By Laura Dingman
Bzzzt. Bzzzt. Bzzzt. Your alarm clock interrupts the rest you desperately need. It’s time to rise and shine. Well, rise anyway. You can’t shine until you get some coffee.
You drag yourself through the morning routine, readying everyone else you’re responsible for as well as yourself. The day’s agenda floods your mind. Drop-offs. E-mails. Meetings. Conversations. To-do lists.
A rhythm ties it all together. Even if we move through it unaware, there is a beat and a pace guiding us.
It’s been this way since the beginning . . .
In the beginning, God was.
Through Him all things were made.
lakes, rivers, and seas,
mountains, plants, trees,
Every living creature. Good. Very good.
All moving in perfect rhythm to the heartbeat of God.
In time, as God saw fit,
Somewhere in that rhythm,
You were created.
At first, hearing God’s rhythm was easy, unforced, like breathing.
But as you grew older and, as some would say, wiser,
More and more rhythms entered the picture.
Just like the unforced rhythms of creation were broken by the entrance of sin,
The regular beat of our lives is broken by the hundreds of thousands
of rat-a-tat-tats vying for our attention.
With our Creator, our parents, our siblings, our extended family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers.
Goals and dreams.
What do I want to be when I grow up?
What will my life be like?
What could be in store for me?
Wonderful dreams of the possibilities of a hopeful future.
And then reality hits us with . . .
Expectations and responsibilities.
Work, deadlines, bills, chores, more work, alarm clocks, endless task lists.
These all begin to drown out the rhythm of God,
Sometimes so much that it becomes a faint drumming.
Even to the point where we cannot hear it at all.
And in the middle of the chaos, God says, “He who has ears, let him hear!”
When that central rhythm is not audible,
From the one so very vital to our existence,
So pivotal to keeping things together,
Chaos begins to sneak in.
It only feels a little awkward at first,
but then things begin to spiral out of control.
No matter how hard we try to pull it back together, it seems impossible.
The demands of life compete with the deep cries of our souls. We struggle to hear our creator. We long for him, but it is just too crowded. There is just . . . too . . . much . . . noise.
The noise of the alarm clock; the to-do list we cannot finish; the never-ending piles of paper and laundry and stuff.
The noise of the demands of life; the pressure to produce and perform; the broken lives of people around us.
The noise of the struggles we cannot conquer on our own; the letting people down; letting ourselves down; letting God down. Over and over again.
We want margin. Space. New life. Fresh air. Light. Hope. Peace. Silence.
We ache for all of this, yet in the church, we are the most exhausted and burned-out we have ever been. According to pastorburnout.com . . .
• 33 percent of pastors felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
• 40 percent of pastors and 47 percent of their spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.
• 80 percent of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouses and believe pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.
• 90 percent work more than 50 hours per week.
• 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.1 That’s 1,500 leaders out of the game.
We are tired. We are worn out. We are burned out on religion.
And we’re the ones leading the charge.
We know rest is a command. We see it modeled in the creation account, and God commanded it in the Ten Commandments. He made it clear. So why don’t we do it?
In his book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, Dr. Richard Swenson explains how the pursuit of progress in our culture robbed us of margin. We live in a culture that demands progress. More. Better. Faster. Stronger. That pursuit, over time, has proven to wear us down.
“That progress flows strongly in the direction of increased pressure on the individual and on the system has come as a rude shock to almost all observers,” Swenson says.2 The wearying side effects of progress caught us off guard.
Of course, there is a time and a place where progress is necessary. Building new things brings vitality to the kingdom of God. The only problem is when all we are doing is building and we are never slowing down enough to rest at the feet of Jesus. Work isn’t the problem. Work existed in the Garden when God said it was all very good, before sin entered the picture. We were made to work, but we were also created needing rest.
Because of our culture of progress, our identities get wrapped up in what we do. We begin to think, If I stop, who am I? We work to earn the acceptance and approval of others and of God.
But when we choose to rest, we declare our humanity. We proclaim God is God and we are not. We broadcast to ourselves and others that we have limits (something we don’t always want to broadcast) and that we accept those limits as good. We cultivate humility. We announce we trust God to provide for us and protect us. We surrender to God’s boundaries for our lives.
In a culture where progress shouts, “Do more! Achieve more! Work harder!” finding time for rest goes against the raging current. So how do we actually practice rest?
In my life, it’s been a struggle. As a recovering perfectionist and a people pleaser, I battle the screaming culture. It takes intentionality for all of us to heal from this place of weariness. We must begin to release the expectations of culture and of others, clinging only to those things God truly expects of us.
His list is fairly short. He simply says, “Follow me.” We must begin to trust who God says we are. We can release those expectations only as we embrace an identity rooted in Christ’s love for us.
We must begin to practice the presence of God and of people, to be fully present in the moment—to set down our mobile devices, turn off the notifications, shut down our televisions, and look at one another face-to-face.
Swenson says, “We must have some room to breathe. We need freedom to think and permission to heal. Our relationships are being starved to death by velocity. No one has the time to listen, let alone love.”3
I believe we are starving for space, for margin . . . for someone to see us. Our souls ache for the rest we were created for. People in our culture long to be known and seen, listened to and loved. We cannot begin to meet them with what they most need when we are too busy building the better, faster, stronger in the name of Jesus.
And isn’t that exactly where the enemy wants us to be? Tired. Worn out. Burned out on religion. Jesus had a cure for that. He said,
“Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message).
Let’s begin to walk in the invitation of our God into unforced rhythms of grace. Of rest. Of hope. Of peace. This invitation will never disappoint.
2Richard A. Swenson, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Resources to Overloaded Lives (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2004), 26.
Laura Dingman is creative arts director at The Creek in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is the author of Life Rhythms: Learning to Live in God-Centered Time and I Am Found: Quitting the Game of Hide and Seek with God and Others.