It’s late. I’ve been sitting here with my laptop to write my latest blog but the truth is I’ve let the better part of an hour float by while I’ve wandered around the internet, letting this quiet summer night get away from me. I’m a procrastinator, there’s no denying that. But as I finally closed the internet window where I’d been watching the final dance number from Dirty Dancing (seriously, does that scene ever get old?), determined that I would finally get to it and write my blog, I had to laugh at myself as my thoughts turned to what I planned to write about tonight. I am never beyond the need of my own good advice.
I had a moment of realization this week, a moment of insight that I found so obvious (after the fact) but so profoundly clarifying that I thought maybe others might be able to relate.
I try to guard my down time. I exercise great care not over-schedule my life and I leave plenty of room for quiet, or so my calendar would attest. But I often experience that even when my body is quiet, my mind is moving at breakneck speeds. I may be at the park with my kids or running mundane errands, but rest eludes me.
Case in point, I make it a priority to read for pleasure. I find it relaxing, enjoyable, enlightening—all the things I want to feel when the world slows down a bit. But I’ve noticed that when my life feels fuller and busier than I’d like—when my to-do list consistently stretches beyond the available time in my days—my pleasure reading becomes a race against the clock. I may read voraciously into the night, ignoring my exhaustion with the reasoning that late night is the only time I have to myself so I better make the most of every minute. Or I binge read, rushing through the pages without slowing down enough to take it in, then jumping immediately to the next book without coming up for air.
I love a good read and I’d love to get lost in a good bookstore without a watch, but I know that when my pleasure reading becomes a sprint from one title to the next, that’s no longer self-care, that’s just another form of self-destruction. When the very activity I use to relax becomes another method of mad rush, it’s time to step back and take stock.
My realization, as I contemplated why I feel so frenzied even when my calendar is so manageable, is that I have come to confuse rest and entertainment. I know self-care is important, so I prioritize things that typically nurture and ground me. But I sometimes do it in the context of a too-busy frame of mind, so that instead of winding down with a good book or a favorite show or a nice conversation after the kids go to bed, I end up simply making a new to-do list for my evening: kids to bed; veg for an hour in front of TV; meaningful conversation with hubby; relaxing read into the night; lights out.
The self-care practices become a new form of stricture where I replace true rest with new demands on my time and energy. I do enjoy a good show and I love a good read, but ultimately those things are forms of entertainment, they are not truly forms of rest. They don’t feed me, they don’t give me energy or strength. They simply cover up the busy for a while. I am finding that the things that bring me real rest—sleep, sitting quietly, deep conversation, reading scripture—these are things that require discipline. They lack all the twinkling lights, bells, and whistles that beckon me to quench my senses with a quick fix, but there is a difference deep in my soul when I practice these forms of rest regularly and with care. I am coming to face the reality that what is easiest and often most tempting is not what is most helpful.
I want to learn to rest. I want to allow God to grow in me the discipline I need to forego entertainment in favor of sustenance. This is no small task in a world of 24/7 noise, where sleep deprivation is a way of life and no conversation is complete without fourteen smartphone alert interruptions. I want to learn to turn down the noise, reject the faux satisfaction, and drink deeply from the well that never runs dry. Jesus beckons, “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) That kind of rest sounds like effective self-care to me. Time to go throw out my latest to-do list and quiet myself before the One who know what my heart truly seeks.