By Fr Billy Swan
I recently passed by a road safety sign on the motorway that read ‘Tiredness kills’. It encouraged motorists to rest if they feel tired for the consequences of not doing so can be fatal. This got me thinking about our need not just for physical rest but spiritual rest as we live life in the fast lane.
In the Old Testament, God asks his people to rest on the Sabbath day, not because they could be free to do nothing but have the time to worship. Here at the beginning of the Bible, rest is linked with prayer (Ex. 20:10; Lev. 23:3). In the story of the Exodus, God leads his people towards the promised land which is described as “the place of rest” (Deut. 12:19; Ps. 95:11). In Psalm 23, the Good Shepherd is the one who “revives my drooping spirit” (23:3) for “only in God will my soul be at rest, from him comes my salvation” (Ps. 62: 1).
In the New Testament, Jesus invites to come to him “all you who labour and are burdened I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). As he ministered to the crowds with his disciples, he instructs them to “come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). Note how the experience of genuine rest is with Christ. This is seen again in a beautiful scene in John’s Gospel at the Last Supper when the beloved disciple reclines on Jesus’ breast in a simultaneous moment of both rest and loving union (John 13:23).
This theme of rest was not lost on some of the greatest thinkers and saints of the Church. As someone who had sought happiness and rest in sources other than God, St Augustine finally conceded that “You have made us for yourself O Lord and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee” (Confessions, 1,1,1). St Therese of Lisieux rejoiced in the words of Isaiah – “I will carry you at my breast and rock you in my lap” (Is. 66:13, 12) and saw them as a constant invitation from God to return to his rest and safety in prayer (The Story of a Soul).
But how do we rest in God? St John gives us the secret in his Gospel. We abide in him and his love (John 15:4-7). Resting in God means consciously coming into his presence, preferably before the Eucharist and during the Eucharist. This is a time to truly rest by just allowing God to love us and to pray in us, on His terms, not ours. It is a time to be passive before the Lord, to be silent, to be still, to be known by God as his child and to be loved by Him. It is a time to listen with our heart to his heart that communicates love and mercy as we lean on Christ’s breast like the beloved disciple at the Last Supper. During this time of prayer, God is refreshing us and providing the essential rest and strength we need to return to our busy schedules. Another way of resting our souls is to make a good confession that brings forgiveness and healing to any area of our lives that needs it. When we are burdened by sin and slave to any sinful and addictive behaviour, one of the effects is an exhaustion of the soul that no amount of sleep will cure. Only God’s forgiveness will do.
We all need times of good quality rest. Even God rested after his work of creation which gives rest a divine dimension (Gen. 2: 2-4). If we go without the rest our bodies need then the health of our bodies will suffer. If our souls go without the rest they need they too will begin to break apart. Tiredness kills. May every area of our lives rest in Him and be refreshed.