When I close my eyes and imagine the concept of rest, the image that invariably forms in my mind is a place: Rivendell, from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Alight with candles and shimmering waterfalls, humming with the music of the wind in the leaves, alive with the fluttering of birds darting from birch tree to birch tree. Merely imagining it brings a smile to my face. Peace fills the Last Homely House west of the Mountains. Surely it is in the very air you breathe, the sun that warms your face in the morning, and the cool cascade of moonlight in the evenings.
It is “as Bilbo had long ago reported, ‘a perfect house, whether you liked food or sleep or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.’ Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness.”[i]
A cure for weariness, fear, and sadness.
Doesn’t your heart exalt in those words? Mine does.
They awaken in me a longing, the same longing that lifts its head and stretches its limbs when I read Isaiah 43:19 or Revelation 21:5, and the fading embers of hope in my heart are rekindled with the promise that the Lord is making and will make all things new.
How I long for that newness. How I yearn for restoration to come. For weariness, fear, and sadness to be no more. For all that was broken to be remade. For rest, yes, and for peace. Perhaps you have felt it too. A weariness that reaches deeper than bone, a disquieting reminder that our world is broken, and that our bodies, souls, minds, and hearts cry out for renewal.
For several years now, this has been the deepest cry of my soul, a cry so fervent it has brought me to tears and to my knees more than once. But just as we do not know our longing for the sun until the long dark nights of winter, or as we forget our need for water until the dusty, stretch of summer drought, I can trace the blossoming of my yearning back to specific moment in the summer of 2014.
The memory is vivid. In the remembering I am there again.
I can barely read the words on the page. It is not because of the soot staining the once white paper or the blackened edges that crumble into flakes beneath my trembling fingers. No, it is because of the tears welling in my eyes and dripping slowly, silently, like melting frost, down my cheeks.
Two months before, a car accident brought my life to a screeching halt in an impact that shattered the bones in my face, and however much I wish to deny it, I know the healing process has only barely begun. Months—perhaps years—of surgery and recovery await me, but now that I am finally able to return to work, I am desperate to simply set the event behind me and move forward.
Only to find myself here, kneeling on my porch, unable to hold back my tears as I huddle over the Bible salvaged from the burned shell of my truck.
The spine cracks in my hands. It is a fragile thing now, and I handle it with painstaking care. The front cover is gone, and a number of pages with it. The back cover is pitted and scarred against my fingers. It is only paper and ink that has been ruined; I know that the Word itself is enduring. Still, I grieve to see the copy I studied and wept over, journaled in and prayed through, reduced to this: broken and scarred, only a shadow of what it once was. Like me.
Still, it is not the state of my Bible but the first remaining, half-burned page that has captured my gaze, and one of the still legible verses that has unleashed my tears.
“The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’” (Exodus 33:14 NIV)
Those words stir up something that aches in every mending bone. It takes a moment to identify it, for the longing contradicts my natural inclinations, but the resonance of the word rest inside me provides clarity. Rest. How I yearn for it … and shrink from it at the same time. Deep within me is a pulsing need to be doing. To strive. To achieve. To earn and to see the fruits of labor as mine instead of as from the Lord.
It was this need that drove me to press on for months in stubborn defiance of my own physical need for rest, resulting in an exhaustion so deep it nearly claimed my life.
Now, at the faint tang of smoke that still clings to the pages, I recall how I huddled on the side of the road with my truck in flames and an ambulance on the way, and all I could think of was how I longed to reach the hospital if only to sleep and escape the crushing weight of exhaustion and pain.
How even sleep in the hospital brought no rest for I was plagued by dreams in which I wandered ghostlike through my workspace, unseen and unheard and incapable of movement as others completed my tasks, until I clawed my way out of sleep, no more rested than before.
How after my release from the hospital, I spent my days at home in mind-numbing impatience at the long slog of recovery, anxious to get back to work. How long, how long, how long? I had been forced to rest physically, but I refused to enjoy it.
My mind was locked in hyperdrive; my soul unquiet, bereft of peace.
So now, as I kneel on the porch with the words of this verse sparking like electricity through every fiber of my being, it simultaneously means everything to me and nothing at all. It offers a hope I cannot yet fathom and awakens a desire that impels me to seek understanding. What is this rest the Lord promises Moses and how might it apply to me?
Could it be the balm for my soul that I have striven so earnestly to find? The peace that no achievement has unlocked and that mere physical rest has never granted?
