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My friend and I have been studying the Bible together for a few weeks now, researching different topics that seem to be relevant to our lives. Two topics in particular stuck out: rest and perfectionism. We are both really, really bad at resting and we think some of this has to do with perfectionism and our personality type.
What we found in our studies that there were answers to eternal rest, but not necessarily guidelines for rest in the present. So, my question: what does rest look like in everyday life?
Look at you and your go-getter, perfectionist, tired-all-the-time, but keep going because you can’t stop—won’t stop—but are so driven that you can’t slow down, friends! I’m impressed both with the fact that you’ve set out on this journey of self-reflection, and also that you’re dancing with the psychological and spiritual. This is going to be a great season for you all.
To that end, I’d like to inject a different search term into your biblical studies. Because while rest and finding rest are important, there’s more to the answer than just removing something from your life in order to create margin (though that’s important). What I feel you’re really seeking is something more fulfilling, more beautiful, more essential: the Sabbath.
Many of us (myself included), have spent a majority of our lives having no concept what “keeping the Sabbath” looks like—or could look like. The idea of the Sabbath ends up in the pile of Christian disciplines that must be for “other people.”
The truth is, observing the Sabbath is core to the life of a believer. To engage in it without knowing why isn’t really possible. But to dismiss it because we don’t understand it is just a squandering of God’s gifts.
So, what is this Sabbath? Well, it’s a period of intentional rest modeled at its very earliest by God:
“By the seventh day, God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done” (Genesis 2:2-3).
Did you catch that, Katie? God rested. But why? I mean, God didn’t really need to rest, because that would a imply lack of strength, energy or ability—which is in opposition to the nature of God. Rather, God rested because He wanted to enjoy His masterpiece, and He wanted to give us permission to do that, as well.
God knows us. He knows we must be told to settle down, and He knows that unless we do, we’ll miss everything. Because our human nature is to move toward some perpetual motion where we sleep a bit less, schedule more efficiently and cram as much life into life as humanly possible.
But God wants more for us. He wants more than just a fullness of a life that we concoct ourselves. He wants us to rest—in Him.
Let’s go back for a second to the Genesis account of creation—where God is resting. Can you imagine what that literal or figurative “day” must have been like? This was a day without sin, without worries or stress, without hunger or fear—just perfection. Balance. Peace. Sit in that for a moment and imagine swimming in a crystal clear lake and eating off the land and feeling nothing but the warmth of God. You don’t know what time it is. You don’t have any internal narrative telling you that you’ve failed. You’re perfect and created in the image of that which is also perfect. Your soul is still. Stay there for a moment…
This is Sabbath rest, which means literally to desist from exertion, to put down, to be still. And we see it for the first time on year 1, day 7—God Himself practicing it.
From that point on, the Sabbath as we see it in the Old Testament was really a ritual law, not just a good idea. For 1400-ish years, the Sabbath was law, because God was raising humanity and, at that point, they were children who needed to be forced to stop. God was saying to Israel, “I need you to take this day, I need you to rely on me, and I need you to trust that your food, your safety, everything, is from me.”
It reminds me of the current napping situation with my 2-year-old daughter. Sometimes, she goes right down for her afternoon nap and wakes up happy and refreshed. Conversely, when she fights it and continues to play and push back against sleep, things are not always pleasant.
You see what I’m getting at, don’t you? God was treating Israel like a child—a child who didn’t quite know the limits and needed boundaries.
But then, the child grew up, and the Sabbath was no longer a set of laws needed to be governed, but a condition of the heart that needed to be guarded. Enter, Jesus…
“Then He said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’’” (Mark 2:27).
Jesus was saying to the Pharisees (and really to us), “I know you want rules. I know you’ve been raised on do’s and don’ts, but today is new day.” The Sabbath is now a matter of willful obedience to God and a matter of the heart. The Sabbath is now a spiritual discipline, custom-made for you to be intentionally still and restful.
It’s not a rest that calls you to do nothing, but rather, a rest that beckons you to refocus your heart, quiet your mind mind and devote your time to following Jesus and having an awareness of the warm embrace of God.
So Katie, when you tell me you’re a perfectionist, I want you to know that you are already perfectly made and nothing you do will make God love you more or less. Additionally, when you want to know how and when to rest. I want you to reframe the thinking to having a Sabbath-seeking heart and building in consistent time at very frequent intervals (hourly, daily, monthly, yearly) to breathe in the seventh day. The day when everything was as should be—and as it will be again.
That is rest, and that is worth fiercely pursuing and guarding.
Have a question? Good! Send an email to [email protected]. All identifying information will be kept anonymous.
Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.