Adventures in Rest

In her article, “Bring back the Sabbath,” Judith Shulevitz speaks of the “eternal inner murmur of self-reproach.” When I came across the phrase it struck me as an elegant and insightful way to speak of the voice I often hear within myself that tells me to doubt my own worth unless I can pay for my own way. It is an anxiety that makes it feel like the question of whether or not my life is justified is never concluded. When driven by that inner murmur work is only a means to prove that I am not a bum, and rest is only exhaustion. It calls to be satisfied, but it will never quit – not ever – through satisfying it. If the murmur ever ends, it is through stilling it at the root. It requires a quiet of soul in which activity can cease because all the work that needed to be done is already completed. This is exactly the kind of quiet the gospel leads us into.
At the outset, however, entering that quiet feels like dying. It feels like putting our very worth at stake because worth so often hangs on work and activity. But if we console ourselves with productivity when that death knocks on our door we will flee something that could be a teacher.
The bottom line is this: to be driven by that murmur of self-reproach flies in the face of a basic truth of the gospel – I don’t mean basic in the sense of elementary, but basic in the sense that if you do not understand it you may not truly understand the gospel or what it really means for how life has to change – that is, you cannot save yourself. At the heart of the gospel lies the staggering idea that all the work that ever needed to be done has been done. If this is true, then all the work we do is free to just become work again, not currency with which we try to buy our worth. And rest just becomes rest, not a sign of weakness, but a sign of humanness and that is a good thing. Ceasing ceases to feel like death but becomes an act of obedience, a discipline of faithfulness for hearts driven mad by the gospel of work.
The gospel of work goes against the grain of our humanness. As Edith Schaeffer said, “It is not a sin to be limited.” The gospel of work goes against the fabric of the universe. God is the one who feed the birds and clothes the flowers and makes his people worthy and righteous and his work stands. And it forgets that our happiness lies in our simply being creatures before the Creator – not in getting as far ahead in the game as possible, not in making ourselves shiny and worthy alone, not in climbing the mountain of human potential – but in resting in Christ, for that rest is the very peak of the mountain of humanness. That is where the inner murmur ceases and all our love and joy can rise, for that is the place we were made for. When Christ said, “It is finished” it was. The rest is polish. The deep work is done and cannot be added to and cannot be taken away from.

“The mind that comes to rest is tended
In ways it cannot intend
Is borne, preserved, and comprehended,
By what it cannot comprehend.

Your Sabbath, Lord, thus keeps us by
Your will, not ours. And it is fit
Our only choice should be to die
Into that rest, or out of it.”
-Wendell Berry

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