Sure, sickness isn’t fun. It frustrates plans, drains your energy, and introduces all kinds of discomfort to life. If you’re like me, when you begin to feel the early signs of sickness, you don’t rejoice. You dread it a bit, hoping you’ll be able to fight it off but knowing you likely won’t. Sickness, sadly, is often a process you just have to endure. It’ll pass in time, but until it does, you’re stuck with it and with all that it brings.
But one thing I’ve learned to appreciate about sickness is its ability to make me rest.
I seem to remember an illustration from some book I read about a guy who said he wouldn’t mind having a major surgery because it would force him to stop moving for a while. The point I remember taking away from the story was that his life was so filled with work that he couldn’t slow down, couldn’t rest. Honestly, there’s probably more relevance to me there than I’d like to admit. But nevertheless, I’ve found his point to be true. Sickness forces me to stop, to cease from my usual busyness and give my body a chance to heal. And in those moments, I find true rest.
Saturday was one of those days. I’d just been treated for a sinus infection and some bronchitis, and I was feeling it. But I also didn’t have any responsibilities in urgent need of my attention, so I could let myself relax. And I did. I slept in a bit, walked around a holiday market on campus, enjoyed a quiet afternoon by myself, and spent some time with friends that night. I woke up the next morning having slept well, and I felt more rested than I had in a long time.
I know my brain enough to know that a big part of my ability to rest that day was due to me feeling justified in devoting that day to rest and recreation. When I’m busy, even my off days tend to have agendas, which can diminish the amount of restfulness I gain from them. So the mixture of minimal responsibilities and sickness allowed me to embrace more fully the opportunity to relax. I get that, and I’m thankful for it. But as I enjoy the benefits of rest and feel more motivated to do the work set before me, I’m wondering if this is what God had in mind when he set the Sabbath day in place.
My view of the Sabbath typically tends to look like just another agenda item in my week. On some days, I work. On some days, I run errands. On the Sabbath day, I rest. Check, check, check. But viewing it that way takes away from the point of it, I think. While I ought to prioritize rest, disciplining myself to engage in it, I wonder if I’m missing something by treating it as just one more thing to do each week. Maybe the key is to see it like I saw Saturday: a day to enjoy the life God’s given me and to walk in the freedom he provides. Maybe if I did that more often, I’d feel more rested all around. Maybe if I considered this approach more often, I’d learn to walk more closely with God all week long. Maybe if I rested better each week, I’d be more productive at work too.
I’m not sure I’ve got it figured out. I’m sure I still have more to learn about work and rest. But I’m thankful for a day like Saturday and for the sickness that brought it about, and I’m thankful for the way God was able to use it in my life. And I hope, by his grace, to rest better as he gives the opportunity.
Note: I think the illustration I referenced earlier is either from Your Money Counts by Howard Dayton or Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero, if anyone is interested in finding the source.
Life has been busy for some time. That’s nothing new. Between school, jobs, and ministry, my weeks stay pretty full. I enjoy my work, and I’m grateful for the Lord’s provision. I know the busyness isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But I’ve noticed myself feeling worn lately, looking for a break but not finding one.
But it’s not just busyness that’s been weighing on me. There’s a heaviness to life these days that I can’t quite escape. People I love are walking through great difficulties, times of fierce testing, and prolonged seasons of waiting. Weariness and discouragement affect many of us. We’re working to bear each other’s burdens, but we’re feeling pressed.
And personally, I’ve also been wrestling with more confusion and fear lately than I’m used to. As I’ve tried to discern the Lord’s leading and sought to obey him, I’ve found myself often faltering, often straying, and often feeling more out of step than surefooted. I want to be faithful, but I feel more faithless. I want to be strong, but I feel weak.
What do you do in such times? How do you respond when life seems heavier than normal?
I’m reminded of the words of Jesus:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
A few observations from this passage bring some comfort in this season.
First, rest is found in Jesus. I’m tempted to look to other sources for relief: to entertainment or to escape or to some new experience. But rest isn’t really found anywhere else but in Jesus, in knowing him and joining him in his work.
Second, we’re invited into rest. In spite of our sin, in spite of our doubt, and in spite of our weakness, Jesus loves us and offers us rest. He knows our state, knows our need, and brings relief.
