It's Summer! Now What? 4 Reasons Why We Don't Rest
You just ended finals. You saw your kids graduate from college or kindergarten. You finished teaching another year. You led that end-of-the-year conference. You finished a year of leadership. You completed that project for your boss.
June, for many of us, is a month of completion. Summer has arrived, and the conversations I’m having with staff and students often revolve around the question, "Now what do I do?" Many staff and students have just pulled all-nighters and have been running on coffee and adrenaline to get through that final project, those senior exit interviews, or that final conference. And suddenly they realize their exhaustion.
How do you recover from an intense season? What does it mean to get a spiritual recharge, even as you look towards another potentially busy summer with travel, weddings, work, or even more school? The image that comes to mind when I think about this post-adrenaline rush is the scene in Lord of the Rings: Return of the Kingwhen the eagles come to rescue Frodo and Sam as they lie on Mount Doom after the ring has been destroyed. As Frodo lies in the claw of the eagle you can see his physical and emotional exhaustion as well as his utter helplessness as his full weight rests upon his savior.
This is what God asks of us after we have come through seasons of completion. When we have completed our assignments or poured our lives out for the sake of students, we are given the grace to put our full weight onto the arms of God and allow ourselves to be carried into a season of recovery and rest.
Often, this type of rest can actually be harder than the challenges of the school year itself. We've been going, going, going for so long that we don't know how to begin to slow down. Here are a few reasons why I think it's difficult to allow ourselves to rest and receive deep replenishment after we've drained all our energy:
We have amnesia
We may have just run a marathon, worked conference after conference, had three weeks of no sleep, gone through emotional turmoil in relationships, or studied our hearts out. Somehow once it's all over, we just forget we went through it all. It's like we go numb to the challenges we faced and switch our focus right onto the next thing ahead of us.
One of the best ways we can slow down is to actually reflect with God about all we’ve come through—the good and the bad—and to remember how much our energy reserves have been drained.
Ask yourself: Where did I expend energy this season? How did my body reach its limits? What was emotionally or spiritually taxing about this past season?
We don't feel successful
It can feel easy to justify rest when you’re like Frodo and Sam who are at the end of an epic journey and just saw an end to all evil. But most of the time, we don't feel like that. We just exerted tons of energy, but we don't feel completely accomplished. Things still aren't finished. We think, Sure, I got that A, but what about the next class? Yeah, people had a great time at that conference, but why didn't we get more people there? I advocated and mobilized, but justice still hasn't come.
Jesus doesn't give us rest only when we've been successful. Real rest is less about an end of things and more about embracing God's mercy even when things aren't completely finished.
Ask yourself: What started or finished in this season that I can celebrate? What is still incomplete or didn't go well that I need to entrust to God and let go of?
We think recovery should be fast
Three days after surgery, I already felt irritable and stir-crazy. Even though the doctor said I needed at least two weeks of recovery, I was so ready for it to be over. When I finished a six-month sabbatical, I was surprised that it actually took a year and a half to feel fully recovered from the intensity of the last ten years of ministry.
Recovery is never fast and is usually much longer than we want it to be. Too often we jump into the next thing too quickly and don't actually allow ourselves to go through the full process of healing.
Ask yourself: How am I tempted to rush into the next thing too quickly? How can I release my own timeline and trust Jesus to take as much time with me as he needs? How can I be less critical of myself and extend more grace when I am not moving as fast as I think I should?
We think it's about doing
We've been doing things non-stop all year, so naturally when we think about rest, we still make to-do lists. On my sabbatical it felt so unnatural to not have a mile-long list of things to do, so I bought a chalkboard and wrote, To-do: laundry, cook dinner, walk. My spiritual director looked at it and said I had problems. Ha!
Rest is not about doing more things. It's about being and receiving. We are not our own doctors. We will not be the ones to replenish our souls. Jesus is the one who will do that. Rest means the initially frustrating experience of surrendering control and letting the Good Doctor do his work in us.
Ask yourself: How am I tempted to make more to-do lists in this season of rest? How do I need to let go of my own agenda and listen to Jesus instead? How does Jesus want to love me and care for me and tend to my wounds?
Whatever season of life you're in right now, take a moment and imagine Jesus as the great eagle that is coming down to rescue you. Your job is not to do more or to save the world. Your job is to rest in your Father's arms and let him love you with gentleness and grace.
Kelly Aalseth is a Regional Coordinator for Leadership Development for InterVarsity in the Greater Los Angeles Region. She is the author of Keeper of Your Life: Actively Trusting Jesus Through Chronic Pain. She enjoys helping young people connect the dots between what God is doing in their inner lives and in mission. She graduated from UCLA in 2008 and now lives with her husband in Santa Ana.