I have always loved retreats because they pull us away from the tyranny of the mundane and help (force us?) to relax, reflect, pray, fellowship, and worship. But I have to be honest. There’s another part of me that feels just a little bit guilty about it. After all, there is always so much more to do. There are always so many around us who are still lost and in need of Jesus.
My church is depending on me, my family needs me, my friends need me, the world needs me! There are gifts to buy, papers, letters and emails to write, books to read, phone calls to make, people to reach out to. Who has time to relax and pull away from the crush of life’s demands?
What will happen if I actually and purposefully take time me time off to rest?
A friend of mine once asked me, “How did Jesus do it? How did He handle all the pressures of having masses of people constantly clamoring for his attention?” The answer God showed me came from Luke 5:16 which says, “But [Jesus] would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”
There are other recorded instances where Jesus went away like Matthew 14:23 (after feeding the 5000; cf. John 6:15) and Mark 1:33-37—“Everyone is looking for you!” (cf. Luke 4:42).
Here we can see quite clearly that even God incarnate, precisely because He was human, needed a break! We are not only designed for hard work, we are also designed for sleep and rest. But why? Why did God design us to need sleep? We could presumably have been designed to need no sleep at all. Just think of all that could be accomplished if sleep was no longer a need!
I think that the need for rest (like a need for shelter and food) reminds us first and foremost that we are finite, frail, dependent, and weak. That is to say, we are not God almighty. Thus, everything decidedly does not depend on us.
Sleep is an act of faith because it forces us to trust God. It forces us to entrust ourselves and our responsibilities to a faithful God since while we are sleeping we are completely helpless and unable to do anything “useful” at all. This is part of the reason why so many people have so much trouble sleeping, because they have trouble trusting.
In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus calls us to come to Him when we are tired and He will give us rest, not more work! And let’s face it, some of us struggle to say “no” because we secretly believe we are both indispensable and irreplaceable. Are we really? We sometimes act as if God simply cannot get by without us!
Now don’t get me wrong. We must work and work hard. The One for whom we work is utterly worthy of our best and most diligent efforts. And yet, God did not make us infinite beings. You simply cannot be all, do all, and know all—and that is okay! We can truly rest in letting God remain God even while we take a much-needed rest, just as Jesus Himself modeled resting to His twelve disciples—and to us as well.
Accept your limitations as a gift from God to teach you to trust Him more. And in your finitude, intentionally take regular breaks for rest, prayer, reflection, and fellowship. Put it in your busy schedule to rest so it does not get pushed out!
This is not just good for your physical and mental health. It is good for your spiritual health and is a concrete way to follow Jesus Christ, who regularly chose to rest even when everyone was clamoring for His attention and the whole world was in need of saving.