Permission to Rest

"'Good Christian women don't take breaks—they serve, and serve and serve until they collapse.' That mantra took a toll on my health and my spiritual life." by Kathleen Bustamante

I know some women who binge on Netflix series for 24 hours and enjoy every minute of it. I am not one of those women. 

Keep going. Don’t stop. So many things to do! This has been my mantra since I gave birth to my second child five years ago. My days race by at light speed, packed with activities and requirements: make a living, raise a family, connect with friends, serve at church, volunteer at school. The infinite to-do lists leave me exhausted and increasingly bitter. 

I find myself angry at my husband when, after a long day at work, he turns on the television and relaxes. Who does he think he is just coming home and putting his feet up at the end of the day? Doesn’t he know how busy I am? When do I get a break?

The problem is that, unlike my husband, I have major difficulty allowing myself to rest. 

While a portion of this lack of rest is strictly a result of motherhood or wifedom, I must admit a good portion of this perpetual activity is self-induced. It started 20 years ago when I entered college at 18. I was in constant motion from morning to night. I was the anomaly student who actually preferred 8 a.m. lectures. Days were packed with classes, work, friends and dating. My friends often remarked “you’re always going somewhere!” I wore my “busy-ness” as a badge of honor. Deep down I equated being busy with being important. 

This hopeless idea was perpetuated as I returned to church after a period of wandering during my college and young adult years. Right around this time, blogs, articles and church teachings abounded emphasizing the virtues of the Proverbs 31 woman who “gets up before dawn,” whose “lamp burns late into the night” and who”carefully watches everything in her householdand suffers nothing from laziness.” None of these articles and teachings mentioned the importance of rest, and in my naiveté, I believed rest was for lazy women. Good Christian women don’t take breaks—they serve, and serve and serve until they collapse. 

My constant activity took a toll on my health and on my spiritual life. Without enough rest, I would become sick frequently and my packed schedule crowded out regular quiet time with Jesus. 

Things changed one morning when, for no reason in particular, I woke up earlier than usual. Dragging myself out of bed while the family slept, I curled up under a blanket on the couch, coffee mug in hand, and allowed myself 20 minutes in scripture. Ignoring the to-do list pressing on my brain, I focused on that 20 minutes with Jesus. And He rewarded my efforts by leading me to a message from Psalm 127:2 that I so desperately needed to read: “It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to His loved ones.” 

“Lord,” I prayed, “You mean it’s okay for me to rest? Not only on the Sabbath? You mean…like…I can rest every day?” What a gift! I needed permission from above to carve out time to take a break. And as a result, I became a much happier person. Rather than tackling emails first thing in the morning, I began to prioritize quiet time in the Bible and in prayer. Miraculously, I was still able to find time to meet life’s demands and carve out moments to sit down and play with my kids, read a chapter in a book, play tennis with my husband or grab coffee with a friend. 

Some weeks I fall into old habits and pack in too many activities, which leaves me no quiet time with God and little time to rest. Before long, that old bitterness creeps back and I begin to feel depleted once again. God knows and understands. One of the most amazing things about His nature is that He patiently waits for me to realize my mistake. It usually takes my feeling run down and eventually ill to realize my mistake. When I do, He’s ready to welcome me back to those rich mornings with Him.

Kathleen Bustamante is a college writing instructor and the author of “Bite Your Tongue.” She lives in Portland, OR with her husband, two children and a golden retriever.