Jesus’s example, we can derive time spent alone with God in prayer, soaking up His creation, praising His deeds, and pondering His character as ways we can rest in Christ.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus demonstrates physical, mental, and spiritual rest, recognizing when He or His disciples were exhausted and providing time off from their busy lives and travels. His active pursuit of rest serves as an example of what surrendering pride and activity in exchange for rest, peace, and joy looks like. Rest that comes from our decisions and efforts is not as sustaining and deep as rest in God. True rest benefits physical, mental, and spiritual health, and, as Christians, intentionally making time to rest in God’s presence plays the principal role preparing our hearts throughout Advent for Christmas. Entering the Advent season actively seeking spiritual repose allows us to adopt a rested, ready, and receptive posture as we celebrate Christmas and God’s character in sending Jesus to us.
Neha Shaw is a first year student at Duke University studying Biology and Global Health.
This article is part of the Duke Crux X UVA Bearings 2021 Advent Series, a collaboration between the two Augustine Collective Organizations.