Faith Matters: We must rest to restore our souls

By THE REV. CINDY LAJOY

Outreach Pastor, Athol Congregational Church

Published: 08-11-2023 12:55 PM

Gliding across the sun-kissed water in my kayak one warm summer morning this week, I was struck by how infrequently I have time that is uncommitted in my life.

This kind of day was a rarity. For once, I put all work aside (and guilt as well!) and decided that it was perfect weather to gather wild blueberries that grow plentifully on shrubs at the water’s edge. Reaching to pick those dark blue gems off the higher branches that had not already been stripped by earlier gatherers, I felt almost like I did as a young child: carefree, present in the moment, and not a thought in my mind about my overly full calendar, phone calls that I needed to return, or projects I needed to tackle.

As I paddled back, I had one of those internal conversations we all have from time to time, and I asked myself why it had been so long since I had carved out time that allowed space for unscheduled fun. I am largely in complete control of my own schedule and yet here I was, marveling that I managed to “squeeze out” a free hour for something I know my soul desperately needs.

Like most of us, I have been heavily influenced by American cultural perspectives on work.

Interestingly, a recent article in The Atlantic titled “Why Americans Care About Work So Much” posits that “Workism is rooted in the belief that employment can provide everything we have historically expected from organized religion.” This statement gave me great pause. As religion declines in our country, what we fail to see is that something will fill that void. We humans have always had a need to believe in something bigger than ourselves, and to be guided by principles that stand the test of time. Without firmly planted spiritual practices, we default to something that our collective Puritan backgrounds have always encouraged: work.

The three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, view taking a rest day each week, or a “sabbath,” as a religious obligation. Buddhists believe in calming our minds with “down time” through meditation. Indigenous North Americans were far better balanced in their understanding of work, and they labored only to fill a need, not to prove their individual worth. Taoists believe in doing work in the most efficient manner, and nothing more.

This need for true spiritual rest is even highlighted in what is perhaps the best-known Scripture passage of all time, the 23rd Psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul...”

He restoreth my soul … and how does He do that? By forcing us to lie down, to sit by unmoving waters, to reflect and to recharge.

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My hands filled with plump blueberries, I had an honest moment with myself, a reckoning if you will. I don’t rest and enjoy my life enough because, like so many others, I am not intentional about recognizing it as a true “need” and had instead categorized it as a “want.” But is it? Is rest all that important? And how do you go about shaking that incessant voice in your head that declares that you are lazy if you aren’t spending every waking hour engaged in some form of work?

We are all aware of the physical and emotional benefits of rest when we are feeling overwhelmed and stressed, but what we often fail to see is how all that overwhelm and stress would feel far more manageable if we had more balance in our lives, if we took time to play, if we set aside the laptop and grabbed the kayak paddle, or the knitting needle, or the next novel sitting unopened, and allowed ourselves unstructured time to restore our souls.

Author and expert on achieving work/life balance, Alan Cohen, reminds us, “There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.” Perhaps we all see a little too much virtue in work, and not enough virtue – or any – in rest. But a rested mind and heart can be more fully present and invested in life itself! It is exactly what we need to be able to feel fully, to see clearly, and to dive deeply into all we do.

Docking my kayak and blissfully grabbing my bowl filled with fresh blueberries, I felt more refreshed after my hour out on the water than I had in a very long time. Funny how that hour felt far longer because play does that for us, doesn’t it? It elongates time, and it allows us to disengage from the challenges of daily life. So as summer eases into fall, I am promising myself to have several more hours-that-stretch on the water, and far fewer hours-that-slog staring at a screen absorbed by my work. Next time you look up from your work, perhaps you can challenge yourself to do the same! Even if only for an hour, you might be surprised how your soul thanks you!

Athol Congregational Church, UCC is a local community of faith that is “small enough to know you, large enough to serve.” We are currently celebrating “in-person” worship as well as offering Facebook livestream services under “Athol Congregational.” Our pastor and our members are available for conversation on our Athol Congregational Church Facebook page, and through private messages, and we would love to connect! We offer long-distance Reiki through our certified practitioners, are willing to pray with you whatever your need, and want to know you, whoever you are! We are located at 1225 Chestnut Street in Athol, and can be reached at 978-249-6202.

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