The importance of rest

Adoptive mum Lucy reflects on the value of rest and how to achieve it.

If you've reached this sentence, may I congratulate you. To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if the title alone put some people off.

“Rest?” you might say. “REST?! Four children, each with their own trauma to deal with, and you think it's possible for me to rest?”

Of course we all know that rest is important to God, and should be important to us. God rested after creating the world, Jesus frequently took himself off to rest, and one of the Ten Commandments is even about rest.

But the reality as parents – any parents, let alone parents of vulnerable children – is quite different. How are we supposed to rest when our children don't? Where is the time out for busy parents? Where is the space to relax when our homes are chockful of toys?

What is rest?

I think we need to understand that Biblical rest – the kind of rest we really need, according to the One who made us this way – is quite different to the 'rest' that we are being sold in the 21st century.

I often wish I was on a beach somewhere hot, with an exotic drink and a gripping novel to read (uninterrupted, of course). This is my idea of perfect rest – but, as a mum of four young children, this is likely never going to happen – certainly not soon, anyway.

Every day, travel agents and leisure companies dream up more products and experiences for us to enjoy, leaving behind our stressful lives for a few hours or days. Our lives are becoming more hurried, and our rest is becoming more extravagant.

But this doesn't marry well with Scripture. Jesus said:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus asks us to 'learn from [him]'- and, unsurprisingly, when we look at his life, we don't see him taking exotic holidays to escape his stressful life. We see a man who did encounter stressful situations and relationships, but lived at a perfect pace, not over-busying himself with things that were unimportant.

When Jesus did rest, we're told of a number of ways he did it. For example:

  • on his own, with his Father God (e.g. Luke 6:12)
  • with his disciples, over a meal (e.g. John 12:2)
  • with friends, over a meal (e.g. Mark 2:15-17)

There are a couple of striking things to note here. Firstly, our rest needs to be spiritual, physical and mental. Time out with God is an essential way that we should be resting. Spending time with friends or our marriage partner, and away from our normal work, is essential mental rest, even if we're doing something active.

Secondly, we need to examine our day-to-day lives, asking ourselves whether we live at a sustainable pace, and whether we're working a pattern of rest into our normal weeks. Stressing ourselves out for 50 weeks of the year, followed by a two-week holiday, is not a Biblical pattern of rest!

For parents, of course, life just is going to be busy every day. But there are other ways to adjust our day-to-day pattern. Are there commitments out of the home which we need to pass on? Do we have to cook each meal from scratch? Can we afford a cleaner?

Why is rest important?

Ephesians 2:10 says:
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

As adopters and foster carers, one of the good works God has prepared in advance for us to do is care for vulnerable children. This is wonderful news! You may feel stressed, daunted or overwhelmed right now – but God created you to do the job you're doing. It's not a mistake!

However, this particular 'good work' is emotionally demanding. God knows this too. It's His plan for you to take proper rest so that you will be equipped to meet the needs of the children He has entrusted to you.

I can't emphasise this enough: if you're not taking care of your mind, body and soul, then you will be in no place to care for your children. The experts call this 'compassion fatigue': when you're spending all your resources on your children, that there's little left for yourself or your spouse. Sadly, this is how some marriages have broken up.

On a very basic level, I know that when I'm tired I lose patience with my children far quicker than when I'm well-rested. On a deeper level, I know that when I'm regularly seeking spiritual rest in the Scriptures, I'm in a better place to deal lovingly, consistently and graciously with my children. I make better decisions, and my responses to them are more loving and Christ-like.

If we tell ourselves that God has given us naturally busy lives, and that He will somehow make us able to cope with it all, without needing to stop or rest, then we're deceiving ourselves. It may be true that God has called us into lives which are busy (especially if He's called us to adopt/foster many children, or children with additional needs) – but He also created our bodies to need rest, and He cannot contradict Himself.

Right from the beginning, God set a healthy pattern of rest by spending six days creating the world, and resting on the seventh. He didn't need to rest! He did it to show us we need to rest.

How do we rest?

This is probably the most pressing question. After all, our children need us 24-7. When are we possibly supposed to rest?

I think it's helpful to think of rest as being required on a daily, weekly and yearly basis – and also to remember that we need to rest spiritually, mentally and physically.

On a daily basis, it's crucial that we're spending some time in God's word, even if it's just 5-10 minutes. Could this be during a nap-time, when your children are at school, or after they've gone to bed?

I find that having a really good devotional or study guide helps me keep on track, as I'm often too exhausted to read the Bible and provide my own commentary.

It's also good to have some time each day when we can do something we enjoy – another form of rest. Force yourself to spend 20 minutes per day reading, watching a favourite TV show, playing an instrument or engaging in a hobby – and no, 'force' is not too strong a word to use here! Some of us need to be told, in no uncertain terms, that not allowing ourselves 'switch-off' time will have negative repercussions for the whole family.

On a weekly basis, you don't need me to tell you that keeping a 'Sabbath' is pretty difficult with young kids. However, it's not impossible – it just needs some thinking about.

My husband is a vicar and works on Sundays, so our day off is Friday evening to Saturday evening (which is actually the Jewish Sabbath!). Once the kids are in bed on Friday, we have an evening to ourselves. Then Saturday is spent with the kids. Of course it's not restful in the secular sense: we're still feeding them, dressing them, clearing up accidents, dealing with sibling disputes, entertaining them and placating them – but maybe we will refrain from things like laundry or other jobs which can wait till the evening. The focused time with our kids is Biblical 'rest' for all of us, as we're not trying to get millions of things done at once.

It's so important, especially for single parents, to have regular time away from our children too. We need time with friends, time to unload with people who understand, time when we're not planning our meals for the week or ordering school uniform. I've enjoyed attending a monthly book club this year (which has the added 'restful' bonus of reminding me to sit down and read regularly!) - and I also try and get to the theatre every couple of months with friends.

If you haven't already set this up, is there a trusted friend who could become a regular babysitter? If you're married, how could you encourage each other to get out regularly? How will you ensure that you can go out together sometimes, as well?

On an annual basis, it is important to book times away for the whole family to rest together. This doesn't need to be exotic, but do consider how restful it will be. Simply house-swapping with a friend can be a low-cost, relaxing holiday, especially if their house is geared up for children. We often keep the meals very simple when we go away, so that we can spend more time together, resting and relaxing.

If you're married, it's a good principle to try and get a night or two away by yourselves every year or so. We don't find this particularly easy as we have four children, and few overnight childcare options – but we managed it in May, and it was great for our marriage, and for our children, who had such a brilliant time with extended family that they're still talking about it!

Rest is not easy – but then again, not many of God's commandments are. As carers of vulnerable children, however, it is absolutely vital that we examine our patterns of work and rest, and ensure that – for their sake and ours – we establish regular times when we can recharge.

Rest is, after all, a gift from God.

Author:
Written for Home for Good by Lucy Rycroft (DesertMum)


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