Thursday, February 7, 2013

fasting from doing: how rest is changing my life

It was day two of my self-imposed "Take Care of Myself" month.
Elliott was out at a church meeting, and Gwendolyn had long gone to sleep.
For the first time since I can remember, I was at true peace.

Nothing says, "Peace," like drinking tea from a pretty teacup, am I right?

Typically when Elliott is out late, I take it as an opportunity to fit some stuff in -- usually meaning chores.  I half-attempted to pack my hospital bag, which ended promptly after merely picking out a swaddling blanket and an outfit for the baby.  Then I did 30 minutes of weight-lifting before finally settling down on to the yoga mat to just sit, breathe, and welcome God's presence.

As I sat there -- waiting for God to speak, or not -- a song from my high school days rolled like a lullaby into my mind.

O gaze of love so melt my pride
That I may in Your house but kneel.

It felt like ions since I had listened to Hymn by Jars of Clay, and yet there was the chorus dancing through my head, and I thought: yes.  Yes, my pride is being melted.  Yes, kneeling is enough.

And then I realized just how much two days of rest had transformed me.

Fasting from "Doing"
We Christians talk a bit about fasting -- usually from food or certain types of food, sometimes (increasingly) from technology, perhaps occasionally from vanity.  I am fasting from doing.

I didn't realize this when I set out to rest for the month.  All I knew was: I am in a fragile state, I have a daughter to love, and I seriously just need a break.  Through two days, it has become apparent to me that I have made "doing" an idol for a very long time. 

Productivity has been a god to me.

Perhaps this is surprising -- perhaps not -- but this is the first time in my life that I have taken a break.  Even when I'm on vacation, I set myself on a schedule, wanting to fit the most in that short little week (I will seriously just add "Rest" to my list as if it were, "Go for a Hike," and, "Go to Museum").  So this is my first encounter with true rest.  I am amazed -- astounded, really -- by the peace and joy I've been given -- and that both are carried through to the end of the day.

No Room for Guilt
And so that song from Jars of Clay came into my mind and I couldn't shake myself of the poignancy. melt my pride...
...of doing, of "having it all together," of perfectionism, of productivity...

...that I may in Your house but kneel...
...because kneeling is enough...

Unconsciously, I have always thought that being in God's house meant doing and serving constantly.  Consciously, I have always thought that doing everything to the utmost of my ability -- of being hyper-productive with every second of every day -- was what pleased the Lord.  Certainly, there is some truth to both of these thoughts.  But there is also truth in this: sometimes, we must "but kneel."  And that's it.  If we're so gung-ho about doing (like I usually am), then we might miss the whisper of God that is sometimes encouraging us to rest.

And there's always the guilt factor, at least for me.  When I have tried resting in the past, I have always felt supremely guilty.  This guilt has kept me from ever enjoying rest -- either in the form of days off, an afternoon off, or even a half hour break.  Guilt crowds this space so much so that doing anything "enjoyable" is just stressful for me.  Whether it's watching a great period drama, or reading a book or blog post, or just sitting down for a few minutes -- I feel burdened by guilt.  "I could be using this time so much more wisely..."

Whenever I have "time to myself," I immediately come up with a list, that looks something like this:
  • 8 am - 8:45 am: Exercise
  • 8:45 - 9 am: Shower
  • 9 - 9:45 am: Sweep and Mop the House
  • 9:45 - 10:15 am: Quiet Time
  • 10:15 - 11:15 am: Work
  • etc., etc.
I have never just let a day into my life and thought, "What do I want to do -- in this moment?"  I always come in to every day with preconceived notions of what "should" get done, and then I make a point of doing it.

Nothing is necessarily wrong with this in and of itself, but for me it has become idolized.  That's why it's wrong for me -- to do it every single day for my entire life.  No wonder I am high-stress and prone to anxiety attacks.  No wonder I am always in a rush -- constantly trying to fit in the next thing.

As for the familiar guilt, yes-- I feel it creeping stealthily into my brain.  But right now, I am able to command it away.  Guilt has no place here.  It is not of the Lord.

What About Those Pesky Chores?
Okay, so a SAHM (who works a little on the side doing some editing/writing for a business) still has to get certain things done.  People need to eat.  We can't live in filth.  My assignments need to be completed.  So in a month of rest -- when the world still rolls along -- how do those chores get done, exactly?

In joy.  

Somehow, even though I am spending every spare moment sitting down and doing whatever I want, the chores are still getting done.  Every night, the sink is empty (except, um... tonight because I chose to write this post instead).  Our clothes are put away.  We have dinner.  The floor has even been swept!  And tasks I have been avoiding for months have slowly been getting done (like cleaning out our storage/laundry room).  With the influx of resting, I have been given strength to do these things with joy and peace abounding inside me.

And Gwendolyn has started helping too.  In the last week, she has started to genuinely enjoy "helping" me.  We fold laundry together, and by that I mean that I fold and Gwendolyn stuffs dish towels into her dresser.  We sweep the house together, and by that I mean I sweep and Gwendolyn follows behind smacking the floor with her mini-broom.  We wash dishes together, and by that I mean that I wash dishes and Gwendolyn empties out our silverware drawer into the drying rack.  It's not perfect, but it's God's grace that suddenly, Gwen has taken to "helping Mommy" with every little task.

Moving Forward
So how does this change things for the future?

I mentioned to Elliott all that I've been experiencing and the freedom that I've been given and I said something like, "I know this can't last forever, but maybe I'll need to do this rest thing more often."  He (wisely) pointed out that I should be doing it in bits and pieces every week so that by the time it's my "day off" (moms don't really get those though), I won't be so exhausted that all I can do is watch Netflix.

I've decided it's a matter of gauging day-by-day and hour-by-hour what I feel like doing, and what I am able to do.  I will no longer live as a slave to my lists.  Instead, they will be a guide, but if I need to nap with the girls or watch Charles Dickens' Bleak House for the umpteenth time, then that's what I'll do -- knowing that God's got me, and sometimes I just need to kneel.
  • Have you ever experienced similar transformation through a spiritual discipline?
  • How have you worked rest into your daily life?

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