Maybe We Don’t Know How to Rest

Being stuck inside for most of 2020 seems like it’d be pretty restful, so why are we all so exhausted? Maybe the issue is as simple as this: we don’t know how to rest.


This article is part of a fall wellness series RELEVANT is producing in partnership with Unite Health Share Ministries.

Most of us think of resting as an afternoon on the couch with Netflix, but Kelly Balarie says we’ve got it all wrong. She says true rest looks very different than most Americans think it does and in her new book Rest Now, she’s ready to connect readers to a more biblical approach to rest. She sat down with RELEVANT to talk about what real rest looks like, how to set boundaries and what life can look like when you learn to say no.

This conversation has been lightly edited for content and clarity.

Can you tell me a little bit about the origin story of your idea for the book and then how you’ve seen it land during pandemic season?

I wrote this book and got the concept for it before the pandemic even hit. As I started to talk to people and say “Hey, this book’s getting ready to come out,” they were like, “Why do we need this book we’ve been resting? We’ve been stuck at home for six months?”

So I said, “Well, let me ask you a question. Do you actually feel at rest? You’ve been sitting at home, but do you feel soul rest? Do you feel full? Do you feel content, or is there still an unease within you?” 

A lot of people have been home and we’ve been more isolated and contained, that doesn’t mean that we’ve actually obtained the fullness of rest that’s available to us. I think that this book is more relevant than ever. 

Most of us feel more worn out at an emotional, spiritual level. So what is the difference in your mind between rest and just not doing anything?

A lot of us think, “Okay, I’m going to lay down,” or “I’m going to sit down,” and that’s rest.

But when we think about biblical rest, Jesus operated in the fullness of the term, right? But he wasn’t always just laying down next to a stream, chilling out on green meadows and walking a quiet path beside still waters. He was activated and working from rest. He was continually communing with the Father, seeing, hearing, understanding what the Father was doing.

At times, he would say, “Hey, I need to get away and pray,” or “Hey, like this is where I need to go,” or, “Let’s go to the other side of the lake.” He knew the ebbs and flows by being connected to the Spirit on how to operate in rest, a continual abiding, a continual going and flowing.

It’s really pictured in Matthew 11:28, where God says to us that for those tired, worn, weary or burned out, “Come to me, get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me, watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Americans have this idea that work is inherently good, so working harder is inherently being better. And that means people who work less hard are inherently not as good. Is that a Christian idea?

We’ve grown up in an American culture, but what we need to move into is a kingdom culture. American culture says have more, be more, do more, get more. And really in so many ways, the more is killing us. We get in that hamster wheel cycle of thinking, “OK, I got to do this thing. This is how I get love. This is how I’m significant. This is how I’m worthy.”

And yet on the other side, kingdom says, “Humble yourselves, therefore under the mighty hand of God, you’re going to get exalted.” Like Jesus said, “Hey, you don’t need to bring anything with you for this journey, leave behind your sandals, your bag, just go.”

That’s rest. We don’t need all this more. We actually will thrive in the less, with the fullness of God. That’s the real power position if we can step away and rethink American culture. That’s the renewal of rest and even inner healing.

You talk about the difference between just sitting or laying down and truly being at rest. How do we know what things provide real rest for us, versus the activities we default to that aren’t actually fulfilling our spirits?

First of all, what makes you passionate? What’s your drive? What is God calling you towards? What’s the purpose for your life?

Think about honing your thoughts, your mind, your spirit, your attitude, to continue down that highway. When you drive, you actually look up on the horizon to make sure there’s no cars or vehicles about to hit you, because you want to get to the place where you’re headed. The same goes for our life. So, what are the hindrances to where we’re going?

I think Franklin Covey said: “Think with the end in mind.” When you’re thinking with the end in mind, you are able to stay on your own highway, seeing the horizon and also pushing off the distractions that want to divert you from the path. That’s really the most powerful place for your life, and the most fulfilling.

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What’s the end goal here? How does life look different when you learn how to rest? 

One of the worst tragedies in life is a person who doesn’t actually know who they are. I’ll just say in my history, I lived trying to be everything to everyone. I wanted it to be the best employee. I wanted to be your favorite person. But in the end, I ended up being everything to everyone and I lost the reality of who God created me to be. I ended up hating myself so much so that I even got an eating disorder and tried to kill myself. That’s where you don’t want it to end.

But the reality is through rest, you’re able to say no to it. “I don’t need to be driven to ambition right now, I don’t need to work until 11:00 PM tonight.” 

You’re able to admit what you like and don’t like, and be true to yourself because you’re in rest. And then you’re able to give your friends and family and those around you permission to be themselves too. You’re not angry and resentful at them because they’re living out who they were created to be, yet you can’t because you’re obligated to them to be someone else. But fulfillment is truly being who God has created you to be, and unleashing the fullness of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. All those great fruits.

Do you have any tips for helping people to maintain those boundaries while maintaining a working relationship with the people that might be affected by those boundaries?

It’s always a really good idea to have wise wording. We can say no, but deliver it with wisdom and care and honor. So, saying something like, “Thank you so much for inviting me to that gathering tonight, I really appreciate that you thought about me. However, I’m not able to attend because if I go, I wouldn’t actually be able to be a great mom to my kids tonight.” Or, “I’m really grateful that you’re calling me to do this project and that you want me to team up with you guys on this. Everything in me wants to say, yes. I’m really happy to reconsider this for the future, but at this time I have this and this that I’m handling. So please think about me in the future.”

That really gets ahead of the issue of guilt and shame. But inevitably, there’s going to be times where we say no and somebody might not take it well. We’re all really trying to get after that better end. So when you’re saying no to that, you’re preserving a better end. Think about your future self and what you’re preserving.

A lot of people are operating out of a space of emptiness or weakness. Do you have any advice for people who are feeling like that particularly right now in this season?

I think that we try to run from awkwardness and exposure. I’ll just speak for myself, I like the comfort of knowing what’s happening, but we are in a place of uncertainty. But that is not a bad thing, it’s a God thing. God works on the rough waters. He stands on the water in the midst of the waves. What the most important thing is, is not to declare that you’re sinking, but to declare and to keep your eyes on Jesus. Know that he’s taking us somewhere. We’re walking somewhere. And a lot of the work that’s happening is within us so we can learn how to stand firm and steady in the midst of storms. Nobody knows what the future holds. But we do want to know that we can stand firm and stand strong through whatever it is.


Kelly Balarie’s Rest Now: 7 Ways to Say No, Set Boundaries and Seize Joy is available here.

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