A Summer Rest: Stop
Zach Farrar | Community Group Coordinator
No, seriously, stop.
Easier said than done right? In our world of smartphones, travel ball, 60+ hour work weeks and a myriad of obligations we struggle with that simple, four letter word – stop. We would rather busy ourselves with the next home project or the next soccer tournament than wrestle with the troubling question at hand – why is it so hard for you and I to simply stop?
Not sure if this is your struggle? Try this exercise: turn off all your electronics and sit on your couch at home for 20 minutes. No television. No social media. No conversation with family or friends. No internal list-making or planning. Just stop. While you may not struggle as much as I do with incessant planning and mental list-making, after sitting and squirming for 20 minutes, you’ll probably realize, on some level, you struggle with stopping.
Why is this such a struggle? Is it a malady of our increasingly noisy and chaotic world? No. While our world does present unique challenges to us practicing the spiritual discipline of stopping, they are not the core of our struggle. Our spiritually restless hearts are the source and cause of our busyness. Church history and the Bible itself reveal time and again that noise and constant busyness are our spiritual anesthesia. Rather than face the reality and gravity of our sin and selfishness, we work excessively or volunteer more or fill even the most minuscule spaces of our life with Facebook, Instagram, and ESPN. Whether we admit it or not, the reason you and I keep busy so often is not because life and work demand it, but because the alternative – silence, solitude, and stopping – present us the greatest conflict and discomfort: our own sinful inadequacy.
Keenly aware of his penchant for constant motion, Henry Nouwen observed:
In stopping I get rid of my scaffolding: no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no television to distract, just me – naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived, broken – nothing. It is this nothingness that I face in stopping, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my family, my work and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe I am worth something…The danger is real: it is the danger of living the whole of our lives as one long defense against the reality of our condition, one restless effort to convince ourselves of our virtuousness. Yet Jesus said, “I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners,” (Matt. (9:13).
At the core of our busyness is a need to trust in the Gospel. Stopping brings us face to face with our brokenness but then, almost surprisingly, offers a true remedy: the Gospel. Since Jesus’ perfect life is now our perfect life (Rom. 5:12-21, 2 Cor. 5:14-21), as His followers, we not only stop, we can rest. Our summer vacations do not need to be filled with activity designed to dodge any moment of quiet introspection. You and I can truly stop and rest this summer, knowing that while we are not good enough, we have trusted the One who was good enough in our place. We do not need to work more, His work was enough. We do not need to try harder, He was successful in His work at Calvary. In that truth we can rest.
How can we stop and rest not only this summer, but throughout our lives? Here are three guidelines to help us stop and rest in the Gospel:
- Identify and eliminate “noise”: Perhaps the hardest part of stopping and resting in the Gospel is identifying “noise” – areas we have intentionally (though perhaps subconsciously) made ourselves excessively busy to distract ourselves. This can be anything from constantly having music playing at home or in the car to excessive entertainment (staring at Facebook or television right until bed) to relentless activity (home projects, travel-ball, etc.). None of these activities are inherently evil, but when our hearts desire to look anywhere but inward, these activities can become spiritual noise. We must identify where we have made life too busy and too noisy so we can remove those distractions from our heart.
- Start with Five Minutes: Learning to stop and rest spiritually is not an overnight change. We grow into this spiritual discipline and learn to thrive in it over time. As you contemplate stopping, consider starting with five minutes a day. Carving out five minutes each day to turn off the phone, shut off the TV, block out the noise of life and rest in the Gospel. From contemplating God’s gift to us in Jesus to reflecting on a verse, stopping for five minutes a day is a great first step and typically leads to longer moments of stopping and resting in the Gospel.
- Grace and Discipline: Growing in the spiritual discipline of stopping and resting does not earn us favor with God. He does not love us more or less if we forget to stop for five minutes. Our awareness of His love and our closeness with Him is impacted by our decision to either remain busy or stop. As a result, when we teach ourselves to slow down, stop, and rest, we need to be both disciplined and gracious. We need to struggle and fight to stop and dwell on the Gospel, growing in our awareness of His love and grace (Eph. 3:14-19); but we also must remember that the cross, not our oft-feeble attempts at spiritual discipline, makes us right with God. Discipline AND grace are key to stopping and resting. We must strive to stop, but we must graciously forgive ourselves when we fail.