I have not rested in nearly two months. And not just because I have an 8-month-old daughter who often wakes up more times a night than there are hours in it. In the truest sense of the word, my body and my heart have not rested in a long time, perhaps ever since my daughter was born. Because even the 4 months of forced inactivity I had this year were spent anxious and stressed at all that wasn’t being done. I could never recover fast enough to keep up with my own expectations, and grace is not something easily asked for or received.
As soon as I got back on my feet, literally and figuratively, after the car accident that broke my foot and shattered my summer, I haven’t stopped moving. Part of it has been the joyous freedom of movement, but mostly it is the frantic striving of a life overwhelmed and drowning in a year of disasters, things left undone and forgotten, piling up, spilling over. Judgment after judgment of not having things together, being late, leaving people hanging, a house of chaos, a baby unrestrained, and always needing help. The cycle repeating over and over and over again. Add to that a stack of heartaches most of the world does not see, but they make everything harder and heavy, pressing on the weight of everything else that is seen.
I’m not exaggerating when I tell my husband that I often do not sit down during the day unless I am driving. Though I move and clean and run errands and “take care of things” relentlessly, it is not enough. If I steal 30 minutes before bed time, it is often to work on something or scroll mindlessly through social media – not exactly a rest-inducing habit. I take my daughter out to do a few things I enjoy, but my restless heart has turned them into obligations or, worse, something to be checked off with a twinge of guilt about what I am not accomplishing.
And then there is the “mommy guilt” – a new sort of ugly that they try to warn you about but you can’t understand it until it arrives. I watch my husband with his little girl and when daddy takes over, there are no objectives other than to get down on the floor and be with her and keep her happy, fed, clean, and engaged. If ever I silently criticize him for not multi-tasking, I also feel the guilt that presses on me for always multi-tasking. That might be the most suffocating kind of judgment of all: never just being there on the floor doing nothing because all she wants is my nearness.
A few weeks ago, I read this blog post on Ann Voskamp’s page “A Holy Experience.” She had guest Shelly Miller and the topic was rest. The idea that stuck in my mind was contemplating what a day of rest would look like right in the middle of my life, not on vacation, not planned months and months in advance. What would rest in this week look like? Shelly wrote, “A lack of intentionality when it comes to how we rest leads to a depleted life defined by what the world dictates.” That is a one sentence summary of where I have been at since motherhood. So, I dared to do as Shelly suggested and answer, with a great deal of cynicism I might add, the question the Father asked of me, “What do you want me to do for you?”
My desperate answer involved sleep and a rainy day with no need to move from the couch or bed and a good book/movie to capture my mind away. A day of no work and no guilt of no work. No to-do list. Help caring for my daughter but also a chance to enjoy her. And after I envisioned the impossibility of such a thing, I quietly filed it away and moved on to my next task.
Fast forward to this past Friday night to find me up until 11 baking cookies for a church event only to have my daughter be her wakeful self. The morning comes with a tiredness that makes my eyes actually hurt. I need to deliver the cookies and my husband gives me the gift of a few hours out alone (the first in months and months), but no pleasure writing happens because I have some work to finish. I choose to enjoy the work with the quiet hum of a Saturday in Panera for my background, and then I fiddle around looking at some books online before I get ready to leave. One catches my eye, and when I call my husband, he tells me to go get it before I come home. With a tingle of excitement, I do.
When my husband heads out, I sit on the floor with my daughter and open the pages of my new book. She plays happily and contentedly for a long time, just delighted by my willing stillness and close proximity. She doesn’t need me to do anything – just allow her to play on my lap. The magic of the story floats me outside my aching tiredness until my daughter’s sleepiness becomes insistent. And instead of her usual brief snooze, my daughter settles in for one of those extraordinary things known as an actual nap. After swallowing my amazement, so do I. I only sleep an hour, but it feels like a beautiful eternity. And it is enough, both to stop my eyes from hurting and satisfy my need to wake to my own rhythm. To add a miracle, my daughter continues to sleep ON HER OWN (yes, that required all caps), and I snuggle up next to my husband while we read our stories like the book nerds we are with the rain plopping on the AC unit in the window and our pups curled up all around us.
When my girl wakes up, I am happy for her smiles and the rest of the evening continues with giggles and sitting and books and snuggles and no cooking. Before I fall into bed that night, I realize that I haven’t cleaned a single damn thing all day and my house is a disaster (how do only two adults and a baby who doesn’t move much make this much mess??). And I don’t care. It was a glorious day.
I whispered to my Father in the depths of my heart what rest would look like, and he matched my defiant doubt with a grace that wasn’t hard to receive. I didn’t even know it was coming until it was nearly over. My new week began in peace with a messy house that held a lot more joy. The to-do list was no smaller, yet the striving had lessened, if only by a fraction. How many times have I read the command for Sabbath rest and determined I couldn’t afford to take it? It turns out I can’t afford not to. As Shelly Miller so aptly stated, “‘Wasting time’ is actually the most productive action you may take this week.” I am only beginning to understand this.