read Mark 2. Why is rest so elusive? Vacations can be more work than staying home. A whirlwind of a social life exhausts us physically and mentally. Family can wear us down. We can get to the point where we don’t enjoy anything. We resent the people who want to talk to us, because we have nothing to give them. Sometimes even a good night’s sleep isn’t enough to make us wake up feeling rested. A mental, physical and spiritual fatigue can dog us, no matter how hard we try to chase it away.
The flip side of this question, is why do we work so hard? Not why do we work to provide for a family, but why do we fall into workaholism? Why can work cross over into an addiction that prevents us from ever truly resting?
Ernest Hemingway, in his posthumously published novel, ISLANDS IN THE STREAM, writes the following passage on how his main character, a painter named Thomas Hudson, handles his three sons’ last week of summer with him:
“Up on the porch Thomas Hudson kept on painting. He could not keep from hearing their talk but he had not looked down at them since they had come in from swimming. He was having a difficult time staying in the carapace of work that he had built for his protection and he thought, If I don’t work now I may lose it. Then he thought that there would be time to work when they were all gone. But he knew he must keep on working now or he would lose the security he had built for himself with work. I will do exactly as much as I would have done if they were not here, he thought. Then I will clear up and go down …. But as he worked he felt a loneliness coming into him already. It was next week when they would leave. Work, he told himself. Get it right and keep your habits because you are going to need them.”
I love the moving image of the “carapace of work that he had built for his protection.” We think work will protect us from sorrow and loneliness. But it doesn’t – as Thomas Hudson found. Hiding from our loneliness leave us exhausted. Perhaps part of the exhaustion stems from the effort of trying to avoid our feelings.
In Mark 2, we see people flocking to Jesus as if he might have the answer to life’s problems. ”Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room.” v2. They were mobbing him the way 13 year old girls mob Justin Bieber.
It’s an odd choice of words to say about the Son of God. How could there be “no more room”? God is supposed to be the one being who always has room for us. In my father’s house, Jesus said, there is “more than enough room.” John 14:2. Jesus came as a baby to a world that “had no room” in the inn, so that God could make room for us in heaven. So I find it striking that there was “no room” in the house where Jesus was staying.
So four men lower their lame friend down through the roof. It’s a wonderful image. It speaks well of the friends. One wonders, of course, about the poor owner of the house, but he or she is never mentioned. Jesus forgives the man’s sins, and then heals him.
But what if you have no friends to dig a hole in the roof for you? What if you’ve alienated people you love? What if you’re so full of self-pity you can’t think of a single person who cares about you (even though, of course, there are many)? Is there no room in Christ’s house for you? Who will help you?
The answer lies in Christ’s words to the religious teachers. He asks them: “is it easier to say to the paralyzed man, ‘your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk?’”v. 9. What perhaps no one yet realizes, except Jesus, is that forgiving the man’s sins was far from easy – it took Jesus dying on the cross. It took the impossible.
So because God has already done the impossible, the impossible is available for all of us. We can all find in God the deep rest we long for. We can find in God the freedom from addiction we crave. In God, we no longer need create a “carapace” of work, because we can take our deepest loneliness to him, and find the deepest companionship in return.
We don’t need to rely on friends to dig a hole through the roof for us. The only requirement is our need. As we learn when Jesus calls Levi, the people who “know they are sinners” are drawn to Jesus. When we are tired of making a patchwork of our lives, and we want new wine, we ask for a new wineskin. Instead of trying to “earn” our way to heaven through work, we give up. We ask for God to do the work for us.
And God says: I already did.
When God made the world, He rested on the seventh day. He asked that humans do the same. God knew that He would have to “order” us to rest. He knew that we had a tendency to overdo things. He knew that we would try to earn our way to heaven by being good. I love that David sings in the 23rd Psalm that God “makes” him lie down in green pastures. That’s why Jesus explains that the Sabbath was made ‘to meet the needs of the people.” Mark 2:27. We need rest. We need to lie down in green pastures. And the greenest pasture of all is discovering all over again that God loves you no matter what.
So when you’re feeling tired, pay attention. Listen to your soul fatigue. Spend time in God’s presence. There’s no magic formula to talking to God. All you need is your exhaustion. It may seem boring at first, but pretty soon, you will begin to feel like a well-watered garden. God always has room for you. Peace is a person. In spending time with Him, you will find the rest for which you have been longing your whole life. You will discover you don’t have to “do” anything to earn God’s love. He’s done the true work for you on the cross. And paradoxically, God’s kind of rest will enable you not to lie around feeling helpless and lame, but rather to “jump up” and walk out into the world with joy.
posted by Caroline Coleman in carolinecolemanbooks.com on November 29, 2011