“You’ve accomplished so much, so soon in life!”
My parents couldn’t believe it. I was graduating, remodeling my first home and mere weeks away from getting married — all at the age of 20.
When achievement is your superpower, people notice. And many of those people will affirm you. “Great job!” Or, “Wow, you got that done so quickly!” Like Pavlov’s dogs, I was conditioned to salivate at a job well-done, sure that the more I accomplished the better I would feel—or more accurately, the better I would be. Thus, I’ve been an achiever for as long as I can remember.
Ten years later, my wife and I had four children, were remodeling another home and I was leading a fast-growing new church and wrapping up a graduate degree. I was achieving my goals, all right. But I almost achieved one more: my own ruin.
The baby wouldn’t sleep. The church wouldn’t stop. The house needed work. The assignments piled up. And the dam finally broke.
Depression hit hard. Suicidal thoughts, self-pity, blaming those closest to me—all of it crashed on me like waters long held back by years restless work, long nights and the quiet pride of the heart that declines God’s invitation to rest in Him.
Here’s the point: I’ve been down the path of serial accomplishment and its end is restless ruin.
Restlessness and our Anxious Age
Statistically speaking, you’re probably reading this on your phone. With these magical devices we can summon a ride, order groceries, book flights and see friends a world away. The most common among us now live with conveniences of which the kings of old could but dream. But this wizardry comes at a cost: our peace.
Anxiety is now rampant in the young, largely connected with our inability to disconnect. Add to that the constant stream of global news, its consummate political commentary and our compulsion to constantly show the world that we’re appropriately moral through hashtags and virtue signaling, and we’ve got a recipe for serious anxiety.
And it never stops. Combine this new set of demands from the device in your hand with the normal stuff of life that’s always been there—kids, jobs, church and community—and it suddenly becomes unsurprising that anxiety and depression are on the rise.
For the Christian, perhaps it’s even worse. We, of all people, understand that part of our calling is to change the world—to tell the Jesus story and invite people to believe it, to help the poor, to make disciples. It seems like we have even more to do. How can we rest? How could a mom with young children, a woman just breaking into her career, a pastor leading a church or a student entering graduate school ever take a break?
No humans before us have ever lived in an age so constantly humming with anxious drone of the weight of the world.
Restlessness Ruins Relationships
The great irony of all this connectedness is that we’re more disconnected than ever. Of course, that’s just what a rushed, anxious heart reaps: ruined relationships.
How many times have I rushed through my kids’ bedtimes because I had an important late-night meeting? How many more times am I going to choose my phone over my family? How many more Instagram shots must I grab for the world instead of slowing down to actually see the world?
In my own life, I experience this every weekend. Each day off my wife and I must decide how we will relax, and I have to exert an enormous amount of willpower to slow down, resist my to-do list temptations and embrace the art of rest. She thinks it’s funny. I think it’s difficult. But we both think it’s critical, because if I can’t learn to rest it’ll ruin my relationship with her and our kids.
Indeed, it almost did once.
Rest is Rescue
There I was in the middle of my depressive brokenness. All I could see were undone tasks all around me, shouting at me like taskmasters.
But there in the Scriptures, tear-stained red letters whispered, “Come to me you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest,” (Matthew 11:28-30). I shouted to my open Bible that I didn’t know how to do that. But slowly, God walked me through this massive biblical theme of Sabbath. Rest—God-centered, Jesus-saturated, Spirit-gifted rest—saved me.
The art of rest rescued me from the ruin of restless anxiety—from FOMO to family needs, school to social media. And I think that the art of rest can rescue you, too.
“But you don’t understand how busy I am.”
“Rest!? That just sounds like another task.”
“Have you seen my schedule? I’ll rest as soon as I make it through this busy season.”
Listen, I’ve heard it all before. I pastor a church filled with busy people whose accomplishments hang around their necks like yolks on beasts of burden. Heck, I am one of those people. But being a follower of Jesus means walking in the ways of the one who accomplished more than I ever will with more restfulness and peace than I’ve yet to experience. And He’s inviting us to join Him.
I’m still an achiever. I’ve got more to do, degrees to get, books to write, sermons to preach and all that. But even though I’m a rest failure, I’m learning the art of rest. And if I can learn rest, I think you probably can, too.
Adam Mabry is the lead pastor of Aletheia Church in Boston, Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife and their four kids. Passionate about church planting, campus ministry, and world missions, Adam writes, speaks, and coaches planters around the world, mostly through the Every Nation family of churches and ministries. He is author of the book The Art of Rest: Faith to Hit Pause in a World That Never Stops. You can follow him on Twitter or drop by his website.