I am bundled in hat and mittens, scarf and winter coat and still the chill in the barn is biting. The wind is already cold, and the temperature is in free-fall. There is thin, softened gold afternoon light in Ohio this time of year, and I’ve brought a lantern to help it along in the shadowy building. Our barn is old, about 180 years, and doesn’t have a whole lot of electricity in it, thus yielding dark corners. Also owing to its age, it has many, many nooks and cracks from old stalls to feed rooms to honest-to-goodness dungeon quality chambers. There are a hundred places a sneaky black rabbit might hide.
My daughter and I keep a few assorted rabbits primarily because they provide me with some of the best fertilizer on the planet for my garden. We feed them, and in a way they feed us. In spring and summer, we move their hutches into the garden where they’re closer to our bolted lettuce and extra collard greens, and their manure is closer to vacant beds in need of extra nitrogen. But when the days shorten and the frost falls heavily, we move them into the barn and tuck them in with generous amounts of hay. They’re fed a steady diet of grain and carrots with the occasional cauliflower stem. It should be a rabbit’s version of heaven.
Maggie (Magnolia) Durbin Rabbit escaped from her hutch a couple of days ago. We panicked and searched and hunted and could find no trace. But today, she has been sighted, and in fact is just barely out of reach. I have tempted her with lettuce leaves, which sort-of-almost worked. She grabbed them and pulled them back into her hiding place. I sit patiently, quietly, hoping that she will come just close enough to grab. If you’ve ever wondered about that saying “quick like a bunny”, let me just tell you, it’s a real thing. I can’t even touch her! The very second I move at all, it’s almost like Wile E. Coyote disappearing off a cliff: one frame is a bunny, the next frame is empty hay.
Here’s what I’ve learned: it is nearly impossible to catch a rabbit that doesn’t want to be caught.
And yet, here I sit, on the hay-strewn floor, freezing and trying my very best to not breathe too loudly, blink too quickly, or look in any way threatening. Can I just say how hard it is to look like a rabbit’s best friend when you’re exasperated at said rabbit?? How can she not understand that I am just trying to return her to safety? Her hutch is soft with fresh hay, grain is offered freely, and it is a protective enclosure against all manner of raccoon or fox or coyote. Her black eyes glare at me, skeptical at best but far more like terrified.
“Just eat your lettuce and relax for two seconds, bunny!” I whisper under my breath.
Why doesn’t she see that I am not the enemy? That I’m only looking out for her best interest? All she can see is the freedom I am trying to take away. She won’t be able to explore and nibble winter grass and burrow in new and exciting places. She sees me as the jailer, not as the benevolent rabbit shepherdess that I picture for myself.
The thing is: I know what’s best, too. Just like that ill-tempered rabbit whose brain capacity cannot begin to compare with that of a human caretaker, I often find myself trying to escape from things that feel like traps: rhythms of life, responsibilities, Sabbath rest, good works prepared in advance for me to do. January, with its cabin fever and quiet contemplative pace, has never been my favorite. It feels a bit constraining. Ironically, the very things that look a bit like prisons are the things intended for us by a Good Shepherd who designs this life for us! And everything that comes from His hand is meant for good, to bear some amazing fruit: the saving of our souls.
I am not a huge fan of rest. That may be a gross understatement. At least in the mental realm, I thrive on work, especially creative work. I’ve never really had a life verse, but if I were picking one for myself, it would be
“. . . aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands . . .”
1 Thessalonians 4:11 (ESV)
Rest is hard. I can argue that it is untimely from a theological standpoint, too. Hebrews declares that there is rest coming when we enter the Promised Land, but today we are here to labor. Work was the first thing given to Adam and Eve in the garden before the fall, and I truly believe it will continue into eternity. I have hopes of taking carpentry classes from the carpenter’s Son, studying music with David and Asaph, honing my gardening knowledge while laboring beside Ruth and Boaz, stacked stone work from Nehemiah.
When people start talking about retreats and rest, I get a little itchy, a little uncomfortable. Workshops? Yes. Seminars and intensives? Absolutely. Restful weekend? Uh, but what are we going to do?
I understand my running rabbit. If someone told me to sit in my hutch and eat and take it easy, I’d bolt, too!
But what if rest is not so much an activity or even the lack of activity, but instead is a place? A sense of hutch and home? Rest, for me, is found in being where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to do. It is not actually the complete absence of labor, but rather finding peace in doing the labor I’m called to do.
