In a church I was part of years ago, the staff and elders spent two years participating together in a retreat-based spiritual formational experience hosted by the Transforming Center. It was a time to deliberately get away from the daily busy work of ministry and focus on establishing sacred rhythms in our personal lives.
At one point during the retreat, our leader, Ruth Haley Barton, the founder of the Transforming Center, invited us into a time of silence and solitude. She encouraged us to take a walk out in nature or sit somewhere in the beautiful chapel or grounds to spend time being with and listening for God. Then she said something that made all the staff take notice. “Or you can go back to your rooms and take a nap.”
“A nap?” I thought, “Are you kidding me? We are on retreat with all the church leaders, and she just gave the staff permission to take a nap? Shouldn’t we be doing something? Aren’t the spiritual practices about us carrying out some sort of task?” To be honest, what I was really worried about was, “Will I look lazy to my boss (and bosses—the elder board) if I go back to the room and sleep?”
What I didn’t understand was that my soul (as well as those of my colleagues) was running on empty. The church leadership had recognized that while we were a very productive staff, we also had unhealthy work habits that were affecting our souls.
In her book Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence, Barton discusses what she calls “dangerous tired.” “Dangerous tired is an atmospheric condition of the soul that is volatile and portends the risk of great destruction. It is a chronic inner fatigue accumulating over months and months, and it does not always manifest itself in physical exhaustion. In fact, it can be masked by excessive activity and compulsive overworking.”
Here I was, taking great pride in my hard work. I am an achiever down to my very core. While this allows me to get a lot done, this gift can also become easily distorted. What was quietly happening was that my work and identity were wrapped up in what I could accomplish, which started shaping how I saw myself in my relationship with God as well as the church. As Kurt Fredrickson writes in Rhythms of Work and Rest for Ministry Leaders, “Too much of what we do is wrapped up in proving to ourselves, to others, and to God how valuable and necessary we are.”
The rhythms of rest that God offers us are life-giving to our soul and to our ministry. When I choose to rest, I am declaring that who I am is not wrapped up in what I do. I find rest in the fact that, first and foremost, I am a child of God. I am not in control of everything—God is. And if God takes time to rest (Gen. 2:2-3; Mark 1:35), then a sabbath rest is also essential for me.
So what does this look like for me today? Well, though I am far from perfect in resting, I have built in certain life practices to remind me to rest. On most Friday evenings, the computer is shut down and put away until Monday morning. On Saturday evenings, my husband and I try to put our phones away for a “tech sabbath” on Sunday. (He is better at it than I am!) We also are very deliberate in making sure we have time to “play”—something that we “get to do” instead of “have to do.” I also have put in place some “red flags”—certain patterns in my behavior that when I notice them I know it’s time to focus on resting, and that usually means a nap!
Adequate rest has many benefits, but the most important is to your soul. As Psalm 23 reminds us, it is in rest that our souls are refreshed.
Mimi Larson is Faith Formation Ministries’ Children's Ministry Catalyzer. If you have questions or challenges about faith formation in children, welcoming children in worship, choosing curriculum, equipping volunteers, empowering parents, and more, contact Mimi at [email protected].
The Faith Practices Project, hosted by Faith Formation Ministries, invites you to refresh your spirit by experimenting with life-giving spiritual disciplines. Find more resources and ideas for the practice of Sabbath here