Tuesday, February 10, 2009

True Rest for Souls

The past November-to-February has treated Houston to some of the most erratic and frequent temperature changes I can remember; we've hardly had four straight days within that time period which were all within ten Fahrenheit degrees of each other. Small wonder, with our bodies exposed to such constant adjustments and readjustments, that there seem to be more viruses than usual going around. I'm fighting a less-than-triumphant battle right now against my third illness of the season--or maybe, considering how long it seems to be dragging on, this is a fourth virus that came on the tail of the third.

Illness is a curse to the "mature" adult. When we were children, being sick had certain compensations: we didn't have to go to school; we didn't have to do chores; we got constant pampering; and even after we felt better, we frequently had an extra day off to make sure we were completely recovered. Not so after we're grown up; once we have "real" jobs, the principle changes from "Better safe than sorry" to "If you're strong enough to get out of bed, you're strong enough to do a full day's work." Well, what seems logical in theory doesn't always pan out in practice, as I found out last week when I literally collapsed (luckily into bed and not to the floor) after forcing my coughing, fatigued, nauseated body through a day of business-as-usual. After that, I gave up the fight and spent most (most) of the next few days resting.

General acceptance of working when sick is probably just one more manifestation of American workaholism. Taking an extra day off is considered lazy and shameful; sneaking a nap at lunch hour is looked on with extreme suspicion. Never mind that six-week vacations are the norm in many countries with high GNPs and that scientific research has found that people who rest frequently actually accomplish more; our society sees value only in constant movement. Someone even wrote a book called When I Relax I Feel Guilty.

I suspect, though, that what really kills most workaholics isn't the busyness of their bodies so much as the busyness of their minds and emotions--not their work loads per se so much as the tendency to be constantly thinking about everything that still needs to be done. I've been there--to a large extent I'm still there. Have you ever started a day with your body too weak to rise from bed but your mind screaming like an insane drill sergeant, "You must get up and work--you must finish the To Do list you've already made--you made commitments--you need money!"? It's not something I'd wish on anyone.

Forcing the body to rest is relatively easy compared to trying to force the mind to rest. No doubt the latter constituted a good bit of what Jesus had in mind when He said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Mt. 11:28-30, NIV, emphasis added).

How often do we say, "I'd give anything for a little peace of mind"? Usually the one thing we need to give is the one thing we're refusing to give; we think the answer is getting our lives under control, when in fact we need to hand control over to the One Whose wisdom is as far above ours as the heavens above the earth (cf. Is. 55:8-9).

Once we get in tune with His mind, it becomes easier to figure out when we need to work and when we need to rest.

True rest for souls is never found
In merely stopping to sit down,
Nor skipping work, nor time away
In a vacation for the day,
Nor even in a week or two
To take a trip and thus renew.

No, to achieve the purest rest
That strengthens us to meet each test
And fortifies for life's hard blows--
The only soul that truly knows
A peace within for every day,
Is that which ever seeks God's way.

True peace of mind, which stands its ground
While storms of stress are beating down,
Is fortified through Scripture, prayer,
And through the faith that God is there.
There is no peace in thing or place,
But only in eternal Grace.

Come to the Lord; receive His rest,
Admit His way is always best,
And trade your "should"s which never cease
For His light load of joy and peace:
And He will give His rest to you;
And His own strength will fill you through.

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