I don’t do rest. I just do it. Not that I am very athletic anymore, or all that Nike speedy, but I do not naturally slow down or wait patiently. But regular “time outs” (a Sabbath rest) or occasionally hitting the “pause” button are good for all of us, myself included. Hence, area pastors are inviting us to pause from our busy lives during the upcoming season of Lent. In the run-up to Easter (April 21, this year), Lent runs for six weeks from Ash Wednesday (March 6) through Good Friday (April 19). See schedule next to this column.
Note I just said “run-up” and “runs”—spoken out of my driven personality and our common currency. Such is the racy language of our 21st Century Western culture, which is biased toward speed, efficiency, quickness and busyness, whereas waiting and slow are bad. As any dictionary will tell you, most connotations of “fast” are positive, while most connotations of “slow” are negative or neutral.
While I am always talking about the “running the race set before us” (Hebrews 12:1), God invites us to slow down and walk with him. That is, follow Jesus in unhurried rhythms of work and rest. Hence, the need for midweek ecumenical gatherings which connect us with an unhurried God in our walk of faith.
People driven as I am are often called a “Type A personality,” sometimes even a “human doing.” Like other Type A’s, I am a natural doer; I hate waiting around or having nothing to do. My pocket or fanny pack is stuffed with something to read or write or check the “next thing”—even ideas for this column.
Those of us fixated on cell phones and checklists find it hard to unplug, rest or relax. Or follow Jesus.
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He was a relaxed, unhurried kind of guy. He could spend 40 days on spiritual retreat, whereas I find even 40 minutes of silence or four hours of alone time excruciating. His unhurried pace frustrated his followers on their way to heal the synagogue ruler’s daughter (see Mark 5:21-43) or heal his friend Lazarus, who died during a two-day delay getting there (see John 11). When pressed to do things that would hasten the coming Kingdom or expedite a Big Reveal party as the Jewish Messiah, Jesus would say, “My time has not yet come” (John 2:4). He would not be tyrannized by the urgent, unlike many of us.
Unlike Jesus, I am no rest expert; I am a rest failure. I’m that guy who failed “rest period” in Kindergarten, with not much success since. Yet the Columbus area clergy have assigned me to preach on “right tempo” for the unhurried life. I’ve been given the text of Matthew 11:28-30, with its focus on rest: “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” The irony is not lost on me.
If I preached only what I habitually practice, the subjects I could preach on would be few, and “rest” would not be one of them. But, given this assignment for Lent, I’m motivated to learn and practice. Come learn with me as I imitate Christ.
If you are like me, you know the habit of hurry signifies not only a disordered schedule but also a disordered heart. Hurry is evident not in tasks per day or miles per hour, but in a heart pulsating with anxiety and frenzy. When yoked with Jesus, we learn instead a grace-paced tempo. Jesus’ yoke is “easy” or fits well. This right tempo releases us from toil and trouble; the yoke of Christ, taking the load off our shoulders, also recharges our emotionally-drained hearts.
By shifting the weight of our concerns to Jesus, and by unplugging and taking a time out, we can find the spiritual dew that refreshes. I’m told that nature’s dew is new every morning but will not appear or will disappear, if there is either heat or wind. The temperature must fall, the wind cease—all things at rest—before particles of moisture will coalesce to become life-giving dew.
Just as every plant and flower needs dew, so also every “human doing” needs the spiritual renewal of divine dew. Throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, this refreshing dew is referred to as manna—the Hebrew word for “what is it?” I am also told that “manna” is that dew-like, flaky white stuff that appeared miraculously every morning as God’s way of supplying the daily nutritional needs of ancient Israelites traveling 40 years in the wilderness. God continues to supply manna in the wilderness experiences of his people.
Reconnecting with an unhurried God is not about doing more but about enjoying the dew. You are invited to our Lenten soup suppers and worship services to taste and see this heaven-sent manna and find rest for your souls.
Rev. Dietrich Gruen, from Madison, is Bridge Pastor at First Presbyterian of Columbus.