Welcoming Rest is the theme of Cultivating Winter 2020.
It is also an ongoing invitation from the God who made you and me.
The irony hasn’t been lost on me that creating a collective work about rest has taken tremendous work and endurance. Hundreds of hours of work in fact, and many of those under stress. Bringing any edition of Cultivating into completion is a fight, especially at the production and post-production stages. This time has been especially fraught with resistance, not only in my own experience, but in so many of the lives of our team and our readers. I have never been as tired emotionally after producing an edition of Cultivating as I am with this one. However, the struggle to produce this edition has led me to look long into the issue of rest itself and what my role is in intentionally welcoming it. Some of what I seen concerning rest through this process is common knowledge to us all. (Everyone needs to rest no matter how much we may fight it, and we are better for it when we get it.) Some of it has convicted me. (Rest is not the same thing as being lazy or weak. It is a practice of obedience to the rules of our making. It is also our ultimate reward.) All of what I have seen though has welcomed me. Through these months of looking at rest and the seasons it comes to us, the quietest, most constant Voice speaks the invitation to me to live a life that welcomes rest and that Voice gives me permission to do so.
Welcome and Permission. Those are two powerful words. One is the essence of hospitality. One is the gift given by authority.
For many of us, including myself, rest is a deeply elusive experience – longed for but difficult to find. If we have grown up being valued by how hard we work; or survived dangerous periods in our lives but live scarred by those experiences; or are battered hard now by the relentless demands for action of our culture, rest seems more like a dream than anything attainable as a rhythm of life. But, everyday we are called into that state of being by invitation of our Maker.
If He calls us to it, it is possible. It is possible because He makes it possible.
Of all the things rest may be – obedience, worship, submission, surrender – rest is an act of trust. Trust is learned.
Anything learned requires practice. We learn to rest in Christ as we learn to trust Him and practice that trust.
Of Toddlers and Temper-tantrums
When I first started thinking about this letter months ago, an image came to mind again and again of the way toddlers react to being told they need to take a nap. I thought about the crying, kicking, screaming, sobbing, begging, clinging, whimpering that I have seen nearly every two-year-old carry out at the prospect of going to sleep – especially when they are too tired. I thought then about how a two-year-old still lives in me. Of course, I like to think that my practices of resistance are a little more sophisticated than a kicking and screaming two-year-old tantrum, but deep inside, that furious fight to resist resting is still alive. I try to name it something other than what it really is. I call it “too much work to get done in the hours I have.” I call it a “need to just get a few more things done today so I’m not buried tomorrow.” I call it “being responsible“… That last one -“being responsible” is the worst of them. It comes from a lie I was taught to believe was true when I knew no different. I had not yet met the God of Goodness. That word – responsible – as I grew up understanding it, tells me I must carry the world and bear the responsibility for outcomes over which I have no power or control. That was the forming ground of my unwillingness to trust that God is, in this very present moment, in control and that the world, including my world, will not fall apart if I don’t work harder today.
The foundation of my happy and true obedience is simply the willingness to believe that God is Himself good; that He is in fact truly in control; and that His intentions toward me are for good.
All the reflection on resting leads me to remember that everything seen and unseen was brought into existence by the Word and words that He sang at the beginning of creation. Words are full of mystery whether they are thought, spoken, or written. They are full of wonder and a beautiful, terrible holy power – the power to make things or to unmake them. Among the words I love best, the ones that sing and summon me to re-enchantment, are the RE words. Renaissance. Restore. Rebuild. Renew. Return. Reconcile. Reconnect. Repair. Reorder. Reclaim. Reset. Remember. Rest is for restoration – restoration. To re-store. “Re” means in a very basic way to take back, to undo something wrong, to make right something out of joint, to put something back into its original and intended condition. It is dipped in the golden beauty of hope.
When I started writing the first draft for this letter, in the very first sentence I created a typo. I wrote “reset” instead of the word “rest” – I didn’t plan to mistype it, but there it was right in what was the opening sentence. Through that tiny mistake, I was kindly reminded of a simple truth. Fifty years ago, few of us would have made much connection with the word ‘reset’; today most of us know first-hand that reset means a fresh start. It means shutting something down first in order to do that. Reboot to re-set. Stop to start over.
An element to what we experience now when we rest is about re-setting. Rebooting, as it were. Rebooting is the first step every IT professional will tell us to take when we are experiencing problems with our electronics. Oddly enough, we ourselves aren’t that different. When I am the most muddled, most dysfunctional, most prone to emotional darkness, I nearly always need to cry and then to sleep. I need to reboot. When I can no longer solve a problem, or respond in grace to someone vexing, or see my way clear to the next steps, I need to re-set. That is what rest does. It resets me. Rest renews and restores me. It is that simple and it is good.
It is good.
The way He made me is good. The way He made you is good. To be a created being is good. He said so in the beginning, and that is still true, regardless of the appearances around us. To have limits is good. To live with them in grace is a work of art. (Remember “The boundaries are set for me in pleasant places” from Psalm 16.6 and Malcolm Guite’s “bounding lines” in extraordinary his sonnet O Sapientia?) It is good that I have some strength each day to tend to the good work He planned and prepared for me to do beforehand. It is also good that I get tired when I have expended my strength and that I rest to renew that strength. It is good.
A very true and real part of cultivating what is good, true, and beautiful is simply welcoming what is good for us.
Remembering Your Own Story
Something else came clearer to me as I worked with this issue about rest ~ something I did not expect. The memory and recognition of fear – but for the first time in the remembering, without experiencing it. This season is the first time I could look without fear at the fear that I have spent my entire life fighting, the fear that made me hyper-vigilant and a guardian who fears to sleep.
