May 6, 2019
This week’s article was written by Sam Nikkel on behalf of Sioux Falls and Taylor Seminaries. It was published as part of the Spring 2019 issue of Onward, a newsletter for the North American Baptist family.
I don’t ever recall being greeted with the question, “Are you keeping rested?” On the contrary, people more usually ask, “Are you keeping busy?” This is a reflection of the reality that most of us live at a harried pace. Why are we living at this frantic pace, and is there a better way to live?
I propose that a cadence of rest, creative play, and productivity can increase the quality of our lives. I remember being introduced in about grade three to the three roots that support health: food, exercise, and rest. Of these three roots, nutrition and fitness are very prominent in our culture and continue to be strongly supported by business ventures. Rest does not get the same attention.
Why does rest matter? A painful experience of burnout in my midlife awakened me to the danger of neglecting rest and self-care, but I will say more about my story later. First, let’s explore this question through three lenses: physical, psychological, and spiritual.
Physically, our society is in trouble in the area of rest. There is a school of thought that suggests the growing sleep debt in North America is a bigger hazard than our national financial debt. Studies show that a lack of physical rest affects our immune system, cardiovascular health, mental health, and performance. Physical rest really matters, and many people are not attending to this important component of physical health.
Scholars in the field of psychology suggest that a frantic life pace could be evidence of unformed dimensions of our inner world. In her excellent book, Rest, Play, Grow, psychologist Deborah MacNamara gives us a beautiful framework of thinking about living life with a cadence of rest, play, and productivity. Her premise is that healthy inner formation includes attachment of belonging, loyalty, love, being known, significance, and sameness. When we have healthy roots of attachment in these areas, we can rest, play, and be creative. We do not need to find our core identity needs in our productivity.
It may surprise you to learn that the Bible has a lot to say about rest. In fact, the NIV Bible mentions rest and derivative words for rest 496 times. This is more than once for each day of the year. Our theology of rest is grounded first in the creation account, as God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2). The implications of this are significant. Rest was not an accommodation of fallen humanity, not a concession to our frailty. God resting on the seventh day was an expression of His essential nature. This action of resting was a celebration of completeness and sufficiency.
We see a practice of this rest in Psalm 23:1–2. The kind Shepherd takes the initiative to lead His sheep to still waters, and He makes them lie down in green pastures. This image of the shepherd teaches us both the priority and practice of rest.
Curiously, when I look at the Gospels, I just don’t see Jesus asking the question, “Are you keeping busy?” Instead, we hear Jesus’s well-known invitation in Matthew 11, “Come to me, all you who are wearied and burdened, and I will give you rest. . . . Learn from me . . . and you will find rest for your souls” (vs. 28–29). Here rest is both received and found. We receive the gift of rest as Jesus performs the deep restoration and healing that we need in our inner world, then we find rest as we create sacred rhythms and a cadence of space to our days, weeks, and months. We then live out of rest, discerning what God is already doing and receiving the resources to join Him where He is at work.
In nature we find a model of this cadence of rest and productivity. There is a season of harvest and fruitfulness, but there is also the winter season, a time of quietness and renewal. Plants and animals rest and prepare for another spring and summer full of hustle and bustle and productivity. The challenge for us is to build a rhythm to our lives that includes physical and spiritual rest and restoration, which then fuels productivity. My own narrative illustrates the hazard of neglecting rest. For twenty-five years, I served in ministry and worked very hard and did not have a cadence of living that included self-care and rest. In my late forties, I began to sense my inner strength and vitality draining away. Even though I was still active in seeking God diligently through my spiritual disciplines and working at a regional and national level, I felt like my inner world was becoming more and more dry. I had lost my joy in living and serving. I was becoming deeply fatigued and increasingly depressed. In many ways I was a dead man walking. It culminated in an emotional and physical crash at midlife, which left me in a dark, despairing place for twelve months. Through a beautiful season of physical rest, spiritual renewal, and professional re-tooling, I was restored to life and vitality. In retrospect I could see how my deficit understanding of rest and self-care had culminated in the erosion of my inner world. This painful valley in my life forged a new life message, and I now deeply believe in the value of a rhythm of rest, creative play, and productivity.
The cadence of those elements in my life allow me to live with a deep sense of joy and gratitude, even as I accept and attend to healthy boundaries to protect my limitations. For the past few years, the Wahl Centre at Taylor Seminary has helped pastors work through these concepts at an event called THRiVE. Through teaching, discussion, and personal reflection on the five key areas that contribute to resilience in ministry, THRiVE invites pastors and spouses to consider the importance of rest. Now, through the Kairos Project and the partnership between Sioux Falls Seminary and Taylor Seminary, we expect to make THRiVE available to seminary students, pastors, and lay leaders throughout the NAB!
When we embrace rest, we identify with and celebrate the completed work of God through Jesus Christ. Then, out of that posture we become creatively productive for God’s glory.
After ministering with The Navigators for twenty-five years, Sam Nikkel served as executive pastor at McKernan Baptist Church in Edmonton, Alberta, for fifteen years. He now gives leadership to the Healthy Pastor’s Initiative, part of the Wahl Centre at Taylor Seminary.
Read the full issue on Onward for spring 2019, online at nabconference.org.