As I ponder the question, somewhere deep within my mind that image of Rivendell blooms. There, in that place of comfort, of joy, and of beauty, surely there, I could find rest. Or could I? Even there in that glorious valley, would I not still be consumed by my need to strive?
And as I leaf through the crisp pages of a new Bible, the image that unfolds is a far different one. It centers on the God-Man, Jesus, asleep on a cushion in the stern of a boat (Mark 4:35-41), an image that assumes new clarity with the words of Exodus fresh in my mind, because I could not have imagined a less restful place. No bright and airy elven hall, no leafy bower adorned with flowers and open to the stars, only a wind-lashed boat, tossed in the throes of a storm so fierce that experienced fishermen cling to the sides for dear life, convinced they are going to die.
Surrounded by howling wind and seething waves, the God-Man sleeps in peace.
This is the sort of rest I long for and can barely imagine. A rest independent of place or circumstance. A rest of the heart and the soul. A rest the disciples might have known had they realized they were with the very presence promised to Moses in Exodus now come in the flesh.
“‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’” (Exodus 33:14b NIV)
I will give you rest …
Those words strike a familiar chord now. I find myself leafing to Matthew 12:28-30 where Jesus invites “all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (NIV)
I will give …
Realization dawns only slowly, shredding the fog of my blindness.
Rest is given.
This single truth which has proved so elusive in its simplicity is a floodgate opened, unleashing a torrent of implications. At the root of my restlessness, I unearth a fundamental misunderstanding of the Gospel that should shape my whole life. Peeling back the layers of my drive to achieve and my inability to be still, I catch myself operating on a system that equates my value with my work, as though love were a thing I must—or even could—earn. I want rest on my terms, once I feel I deserve it, or not at all.
But I never feel I have deserved it.
I am Martha, and the master is here, and I am bustling around my house, consumed by all that I long to do for Him, striving to present an offering of perfection, and strangely unworried to know that I am missing out on the gift of His presence. On the rest that His presence brings.
Rest deeper than physical. Rest that reaches both body and soul.
Rest unfathomable and unearned.
For if it is given, it cannot be the result of achievement or a product of setting or circumstance. It blossoms within the soul that basks in the love of Christ and takes root in the truth of grace freely bestowed. This is the truth of the Gospel after all, is it not? Perhaps true rest is nothing more (and nothing less) than the peace wrought by grace within my soul, and to enter into what is offered, I must simply pry my fingers from the reins and yield control. Only through yielding the burden of my own efforts and resting in His will my work be freed to become what it was meant to be: fueled by love and not in search of it. This is a yoke that is easy to bear, for its weight rests on Him and not on me.
I know this in my soul, even as I struggle to release my white-knuckled grip.
Still here too, His presence aids me, for the One who quiets the howling wind and the waves can surely quiet the raging need to work that drives me. So that like the psalmist, I may declare “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him.” (Psalm 62:1, NIV)
Today, the burned remnants of my old Bible remain a visible reminder—and whenever I am overwhelmed by weariness, sorrow, or my own strivings, I need to be reminded—of the enduring promise that rest is given by the presence of God. For as delightful as Rivendell sounds, real life tends to resemble the stormy sea of Galilee far more than the quiet elven valley, and the rest that offers true hope is the rest experienced by Jesus in the stern of that wind-tossed boat and cultivated by the attitude described in Isaiah 26:3: “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You.” (NIV)
And doesn’t your heart just exalt in those words too?
[i] Tolkien, J.R.R, The Fellowship of the Ring
The featured image is courtesy of Aaron Burden on Unsplash. We give our hearty thanks for Aaron’s generosity and his marvelous eye for God’s glorious beauty.
Gillian Bronte Adams is a writer, wanderer, and wordsmith who is rarely found without a coffee in hand and rumored to pack books before clothes when she hits the road. Working in full-time youth ministry left her with a passion for journeying alongside teens as they follow after Christ. Combined with her lifelong love of story, that passion drew her to pursue the art of writing young adult fantasy novels, like The Songkeeper Chronicles, that ring with the echoes of eternity. Her favorite stories feature outcast characters traveling down broken roads, through epic battles, and onward toward adventure. At the end of a long day of typing, she can be found saddling her wild thing and riding off into the sunset, provided she has not already settled down a mug of coffee and a very long book.