Maybe work can actually be rest, when it is done as our Creator designed it? I am blessed beyond measure that the work He has called me to is work that I deeply enjoy: caring for my little ones, loving my husband, restoring our home, gardening, creating in clay. Is it really that simple? That the hutch we’re placed in is both the work and the rest at the same time?
I don’t know if Jesus meant this life or the one to come when He said, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, ESV) What I do know is that sometimes we’re working awfully hard to spin a hamster cage that He doesn’t really intend for us to turn. I know not everyone is called to do things they love at all times. Life and labor and love can be difficult and wearying and painful here in this broken land. But I also believe in an infinitely detailed and loving Creator, and I think He has designed restoration into each of our lives. Sometimes He restores through forcing us to bed with a cold for a week! Sometimes His healing work is done in our spirits when our bodies have to maintain the pace that is given to us in busier seasons of life.
We strive against it at times, seeing the labor or rest He calls us to as a jail cell. We think it’s too hard, it will take too long, it will be too hurtful. We don’t have that much strength to offer, that much love to give. But, friends! He does! Christ’s strength is beyond imagination, His love is infinite. Come to Him! He is the rest! We’re far too quick to fix our eyes on the thing He’s asking us to do or change or be, and that can be daunting and terrifying. How much better to fix our eyes on Him, the Author and Perfecter, who has purchased peace for us all. The weary, the heavy-laden, the busy, and the distracted are called to come and rest. Come and lay down all the burdens born of hearing the world’s demands for productivity and value and success. If only we can see He is not the jailer, but the Good Shepherd, offering green pastures and still waters and restored souls.
A couple of days later, I took a broccoli stem with me to the barn. I laid it on the ground while feeding grain to our other hobbit-rabbits and was rather unconcerned with being sneaky or quiet. Going quite normally about the business of caring for our rodents, I looked down to see Maggie, voraciously nibbling on the broccoli. Reaching down without any special swiftness and something far more like irritation, I easily nabbed the black bunny, returned her to her hutch and locked the door. I literally danced out of the barn and back towards the house with joy at my freshly captured rabbit. She resides there quite contentedly still.
I have no idea what made her decide to come and eat without fear.
I don’t always understand what summons my restless heart back to a place of contentment in Christ and His Word either. I do know that a deep-rooted belief that the Scriptures are true and His ways are good and right and beautiful are invaluable in calling us back.
The work that prodigal son was doing in the far country was probably not terribly different from the work he had done at home, but it was disturbing, unfulfilling, dissatisfying labor because it was born of rebellion and anger. Sometimes prodigals need to remember that they’re loved and lavished and the labor at home with the Father is good.
Suggested listening: Jess Ray “Runaway”
The featured image is courtesy of nature photographer Colter Olmstead on Unsplash.
Second-generation homeschooling mom of five wee snickbuzzards, Jordan Durbin is a maker of humble pottery, fine artist, calligrapher, gardener, pickle maker, baker of all things gluten-inclusive and butter-laden, violinist, vocalist, rabbit raiser, wife of one good man, lover of her blessed Redeemer. She has a Bachelor’s degree in fine art from Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana. She is an avid coffee drinker, reader, and published children’s book author and illustrator. She aspires to proclaim the resurrection with every moment of her life.
“But what if rest is not so much an activity or even the lack of activity, but instead is a place?”
Thank you for these thoughts, Jordan. The exhortation to find rest and peace in the labor we’re called to is just what I need in this season.
Thank you, Jordan, for the parable of Maggie the recalcitrant bunny…and for the image of rest as a place, as Home. That is a good word that I will be pondering in the weeks ahead.
So lovely, Jordan. Thank you for this reminder!
“What I do know is that sometimes we’re working awfully hard to spin a hamster cage that He doesn’t really intend for us to turn.”
Oh, how I feel this. Thank you for the reorienting words in this essay. And for reminding me who God is for us.
(Ironically, I’m laid up in bed with flu while reading this!)
I love how you caught her and protected her without even really trying to be quiet. (All that Dwarvish racket!!) And it was for her own good. Sure makes me think about why I resist the Father’s prodding and hutchmaking for me. Good words.
Jordan, this is beautifully written, thank you!
I’m so delighted that this resonated with you!
I continue to pray that rest is home and home is rest for us all, especially now.
You’re most welcome!!
Rebecca D. Martin
Praying that the good grace of the Good Shepherd holds your compass always to true north!!
YES! Sometimes we rabbit-herders need to be stilled, too!
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