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  • Stephen Percy

A real rest

Today is the last day that I’m in work. As of tomorrow morning, I’m officially on my holidays. We don’t have anything extravagant planned - a bit of stripping (wallpaper!), likely some trips out with bikes or scooters and a heavily-amended trip to Northumberland. Since lockdown began, it’s been full-on, learning how to edit videos, getting used to recording sermons on Fridays in an empty room, ‘Zooming’ left, right and centre, ploughing through Government guidance (and then again when it changes) and whilst I absolutely love the church I‘m a part of, I don’t mind admitting I feel ready for a break. A little time away from a desk and a screen won’t be a bad thing!

The problem is I’m not very good at switching off. And I’m not very good at resting and relaxing. In some contexts the ability to press on and just keep going is a good and necessary quality, but sometimes it’s an insight into something not being quite right.

Have you paused and reflected how ‘busy’ is often a standard answer to the question ‘how are you doing’? Have you ever considered that that we – as a society – seem to prize busyness which borders on drivenness as a worthy work ethic and a standard to be aspired to? If we’re not careful we can follow the world’s pattern and pursue frenetic activity, over-filled diaries and ever-growing to-do lists. And whilst busyness isn’t at all bad, working in such a way canbe quite revealing. Let me tell you two things that unhealthy busyness can (not always, by any means) tell you about me.

My self-worth and sense of affirmation can be wrapped up in how people view me.

It’s ugly, and as I sit and type, I worry about being so honest in a public post, but as Dr Pepper once asked: ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ J So, here’s how it can work. In the deep crevices of my heart lurks a fear – not always consciously felt, but there nonetheless - of not living up to peoples’ expectations, not performing as well as people may expect… in some way letting them down. And so what better way to try and avoid that than to be seen to be working hard. So I take on, and I over commit and I squeeze things in where there isn’t really time to squeeze them. The idea of saying no doesn’t sit comfortably, and so I push my own boundaries, often sacrificing things that are important like family time and proper rest.

And this isn’t a new thing. It hasn’t emerged since I came into church leadership. It was the reason that before I left Probation, my alarm would go off earlier and earlier and my return home time later and later. My sense of wellbeing was tied up in being seen to be capable of getting it all done. My professional pride was in never missing any performance targets, regardless of what that cost. When others’ work needed covering, I’d cover it – partly out of altruistic motive, but partly because saying no may have left others thinking less of me. My drivenness came from an unhealthy heart motive.

We’re a funny bunch, aren’t we. We often know the theory of what our identity is, but don’t always realise it in practice. Most people who have been in and around church for any length of time would likely recognise that if you’ve put your trust in Jesus for His rescue, then something amazing has taken place – you’ve been granted a new identity. One not based on merit or performance (I wrote about that here) but on grace; His kind, free gift. An identity free from such [objectively] silly worries about ‘what will people think’ and the need to impress (let me be clear, I’m not laying claim to have ever impressed anyone!) or to maintain a certain image or be seen a certain way. We know it, yet in all likelihood you, like me, struggle to fully realise that new identity. It may look different for you than it does me, but there will probably be struggles and quirkiness to your own behaviours and motives that lurk somewhere beneath the surface. Keep becoming who God has made you to be!

I act like God can’t handle me taking some time away

Maybe this flows from the first point, maybe it’s a separate point, I’m not sure, but I know that part of the drivenness and busyness worries that if I stop, then things may stop. Good things; God things. So I take responsibility for doing and bringing to pass things that are God’s to worry about (not that he worries, but you get what I’m saying). It’s a fine line – serving, labouring ‘as unto the Lord’ and knowing the privilege of partnering with the Holy Spirit in what He’s doing as opposed to being tasked with something by God and not being able to clock off until it’s finished. One is life-giving and the source of delight. The other is an unbearable burden that is never actually given. I don’t always get the balance right.

Thinking as I write, I’d guess an opposite dynamic could be true for some people. It’s plausible that some people may persist in drivenness because they could fear that if they stop, things might actually go on without them, leading to a realisation of their own disposability and the fact that God’s more than gracious to use them when He does, but more than capable of ensuring His own work continues when they’re not around. Who knows?

For me, it’s the former which can lead me to the ridiculous mindset that I’m indispensable to God, and that he needs my every ounce of energy to make His plans work. (Look, I’m not sat here saying I rationally believe this, I don’t! But on an irrational level internally, this is some of the stuff that is going on some of the time.)

So, you see the problem? I don’t want to be seen to not be giving value for money, I don’t want to let people down and I’m indispensable to God, so I don’t rest and don’t switch off. Pretty ridiculous when you read it in words like that, but there you go.

And it wouldn’t be quite as bad if this was just me and my struggle, but it’s not. Many, many people within our church and beyond are struggling with this issue – overcommitting and subject to drivenness in various guises because of all kinds of weird, sometimes unrecognisable motives and attitudes deep within. Unable to say no because of how others will respond. Unwilling to respect their own boundaries and not quite able to trust that God’s got things under control if they should happen to stop for just a moment.

And it’s why the Gospel – the good news of the unconditional love of God in Christ Jesus – remains such good news not only for those who have just believed but who have believed for years; because it continues to free us from such mindsets and attitudes that are unhealthy, and find a place of service that comes from a place of rest.

I love how Eugene Peterson interprets Jesus’ invitation, recorded in Matthew 11:28

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? 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.”

A real rest and life recovered. How? Not by taking a week in Bognor. Nor via an all-inclusive fortnight in the Maldives. Ironically, not even from the absence of activity per se, but by coming to Jesus. Holidays and down time are well and good, but the daily enjoyment of acceptance, warts and all, by Jesus, and delight in keeping company with him are the real places of refreshing and release from burdens.

So, if you want me you’ll find me spending some time remembering what I so easily forget: that there’s only one view that matters – God’s, and that because of Jesus, I am perfectly acceptable to Him. Furthermore, that I’m not God, and that He managed perfectly well to bring to pass everything He willed before I came along, and He’ll manage perfectly well once I’m gone, and therefore I can quite confidently trust Him to do what’s needed for His people and His Kingdom every day He allows me to play a part in His story.

What about you? What ‘stuff’ goes on inside of you that seems utterly ridiculous when you think about it or give words to it? What wonky ways of thinking and viewing things do you register in your own mind and heart? And will you hear again the invitation of Jesus to come again and find peace and rest in his presence?

Be blessed.


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