A person can live most of their life without ever truly knowing how to rest. We use the terms “rest” and “sleep” interchangeably, but they are not the same.
As a child who loved to nap, there were days I came home from kindergarten proudly wearing a “Best Rester” badge. But it really didn’t mean I had rested during nap time. It often meant I had slept like a log while others squirmed and whispered on their mats.
So, what’s the difference?
Sleep repairs your body while rest repairs your soul. Your body is the physical substance you can see. Your soul is made up of your intellect, emotions, free will and your mind.
A person can sleep every night for 8 hours but still wake up exhausted. That’s because our minds never turn off. We are always thinking. When we experience restful sleep, it’s because our soul is at rest. A growing number of people take prescriptions or supplements to help them sleep. And while this is advantageous to repair their body, being under the influence of something does not necessarily translate to soul rest.
We know and accept that we can only function so many days without sleep. But why do we try to function without soul rest? Rest isn’t just something we long for. It’s something we need, much like a musical rest is necessary for a song.
Composers will often insert a rest, or a rhythmic silence, into a piece of music for effect. The rest is not merely the absence of musical notes. It is essential to the beauty of the song. A musical rest is a deliberate and distinguished pause that builds anticipation for the listener. It signals that something is about to happen and tunes the listener’s ear to hear it. Working in tandem with musical notes, this rest, or strategical silence, has the power to transcend the listener.
If a composer withholds a rest where one is needed in a song, the result is cacophony. Gone is the flow, the rhythm and any real way to transcend the listener. So, too with us. A life without rest is just as cacophonous as a song without a rest.
As a caregiver, this is the hardest – and perhaps most important – lesson for me to learn. I sleep well. But I struggle to rest.
Caregivers are on call 24/7. Their focus is their loved one, not themselves, so they constantly look at all that needs to be done and step up to do it. If they are fortunate, there are other people who will stand in the gap and help carry the load. But sadly, most caregivers do not have help. When they do take time for themselves, they often feel guilty, worrying if something is falling through the cracks or an important need is going unmet.
When I started providing care for my Father 6 years ago, I used to eye the calendar longingly, waiting for a weekend getaway or a vacation. But I quickly learned that rest cannot be reserved for vacation alone. That’s like taking your daily vitamins only once a week. Rest must be practiced every day, if only for a few golden minutes.
When I don’t take time to rest, I get short, irritable and impatient with people. It’s like driving a car with four flat tires. My thoughts become mostly negative and my outlook on life is not good. I’m just trying to make it to the end of the day. When I do carve out time in my schedule for regular rest, I am more agreeable, happier and at peace.
So, what exactly is rest?
For my Grandmother Myrtle, it was gardening. Digging in the soil and watering her beautiful flowers wasn’t work to her. It gave her a chance to breathe and enjoy a respite from a husband and five children. For my Grandmother Maggie, it was cooking. Nothing thrilled her more than feeding her family and loved ones with a homecooked meal. It did not matter what time of day or night you came to visit her. She would always try to feed you.
For some people, rest could mean listening to your favorite music and munching on double chocolate cookies while soaking in a hot bath. It could be lunch with a good friend or taking a hike on a gorgeous sunny day. It could mean reading a good book followed by a nap. It could be watching your favorite movie or playing a game.
Rest is anything you enjoy doing that refreshes and rejuvenates you. It does not have to include sleep or silence. Since everyone is different, rest looks different for everyone.
If you’ve ever been moved by a beautiful piece of music, then it did something to you. It made you feel a certain way. Perhaps it transcended you. That’s what God designed soul rest to do for you and me. It moves us and impacts our lives. It makes us see life in a new way. It transcends us.
I have found that I am the best version of myself when I make rest a regular part of my life. Some days I do pretty well, while other days I fall flat on my face. But every day I must choose. Will I insert a rest or withhold it? I hope I choose wisely.