“Living Unfinished: The Spiritual Act of Rest”- Sarah Westfall

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Every day, my husband comes home from work, sets his things on the kitchen counter, and asks me the same question: “How are you?” Most days, I give him the same boilerplate answer: “Tired.”

I come from a long line of hard workers. Grandma Dottie, my mom’s mom, owned her first restaurant in the 1960s. I didn’t realize until adulthood what a gutsy move that was for a woman in the ‘60s. But that was Grandma—full of sass and grit. She rose well before dawn to ready the kitchen, roll silverware, and unlock doors for those few early risers who lumbered in for her poached eggs and strong coffee. My mom, the sixth of seven kids, also inherited restaurant duties at an early age. Work was written on her DNA.

My dad was also hardwired for labor, the blood of farmers running through his veins. Grandpa and Grandma “B” grew up in the Great Depression and lived through World War II, so they didn’t waste time or resources. Even Ziploc bags were washed and reused, and a day’s work on the farm began long before the sun peaked its head over the horizon. My dad took care of pigs and plowed the fields soon after he could walk.

Mom and Dad brought these work ethics into their marriage and family. Thinking back to my own childhood, I can’t remember a Saturday that didn’t involve a to-do list. Chores first. Fun later. When I was nine, my dad moved us into a fixer-upper farmhouse in rural Indiana. Dad saw the potential in this 100-year-old, slightly sad two-story. Mom cried the day we moved in, certain that either the house was possessed or Dad was.

But then they got to work. They poured themselves into the old bones of that farmhouse, sanding wood floors, ripping off tropical wall paper, and troubleshooting why the blazes we couldn’t shower and flush the toilet at the same time without someone getting scalded. They revived that shabby farmhouse into a warm, welcoming home. Then, after nearly 22 years of to-do lists, they sold that home full of sweat equity and good memories. And for very different reasons, Mom cried.

I’m proud of my rise-early, get-your-hands-dirty lineage, and it’s seemed to have its affect. Most days, I don’t sit down until the sun goes down. Between writing and raising four boys and tackling our own house projects, I just don’t stop. If a to-do list isn’t hanging on my refrigerator, it’s lingering in my mind. My family laughs how I often eat my lunch standing up, but I tell them, “I can’t stop moving! If I sit down now, I’ll never get up.” Rest seems more like a luxury than a necessity.

But in recent years, I’ve learned that a body in constant motion, under constant strain and stress, will crash. Sooner or later, irrational emotions will cloud good judgment. Relationships will become tense and irritable. You will catch a cold that just won’t quit. Everything comes crashing down—including your work.

And here’s why: We weren’t made for work alone.

In the very beginning, God knew what He was doing when He created that seventh day, the Sabbath. He knew that while those six days of laboring and creating were essential for sustaining life, so was that one day of rest. Our minds, bodies, and spirits just can’t function without the down time. We need that pause—that rest from the momentum of life—that not only helps us breathe a little deeper and enjoy the work of our hands, but also loosen our grip on life.

So often we view time off like a final exam. The day or night before, we cram like crazy people trying to get “all the things” done. One more load of laundry. One more coat of paint. One more email to that co-worker about Wednesday’s presentation. All so we can take a nap with a clear conscience. But more and more, I’m convinced that’s not the rest God had in mind.

A friend once told me that rest—a true Sabbath—isn’t about getting our stuff done so we can take time off, guilt-free. Instead, it’s about stopping whatever it is, wherever we are with it, and just let it be in God’s hands. Unfinished. Out of our control.

Like work, rest is a discipline. It’s an intentional pause that that becomes a spiritual act of faith when we surrender our time and control. For some of us, rest requires even more faith than the doing because we have to let go. We have to let life linger, to hang out there like a giant question mark. And that just feels uncomfortable.

But it is in these moments, when we think we can’t stop and the task feels crushing and consuming, that we need to rest all the more. We need to pause, relinquish control, and remember who’s King—for the good of our bodies and our souls, for the good of people around us and the work we’ve been given to do. For just as much as we were made for work, we were made for rest.

 

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