In the last post, we considered our created need for rest and the many ways Scripture calls us to it–both physically, mentally, and emotionally. Today, we’re going to look at the practical side of pursuing rest in the middle of our 21st-century-busy lives.
- Screen time is not a rest-time activity; it’s a leisure-time activity.
In studies like this one (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mental-wealth/201402/gray-matters-too-much-screen-time-damages-the-brain) and this one (https://aasm.org/study-links-screen-time-to-insomnia-symptoms-and-depressive-symptoms-in-adolescents/) and this one, (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5574844/ ) it’s clear that screen use affects the way our brains work. While we can’t avoid screens completely in this day and age, an awareness of how screens affect brain function can help us begin to set healthy boundaries for when and where we use them. The short of it is, screens do not equal rest.
- Both quantity and quality of sleep are important.
Closely related to #1, screen use can greatly alter sleep habits. (https://www.sleep.org/articles/ways-technology-affects-sleep/) We all know that duration of sleep is important, but just as vital is the quality of sleep. Silencing phones at night (even storing them outside the bedroom!), limiting screen use in the evenings, and going to bed earlier all improve the quality of rest, allowing our bodies to get into deeper sleep for healthier sleep cycles. And naps are important, too! (As the t-shirt says, Jesus took naps–be like Jesus!) Better sleep is essential for feeling an overall improvement in well-being. Or, said another way, restorative rest through sleep is best.
- A social media fast (or an all-out electronics fast) can work wonders to reset our minds and hearts.
While most of us can’t avoid screens completely because of work obligations, we can restrict their use. Temporarily unplugging from social media and news outlets can give our minds space to rest from the constant bombardment of information that strains our emotions, adds stress, and keeps our minds working far into the night. In the quiet space of a media fast, we can untangle heartstrings, process information and emotions, and maybe even hear the voice of God.
- It’s OK (yea, even healthy!) to say NO to good things in order to reserve energy for the most important things.
This might sound like common sense, but our family personally felt like we needed to be given permission from someone else to slow down. For a couple years before we hit the wall, our family pushed through layers and layers of stress to keep going, and going, and going. I don’t know that we said no to anything during that time. (It may help you to know that, thanks to the birth of our extremely colicky third son, we also weren’t sleeping during those years. See #2.) Looking back, the obvious healthy choice would have been to slow down and say no to good opportunities in order to better care for the important needs of our family. But we didn’t. Hence, the crash.
- After seasons of intensity, it’s OK (yea, even healthy!) to take a season of rest.
I could tell you from experience how important an extended season of rest is (recovery took us six months of “riding the wagon,” so to speak), but instead I’d like to share a passage of scripture I noticed a few months ago. When wise Solomon was building the temple, he knew how important it was to have extended seasons of rest after seasons of intense work:
“King Solomon drafted forced labor out of all Israel, and the draft numbered 30,000 men. And he sent them to Lebanon, 10,000 a month in shifts. They would be a month in Lebanon and two months at home.” 1 Kings 5:13-14
One month of the intense work of logging, followed by two months at home. When is the last time any employer worked out that kind of deal? Time to recover after seasons of intensity is a good thing.
- During long seasons of intensity, restorative rest has to become a higher priority.
Sometimes we find ourselves in extended seasons of intensity, whether from poor health or caregiving or seemingly unending work. During these prolonged seasons, the only way to gather strength is to prioritize rest above other things. For us, cutting out extra-curricular activities for a time has greatly eased our family’s stress and given us a slower pace of life, allowing for better sleep, better connectedness as a family, and healthy levels of energy despite a demanding workload. Other seasons of activity will come, but for now keeping things simple is what’s keeping us going.
- Vacations and retreats can be restful–if we plan well.
We often come home from vacation needing another vacation to recover from the first one. There are so many things to see and do in any one place, it can be tempting to try to fit it all in. For a vacation to be restorative, however, we must prioritize needs and be selective with how we spend our time. Retreats are the same way–we’re so hyper-connected these days that it takes a great deal of discipline to turn off the distractions and be present in a particular place, either alone or with other people. However, when we do, our minds and bodies are much more at ease and the time away is much more satisfying.
- Listening to our bodies is important for ongoing health.
After hitting the wall (hard), we learned to listen to our bodies’ signals of stress. When we begin to feel anxious or drained or ill, we bump rest a little higher on the priority chart. Sometimes that means going to bed at 8:30. Sometimes it means staying home instead of going out. Sometimes it means unplugging for a day (or a week). As a result, our bodies and minds are much healthier, and we bounce back to full speed more quickly.
- A good counselor can make all the difference in a mind–or a marriage–by helping us to see our needs and giving us tools for better thought patterns and communication.
Sometimes our minds can get stuck in a loop, falling into grooves of thought that become deep ruts over time. Sometimes we say the same things over and over without ever really communicating what’s on our hearts. It helps to have an outside voice to help us look into our blind spots so we can address underlying issues in a healthy way. Better emotional and relational health leads to better rest when your head hits the pillow at night.
- A support group or other close circle of community can give us rest from social stresses.
Being together with people who understand us–who need no explanations and who can heartily say, “Me too!” or “I understand!”–can provide a safe environment where we can relax and rest from social pressures. Two of the greatest ministries of the church to me over the past few years have been our Exceptional Moms group and our lifegroup. The laying down of burdens together and the relaxing of social tension through communion bring about a restfulness that’s impossible to find in isolation.
- Creative outlets can lead to a quietness of spirit that mere consumption can never produce.
J.R.R.Tolkien called us “sub-creators”–creating something new out of the world God made as a reflection of His creative image in us. Each of us is made to be a creative being, whether our medium is wood or web design, paint or pistons, flowers or fabric or food. Finding our unique areas of giftedness and making space to play there gives the mind a kind of rest not found in our consumer culture.
- Finding our identity in Christ alone is the best rest there is.
As I said before, our minds tend to run in the grooves that are already made. Personal daily reminders of who we are in Christ can help our mind to jump the ruts and carve new territory. For me, that has included posting scripture on all our mirrors (chalk markers and sticky notes are perfect) and typing up a list of affirmations to remind myself on the bad days of what is True. It’s the best way to combat what I feel, because I know where my own weaknesses are. This list is like a powerful antidote to my particular sickness. Spiritual warfare is real, and abiding in Christ is the best rest of all.
What kind of season are you in? Do you need rest? Are you pursuing it? If not, what are three changes you could make for healthier rhythms of rest?