I live a fairly self-chosen and self-directed life now as an adult. But that has not always been so. Fear has influenced and opposed rest for me since my earliest childhood. The memory of this surprised me a few weeks ago. Some days I really do almost forget where I came from and what God has delivered me from. Some days I actually live without any sense of real fear. But every day of my childhood into my thirties was defined by it. To be reminded where I came from quieted my chattering assumptions about why I work the way I do, and why for so many years I was afraid to go to bed at night. I practiced desperate survival skills for myself and my sisters. Later, I practiced those for myself and my daughters – in the years long before I married Peter. Fear drove me for years to work without the recourse of rest as a regular practice of life. Fear of looking back. Fear of failure. Fear of succeeding and “getting caught.” I lived according to what I saw modeled for me, in a mother who worked two jobs every day until she was killed, and in fear-driven people who worked to hide broken hearts, and did it until they too died without any conscious awareness of it. When I start to think my lack of rest is a reflection of a sinful heart unwilling to yield control, or a fierce unwillingness to trust, this soft-spoken, un-judging reminder from the God who saved me tells me something deeply important.
He knows my story and remembers every breath of it. He remembers what I cannot, and knows the story behind why I do the broken things I do. He has not condemned me for where I came from or why I still stand guard every day.
An old adage that I heard long ago is that ‘Satan drives, and Jesus leads.’ When I am driven with fear and panic, that is a pretty good indicator of who I’m listening to at that moment. This is important to note. Resisting rest for some of us doesn’t come merely out of a rebellious fight against the good intentions of our God. For some of us, resisting rest is a response to terrible experiences that later become buried memories.
Survivors of trauma are highly skilled adapters. That is why we do in fact, survive. When we leave the bounds of our “survival training grounds” the skills we learned there go with us, and remain active long after the conditions that required them are passed. Without thinking about it, we may change the “reasoning” of our actions, but the root cause is buried deep in the soil of memory and soul. If, like me, you come from a past that taught you fear as a way of life, then rest is the thing you long for because it means safety. Fear of this nature (trauma induced) is not just a temporal condition. It is not a mood or a response to a single incident or threat. Neither memory or neurons let go lightly of fear or powerlessness. Some shadows take a long time to flee. You have not failed or fallen short of faith because anxiety doesn’t leave after you have come to Christ. There is a reason Scripture tells us so much about fear and anxiety. We have a Saviour who has faced everything we face and He is profoundly sympathetic to our vulnerability. I find this comment from C.S. Lewis helpful and affirming as a good word from an older brother on the road Home with me.
“Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don’t agree at all. They are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ”
― C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer
Learn Anew What is True
It is not a sin to be exhausted because you do not know how to rest or that you are afraid to. If you learned that sleep was dangerous, or you grew up believing your value is based work instead of being, or you were taught that rest is the equivalent of being lazy or weak and is therefore despicable, then you, like me, must enter into the long process of unlearning what you have learned so you can learn anew what is true. Re-learn.
Each of us as Christ followers are transformed through the renewal of our minds and by the mystery of His indwelling us. That transformation comes by choice: our own self-selected choice, not a choice made by another forced on us. Choice is our great capacity as human being and our great distinctive. We are called upon every day to choose between life or death, blessings or the curses.
“I call heaven and earth to witness this day against you that I have set before you life and death, the blessings and the curses; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live ….”
~ Deuteronomy 30.19
Practice makes better
Cultivating and The Cultivating Project are predicated on this essential truth: The lives we live and the legacy we leave are the fruit of the choices we make and the practices we keep.
Practice is the precious gift of being able to learn and re-learn, try and grow. It is given to us by grace and in grace. As Cultivators, we practice so that we can master our crafts and be excellent in them. We practice cultivating virtue so we can become spiritually mature and filled with the fullness of Christ. We practice community and core relationships so we live out our calling within the Body of Christ and to bear a shining witness to the watching world. Whatever truth there is in the saying, “Practice makes perfect”, the striving for perfection is not the same thing as practicing for mastery or excellence. I do know for certain that practice makes better, even if it never makes perfect.
Part of our practice in cultivating the good, the true, and the beautiful is acknowledging the rhythms into which we are made as human beings. Rest is an abiding rhythm for which we are made. While it may be foreign to us as we live in a broken world, Rest is still what we are ultimately made to enjoy and to receive as reward when we have completed our life here. Rest is for day and night, in every season, in time and beyond time. When we welcome it – whether as a stranger or a well-loved friend, in its season (including winter) rest is the doorway to experiencing the way of life we live in the Kingdom of Heaven. By it we are restored.
Cultivators, by our nature and calling, live within the confines and the forms of the seasons. Winter, so often the least loved and least welcomed because of its bitter conditions and barrenness of green, is truthfully the season of rest and the birth place of renewal. It is in the resting place that the land is renewed and everything that depends upon the land, including us. Welcoming rest as we cultivate winter is our reboot to be reset and restored. Receive the invitation to enter into that grace, and trust Him to hold your seasons and you safely in place. Safety may seem difficult to reach, but I can tell you truly, friend, that it can be. He holds the worlds together, your world and mine, even when we lay down the weight of carrying it to rest in Him.
The featured image is (c) Lancia E. Smith and used with her glad permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is the Founder & Executive Director of Cultivating & The Cultivating Project. She has served in executive management, church leadership, boards, and Art & Faith organizations over 30 years. She & her husband Peter have parented 7 children, & have a flock of beloved grandchildren. Lancia loves garden and website design, beautiful typography, road trips, being read aloud to by Peter, & cherishes every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.