The Most Overlooked Spiritual Tool Should be Your First Go-To

Lately, the idea of dying my hair keeps coming up. My hair started to go grey early, before I was 21, and I dyed it for years.

I stopped dying my hair five years ago. I was helping care for my father as he died, and I didn’t have time, and I didn’t want to do it anymore. I wanted to know that time was passing. It felt important.

But lately, I’ve been thinking of starting back up and getting EYELASH EXTENSIONS and I wonder, Is this a mid-life crisis? Please, God, no. I had one of those already, four years ago. It was gnarly. A very rough process of getting myself “back on track” to the life I wanted to live.

I learned a lot during that time, though, and part of what I learned is this: signals of the soul are not to be ignored.

Lately, I’ve been dreaming of rest.

If you don’t know Jen Hatmaker, you should. She’s a Christian leader in Texas who lost a lot when she gave an interview in 2016 stating her clear, unambiguous, enthusiast support of marriage equality. The response was swift and the consequences for not toeing the Conservative Christian line – to question what it means to be “Evangelical” – were devastating. The largest Christian bookstore chain in the country stopped carrying her books. She lost a lot of friends. Longtime supporters denounced her.

How did she get through this? For one thing, she spoke up more. But also, in one interview she blew my mind when she said the main spiritual tool she is relying on lately is rest. She’s resting.

It was like a door opened for me. Of course. In the Judeo-Christian creation myth, even God rests.

We can fall into the trap of thinking that rest is a time-out from our “real life,” which is work. Productivity. American culture, after all, is go go go. Even our fun has to be active and impressive. We regard a lack of ambition with suspicion. When asked how we are, most of us answer, “Busy.”

To say you’re happy where you’re at is regarded as lazy, perhaps even stupid.

But rest is not sloth and it's nothing to be ashamed of.

Rest is related to restoration.

Where are the holes in my life, I wonder, as my soul cries out for rest? Where are the places that need to be restored? But then, when have I ever been whole, I ask?

Growing up in a trauma state, an alcoholic home, you grow like a tree that’s developed under too strong a wind, your branches straining to one side, your face turned away entirely.

You grow differently from how you would have, under less strenuous conditions, and you seem strange if you relocate to the relatively gentle environment of a neighborhood park. 

In the harsh climate of my own development, I strived to escape, to survive. Always one foot out the door. My striving didn’t always look like striving on the outside. I was an underachiever in school. I was in the gifted program, but I was mostly unconcerned with my grades. Who cared about roman numerals and long division, after all? Whatever about dates and names.

Who could care about math or history when my mom was gathering our things in black garbage bags and leaving my dad over and over again and I never quite knew what was coming next? So, this striving, this movement toward SOME OTHER PLACE (sounds like a goal, sort of doesn't it?), this striving toward some other kind of life, has been essential, has been life-saving, and has, maybe, outlasted its necessity.

But this question, when have I ever been whole? I’m starting to answer differently.

I’m starting to think I am whole.

Maybe I've been whole all along.

During Jen Hatmaker’s rest, she read books and watched TV. She spent time with her family, and ate, and talked with friends. She traveled.

She eventually wrote a book and went on the Moxie Matters tour. So, big things came out of this rest. But we can’t rest as a trade for more work. Rest is its own task. It’s restoration. Even fields need to go fallow to produce. It’s cyclical. In this way, rest is part of the work. Part of a life.

I’m doing a workshop with Jennifer Blanchard right now, and when she posed the question, “What could you be doing to reach your goals?” I found myself answering, somewhat lamely, "Exercise, read, spend time with friends. Travel."

There’s a lot I want to do that has nothing to do with my goals. Or maybe it has everything to do with my goals.

Thinking about God’s rest, again, I want to say, “Even God needed rest.” Something about the cadence of that sentence sounds nice to me. Four words. But that isn’t what the texts say.

The texts don’t say, “On the seventh day, God was worn out, and irritable. God was snappish with his family and felt like screaming.” They don’t say, “God had a spiritual crisis and wondered if anything had any meaning at all.” No, they don’t say, “God needed rest.” Just: God rested. 

Just resting is good enough. God rested. And then the day of rest was made sacred. Was holy. Rest is not nothing, the story tells us. Instead, rest is divine. 

I haven’t learned to take the bus yet in my new city and I want to. I want to take the train downtown and go to the art museum. I want to take a trip to Seattle to visit the Aquarium and reconnect with old friends there.

I want to take my son swimming after school and practice swimming laps with him and play tag in the rollicking “lazy river.” (It’s so not lazy, you guys. This is the Pacific Northwest. It’s nothing like the lazy rivers in the Midwest where I’m from. In Central Illinois, you can grab a cozy for your beer, hop in an inner tube, and just chill. Here, the rivers are deadly and even the lazy rivers at the pool are extreme. It's wild.)

I want to try out volunteering at the public library and help clear ivy at Tryon Creek State Park, and work on trail restoration at Forest Park (the largest urban forest in the country.) I want to hike the up and down terrain of the soggy winter forest, everything dripping and glistening, moss and ferns EVERYWHERE.

I want to let go of this idea that “success” is the most important thing about me.

I want to release the idea that if I don’t “succeed” I’ll have failed in what I came to do here as a human. Is that true, I’m wondering? For the first time, I’m thinking: maybe not.

I’m tired of being so conditional with myself. Last year, I took a break like this, in February, or March, and I started this project at the end of it. All of this writing rose to the surface by taking a step back. By hiking and going to the mall to buy a new sweater, and taking a class. By reading a thousand books and watching movies, with no direction, whatsoever, except to rest. To restore.

You mean, that works? part of me asks. Yes. I answer. Rest is a real thing.

Yesterday, I just found myself wondering, What is this all FOR anyway? Ugh. All these GOALS. Who cares?

I have to be careful with that who cares feeling. I have to be sure it’s not born of collapse. That it’s an act of free will. Surrender is a funny thing. It’s chosen and not. Can I surrender when I’m not at death’s door? How bad does it have to get before I surrender? That’s something I’m wondering lately, too.

I find myself longing for time off. For respite.

Yesterday, as I came out of an appointment, I looked down at the ground, and it was just COVERED with moss. I remembered how as a child I’d make these little structures out of bark and carpet them with “ant grass” – moss. I loved how it came up from the ground in strips. I could shove my fingers under it and come away with dirt under my nails, the musky smell of decay and new growth intermingled.

Rest.

How do you rest?

For me, this rest period has started with a lot of reading. I’ve been reading novels over break. I have a weird thing about gifts and have a hard time receiving them, asking for them, imagining what I even want (issues, you know) but I’d bought myself this novel (The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg) and I hadn’t yet started reading it. So I asked my husband to just wrap it. I knew I’d be delighted to open it. That it was a gift I really wanted.

I read The Story of Arthur Truluv over break in one day. We went to a cabin, and I wore my pajamas for two days straight. When I needed to go out, I just pulled on my boots and a robe, then my coat, and I went out to see the sunrise. To look for bunny tracks and mouse tracks in the snow.

So, as I rest, I’d still love to hear from you. I’d still love to hear what you’re up to, or what you’re struggling with, or what you’re wondering about or thinking about yourself. I’ll write you back if you email me.

And you can connect with me on Facebook at Melissa Joan Walker if you want, or follow me on Instagram @melissajoanwalker. I have a couple new things I’m starting that I’ll announce there. And I’ll be there, posting about my adventures in rest.

And I’ll be back here soon, too, to tell you about all about it.

With so much love in the meantime, from me to you.

Ahhh. Rest.