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Rest. What Rest?

What do death, sleep, music, sabbath and pauses from physical and mental exertion have in common? A simple four-letter word: Rest.

Recently, my spouse and I heard the Columbus Symphony perform Mozart’s Requiem. As I read the translation of the words I was surprised to realize that “requiem” means “rest.” Driving home, I had Dave Google this for me. A requiem is a mass in remembrance of the dead. It comes from the first word in the mass “requies,” which translates as rest.

Eternal Rest

I understand the concept of “eternal rest.” But most who have studied death and dying suggest that we just say that our loved one died. Not that he is resting. For eternity. As if they will wake up. Although, if we see eternal rest as a serene and lovely state of being, thinking about life after death in this context may have its benefits. So I don’t usually think of rest in relation to death.

I Believe in Sleep

For much of my life, rest has equated to sleep. I could have won contests on deep sleep. As the lead adult for the first mission trip during my field placement days in seminary, one of the other adults shared that the kids were planning an escape. It was two in the morning. And they were planning to leave the church in Winnipeg, where we were staying, to head to the home of one of the teenage hosts a couple of blocks away. I assembled my students in the fellowship hall of the church. I reminded them that we were leaving at 6:00 a.m. to drive back to Minnesota. Which meant, I was going to drive the rented van for the 10-hour trip after four hours of sleep.

I was livid. Usually an eight- to nine -hour sleeper, I was already worried about driving after only four hours of sleep. If they slipped out as planned, the much shorter night’s sleep that faced me would be less than peaceful. So, gathered there in the fellowship hall, I declared, “I believe in sleep almost as much as I believe in God. Get in your sleeping bags now. I will see you in four hours, and you will remain awake with me during our 10-hour drive south.” They dutifully obeyed. And we made it safely to our next stop. They did not all stay awake with me.

The Musical Rest

The concept of a musical rest is also extremely important. It is the rest between the notes that can drive the beat, the pulse of the music. The rest provides the silence, if only momentary, to contrast and give importance to the notes that follow. Or the pause emphasizes that which has just ended. Consider the rest after the first phrase of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony: Da, Da, Da, Daaa. Da, Da, Da, Daaa. (Psychology Today, 2014)

So too, we need to rest between the long string of life that runs on and on and on. Like the musical rest, the life rest can help us appreciate what has come before. And it can prepare us for what will follow.

Little Sabbath

Although you can suggest that others experience rest, you can’t really make someone else rest. But you can help them approach rest if only with a few suggestions. We direct a family camp. “Rest hour” was mandatory for all after the noon meal. Somewhere through the years, that hour has become “flat-on-your-back” time. It is amazing how many people end up truly resting, sleeping even, because they are lying down! This little sabbath time in the middle of the day helps to refuel life in a community full of activity and engagement and learning and nature.

The adults at camp often embrace this hour wholeheartedly. Many discover that the kinds and amount of rest we need changes throughout our lifespan. Most of us needed much more sleep and rest as infants and then again as teens. Our bodies were changing so rapidly and significantly that rest was essential to process learning throughout the day. For some older adults, less sleep is needed. But often different kinds, length and frequency of rest vary.

Pause from Strenuous Tasks

Consider the rest that is needed in the midst of strenuous physical and mental activity. I was humbled by the need to slow my pace and rest at intervals from shoveling the driveway last month. Lifting and throwing the snow — the particularly wet and heavy 7 inches — was challenging. My younger self would have plowed right through. My neighbor just worked from home.

Give Me Rest!

So for me, someone who loved eight to nine hours of rest every night, the waking up in the middle of the night that can come with age has been a frustration. Why can’t I just sleep straight through like I always have? I lay there and quote the scripture: “Come, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) What a lovely invitation from the Psalmist who makes it sound so easy!

Rest just doesn’t come when we pray for it to come.  So what to do when I am truly “resting” there in the dark and frustrated as all get out that I am not getting my magic eight hours? I try to keep my mind calm and put away the lists and ideas that seem to keep me awake longer. The temptation to pick up the tablet and play a few games or puzzles is difficult to resist. “Just give me rest” becomes my mantra.

What kind of rest does your body and mind require of you in this season of life? How are these different from earlier seasons? Can you embrace the rest and see it as a gift, a way to refresh and refuel?

May you find rest, in one form or another, as a blessing for your lives. May the rest given you this day as you pause, refresh and refuel for tomorrow be enough.

About Rev. Beth Long-Higgins

AvatarRev. Beth Long-Higgins is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, musician, fiber artist and mother of two adult children.

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