// rest

I don’t find rest easy. It’s never been a conscious decision to be intense, it’s just happened that way – as some combination of circumstances and genetics and personality would have it, I find it very difficult to relax. Even when i’m trying, it doesn’t come easily. You may have seen me in the pub on Thursday night staring at the wall intensely and asked me, “what are you thinking?” In all likelihood, i am thinking about nothing. I am just thinking about it very hard.

But it seems like this is a problem. I am driven, and so capable of achieving a lot, but i am also worn out. People do not find my company restful. I get depressed sometimes because it feels like all i ever exist for is the stuff i do, and there is nothing else underneath. The only way to rest is to take the effort to rest, and that feels like even more work.

And because i am not so good at resting, i often feel awkward when i try and do so. To deal with the awkwardness, i try to diffuse it by asking lots of questions so i don’t need to think about it, or by changing the subject to something trivial in order to distract myself. This works, but it is not always the way to foster healthy relationships.

This year i have been living in community, and this has been difficult. There is nowhere to hide, and eventually your energy for pretending just runs out. The person that is underneath is different – sometimes awkward and sometimes incoherent, but real nonetheless. He doesn’t come out that often. Instead, a lot of the time what i do is run away from this community whenever i get the chance, and spend some time recovering my energy so i can go back and carry on pretending. My times in Starbucks are a safety valve so that i can keep up the façade.

Even my times with God have been high-pressured, crammed into the gaps where i can find them in the short period of time where i do not have to be working. They are not so much restful as they are necessary.

I tell you all of this because this morning i did something different. Rather than storming round Christ Church meadows with ipod in or frantically reading chapters of some book in the short time i had, instead i took my ipod out and walked, very slowly, to a different park with no regard for time or what i should be doing instead. It was incredible. It felt like being set free.

Recently i heard Tim Keller give a talk on rest, and on how at the cross Jesus’s declaration “it is finished” is the ultimate reminder of the fact that nothing is owed anymore. No longer do we have to justify our existence, to work to prove that we are worthy of being here; all of that is done. Nothing is owed. We are set free – honestly we are. So why doesn’t it feel like it?

I know i’m not alone in this, because last week i sat down with the cell group of which i’m a part and we ended up talking about the odd habits that we’ve picked up over the past few years owing to stress, nervous twitches and OCD among them, as well as how some of us haven’t had more than a three day period of rest in nearly three years.

It doesn’t feel like i’m set free because i’m not living it. I’m still fighting to make myself worthwhile, fighting for my place in this world, and it’s draining. Sooner or later i’m going to lose that fight, or just quit, because unless something changes it’s going to go on forever.

And i’ve had it. I’m all out.

This morning i took a walk in freedom and rediscovered that i have intrinsic value apart from what i do or what people think of me; i am loved unconditionally, and i was created as someone good. I rediscovered the joy of talking to God with space to talk, rather than squeezing desperate prayers of “help!” in the middle of a packed day.

I am an introvert, but i love having conversations with people who i am close to, or who see the world from a similar angle to me. That is restful, and it is fulfilling, too. But if i was cramming one of those conversations into a 20-minute slot, desperately talking about all i needed help with as fast as possible (as i have done with some people recently), some of my friends would just let me rant, knowing that i needed to.

That’s what i’ve been doing with God for a while, and i wonder if He’s known that i just needed to let off steam and let me do it. But today i went out to talk, in leisurely (albeit deep) fashion, and there is a deep joy in being able to do that. God drawing near to us – that’s what the cross was all about in the first place, wasn’t it? How tragic to have been going for so long and yet just recently come back to that fact…

Sometimes i have caught myself wondering if this Christian life is really any kind of salvation, or whether we’ve really been saved from anything at all. Much of the time it just seems to provide me with a whole bunch more stuff to stress about, and makes life a lot harder. But when i do wonder that, it probably means i’m not living this life the way it was intended – just turning it into another way to justify my existence.

I am sorry that i have failed to come to God in the level of honesty that He desires – really i am, sorry for myself, too, as that level of peace and honesty is something that i have been looking for a long time.

The truth is, i devalue my humanity in doing that; i say that i am not worth anything unless i am doing something, and in doing so i turn my back on the God who stands pleading that i have always been worth dying for – even before i became Oxford and started being “useful” to God.

Here’s hoping my eyes stay open this time.

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    • Si Mortimore
    • May 19th, 2010

    Tom, I was deep into mentally wording my reply, fuelled mainly by a passionate reaction to ‘People do not find my company restful’ when I reached the a statement which bore a smile of relief and convinced me I no longer had to write. Instead I’ve chosen too;
    “…but i love having conversations with people who i am close to, or who see the world from a similar angle to me. That is restful, and it is fulfilling, too.”
    My heart is genuinely lifted whenever we meet, because to me you represent one of the few people who I consider sufficiently observational and analytical to allow me to lower the façade of banality which must be placed to gain reasonable acceptance in most social situations. This is not to judge, condemn -or envy- those around me, nor to love them any the less, but you, to me, are yourself a beacon of fellowship, the likes of which I’ve discovered only a few times in my short existence. Yes, I recognise fully this can result in a stuttering conversation, and that uneasy and in-concluded topics can arise. I strongly suspect this has left you with a mixed and itself undecided opinion of me and has, if I may be so bold, left me with an interested excited compassionate curiosity as to the road you’ll travel, especially over your time in Oxford.One thing is abundantly clear to me though; the simplicity that despite what we might expect, talking to God is often much clearer than talking to Christians. I look forward to once again staring at the wall with you, possibly from opposite ends of a table full of people busily sharing their lives – one day we may have stories of our own.

    • Luke
    • May 19th, 2010

    I love that Hobbes is in this post. He is my arecheypal symbol of rest -I have him on my work desktop to remind myself not just to do do do. No jokes.

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