"When you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit."
I thought the biggest step would be learning not to quit.
I am an expert quitter - always have been. My family loves to tell the story about how, as a kid, I flat-out refused to participate in a friend’s bowling party after I threw one gutter ball. I like to picture the tragic juxtaposition between my sulk face and a party hat/bowling shoes combo.
Cool party, Allison. But you'd better bring my slice of cake to this bench in the corner because I’m not moving.
I have this bad habit of over-achieving or over-committing or overreaching (with plenty of self-criticism shmeared on for motivation) until I burn out. At which point I like to cry, throw up my hands and make sweeping declarations about quitting and laying down and sleeping for a week.
But the older I get, the less often quitting becomes an option. The obstacles and trials in my life are more substantial than a gutter ball. In fact, there are days when adulthood feels to me like one giant bowling alley failure and I’m all
I’m tired, y’all. (I’ve been in Nashville for 2 years now so I can say y’all.)
Parenthood is HARD. Marriage is HARD. Not all of the time…not even most of the time. But it takes its toll.
But after years of being generally exhausted, grief is honestly what put me over the edge. It took my legs out from under me. Because here’s the thing: you can’t quit grief, like you can quit a job or a bowling party. You can’t even take a break from mourning, like you might during a tough fight with a spouse or a trying day of parenting.
It’s always there. I was depleted but I couldn’t quit it.
So in 2017, I had to learn to rest.
what rest is not:
I began to study rest. In a wildly paradoxical move, I decided to spend every waking moment becoming a Rest Expert. I took a few things off of my plate, said no to a few things, and filled those small gaps of free time with...Netflix.
Because that's resting, right? Bra off, top knot, 30 Rock.
But I started to realize that 'veging out' isn't exactly rest. If my tank is low, Netflix is me using cruise control or coasting down hills to preserve gas. It takes nothing but it gives nothing.
(And sometimes that's what we need. Sometimes we need to shut the systems down and detox from the day. Sometimes we don't even have the gas to get us to the station, so we need to cruise for a while. That's okay. But let's not confuse cruising with filling up, with the 'restoring of soul'. Hang in neutral with Netflix or BED7, but eventually make your way to some rest.)
So I had to learn to rest...really rest. To RESTore my soul -- fill my tank.
what rest is:
I started looking at the people around me, what seems to restore them.
Drew takes walks at night.
All of the best 'resters' I know have amazingly different restorative practices -- but they all share a few commonalities:
1. PRESENCE OVER PRODUCTION
The now. All of these practices serve - in one way or another- the present. They're not living in the regrets of the past or the worries of the future. They're not checking out or escaping through some sort of consumptive habit.
They fill their tanks with the simple act of being.
And it makes sense because -- psst -- that's where God lives. When your Creator was asked to identify itself - he/she said I AM THAT I AM. God is only ever always now - so when we are looking to restore our soul, we have to meet Him there.
You can't fill up your tank unless you GO TO THE FUEL SOURCE and TURN OFF YOUR ENGINE.
Out on the lake or the trail....in the kitchen or on our yoga mat -- I think our souls are wired to find rest in being. JUST BEING.
So this is the truth I'm preaching to myself: You are a human being. Not a human accomplishing or a human producing or a human succeeding or a human having or a human doing. Just being.
This is something that I am still learning about, so bear with me. I am discovering that there is a deep connection between awe and restoration. It's that paradoxical truth that feeling small somehow nourishes us. That experiencing magnificence washes away anxiety. Wonder does something to cosmically ground us and (if you need them) there are countless studies to support this. People who are able to view a scenic landscape during their work day (whether its through a lunchtime walk, a nearby window or EVEN A NATURE SCREENSAVER) are markedly more productive. Countries that encourage the reading of science fiction lead the charge in innovation and technological advancements.
So maybe you get outside - the hikers, the skiiers, the kayakers, the bird-watchers, the bladers, the fishermen, the nudie sunbathers -- you guys get it.
Maybe your rest practice is cooking and you become grounded simply by appreciating the plethora of spices and the delight our senses bring us.
Maybe you get a massage and reflect on the versatility and durability of human muscle fibers.
I love this poem by Rumi:
Today, like every other day,
we wake up empty and frightened.
Don't open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
Find a way to kneel and kiss the ground with wonder.
If we continue with the car/fuel analogy, different cars require different types of fuel (...she declared, as she googled "types of cars" and wondered if she should have invested in a less foreign analogy...)
What fills someone else up won't necessarily work for you. The best resters I know custom-fit their down time to most efficiently match their God-given uniqueness. It seems laughably simple, but it has taken me a while to weed through what I "should" do and curate patterns/practices of rest that make the most sense for me.
Here's a few examples of what I have learned about myself:
For the longest time, I practiced rest in the evenings -- but then I had kids and the introvert in me started begging for a change. Starting my day answering 400 rapidfire questions from my toddler was an immediate soul-drain. So I've started waking up before her and reading out on my front porch. This fills my tank before the day even starts.
I need permission to not produce.
As my free time has become more precious, I've developed a dangerous and tyrannical attitude toward it. MAKE THE MOST OF IT BEFORE YOU'RE SWARMED BY TINY, GRIMEY HANDS AND FACES. That means I'd better have something to show for it afterward. But as I try to place a higher value on restoration rather than production, I am allowing myself to indulge in the weird little practices that bring me inexplicable joy and rest:
Like painting. I am not a painter...but I bought paints for Aidah and discovered a strange feeling of glee simply smushing the colors together. Sounds insane. But I do it now -with a glass of wine and some Johnnyswim- with great delight.
Like reading poetry. I read a lot of poetry in college for my English degree, but stopped as life took over because if I have some time to read, it's going to be a nonfiction book about creativity or theology...or at least a hot new novel. Poetry is frivolous and that's why I love it. Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Wendell Berry - the bonus is that great poets are usually great resters.
Like yoga. My abhorrence for exercise is well-documented. I have a great metabolism and difficulty with delayed gratification, so a slovenly little demon always ends up whispering 'what's the point???'.
But, *SIGH*, there's a reason so many of the Great Resters turn to exercise. And I think its because our bodies are bound to the present. If we are really trying to exist with I AM, our bodies are a great place to do that. This seems to go against the great Christian tradition of treating our bodies like these deplorable meat sacks (#deplorablemeatsack) that we carry our precious spirits around in. But - unlike our spirits - our bodies can't get lost in time. They can't mourn or regret or worry -- they can only ever be here. Now.
In addition to the yoga and meditation I've always halfheartedly pursued, I now do - gasp - strength building. And as I'm squatting and lunging and crunching, my stupid muscles burn and my stupid lungs struggle and I can only focus on the burn and the struggle. And therein lies the magic. Even as I exhaust my body, I fool my soul into staying present.
I'm still figuring all of this stuff out, but I know that if I really, truly want to live wholeheartedly in this messy adult world, I need to learn to rest. Quitting is no longer an option.
What about you? What are you doing to not just coast or quit but to really RESTORE? How are you filling your tank?
Does is keep you present? Does it fill you with wonder? Does it match your God-given uniqueness?
***You may have heard me share some of these insights on episode 22 of Stephanie May Wilson's podcast! If you'd like to listen to our conversation about rest and self-care, you can listen here or by searching for "Girls Night with Stephanie May Wilson" in your podcast app :)