Third, the road does not end here. There is a way forward, a way of good work and learning from the Lord himself. Thus, rest does not necessarily mean we cease to be active, but rather that we learn to follow the lead of the good shepherd (John 10:11). When I’m tempted to believe I’m stuck, that I don’t have anywhere to go, Jesus’s words remind me the path continues on with him.
Though I’m not good at it, I’m trying to learn to rest in Jesus. He is good. He is kind. He is faithful. So we can trust him in our weariness and find rest that satisfies our souls like nothing else.
Outside, the winter’s chill. Inside, the warm light’s glow. The atmosphere is still As Christmas carols ring, O’erpow’ring all ill will That often dwells below And changing hearts until We all begin to sing.
Her loved one died a few years ago, and she feels like she’s gotten past the initial waves of grief. But at Christmas, she finds it hard to hold back tears.
His situation isn’t comfortable, but he seems to have accepted that. He understands he can’t force change, and he’s decided to wait for the Lord. But during the holiday season, he struggles a bit more than usual to be okay with the way things are.
They’ve prayed for children, and they long to be parents, but they remain a family of two. They understand the Lord is good. They don’t question that truth. But when the weather starts to change and the lights and decorations begin to go up around the town, they feel the ache grow a little stronger.
Christmas is a source of great joy. From the generosity of friends and family to the warmth of love all around, we have much to rejoice in during the holiday season. We’re reminded of Jesus’s birth, of God’s gift of love for a lost world, and we revel in the hope we have through him. Despite the darkness and despair of the rest of the year, Christmas comes as a deep breath, a welcome rest, a warm reminder that light always endures.
Why, then, can this season also make us sad?
In part, I think it’s because of the perspective this season brings. We see in Christmas a bit of the way things ought to be. Peace on earth and good will among men (Luke 2:14) is glimpsed at Christmas, even in a world that remains far from the King. And when we see more clearly how things ought to be, we see more clearly and feel more deeply the way things are now broken. We feel loss a bit more acutely, longing for the fellowship we can no longer access. We struggle with deferred hopes, the sting of present sorrows sinking a bit deeper into our souls. We know the world is broken, and we grieve.
But the sadness of this season is really more bittersweet, for sorrow doesn’t get the final word. We’re reminded of our loss and grief at Christmas, but we’re reminded too of the way God is making all things new. Because of Jesus, everything has changed. Sorrow turns to joy, suffering turns to growth, loss is turned to gain, and confusion is swallowed up in a greater certainty. Pain and hardship are real, but they exist as parts of a larger story, one which makes sense of them and redeems them. Christmas affirms the darkness of the night and promises a bright and fast-approaching dawn.
It isn’t wrong to mourn when we feel sad this season. The absences we feel are real and meaningful. This broken world is a painful world. But we can also rejoice with a joy that runs far deeper than any despair, a love that runs far deeper than any heartbreak, and a hope that runs far deeper than any sorrow. Christmas reminds us that the sad things are temporary things. We ache now because things are not the way they should be, but we are approaching a day when all will be well. So grieve and rejoice. Feel deeply the loss as well as the love. And look to the one whose birth brought hope for all hurting hearts.
I do not want this weakness anymore,
This want of strength, this will so rife with lack.
I tire of always falling further back,
Forgetting truths I knew just days before.
Corruption keeps its hold upon my core,
Each fault of mine another little crack,
Each inability a grave attack
In this, the never ending inner war.
But at the end of my ability,
Your grace, sufficient for my ev’ry need,
Reminds me of the testifying host
Of those who grasp their own futility
And trust instead your ev’ry word and deed,
So trials become their joy, the cross their boast.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
I love the book of James. I’ve spent more time in this little book than I’ve spent in many other places in Scripture, and I’ve found that further study and meditation often leads to fresh discoveries within the text. Even after years of reading these same words, I keep finding new things. The discoveries aren’t always comforting, though.
How many little moments will we find
Were not without significance at all
But were the subtle graces of a kind
Untarnished by the twistings of the fall?
How many hours of testing will reveal
Themselves to be the reasons for our joys?
How many wounds will show they served to heal?
How many pains upset the serpent’s ploys?
How many seasons thought to have no end
Did end one day with mercy fresh and new?
How many things seemed only to offend
But deepened both my love and faith in you?
How often is there more than eyes can see?
How little do we understand of thee.