Wind rushing in through the open windows, the smell of cut grass, Bryan Adams on the radio and the almost giddy sense of joy for an unexpected and oh-so-welcomed holiday. Some moments are so vivid in our experience. They live in the mind as if they are ever-present, continuously occurring.
A moment that I have only to close my eyes to recollect is a Friday afternoon in early June of my Grade 12 year. Into the midst of final projects, studying for exams, and pretty much constant anxiety, came an everyday miracle:
The power went out in the middle of third period.
Released early into a summer afternoon, we squeezed into a friend’s Renault, turned on the radio to Summer of ’69 and headed to the lake for an unexpectedly joyful afternoon. As we drove home in the growing twilight, sunburnt and smelling of lake water, I remember feeling that I had been given a precious gift – a gift that seeped and flowed into the anxious weeks ahead.
Rest is always a gift.
But it can be a gift we don’t always accept.
A Maclean‘s article from a few years ago made some interesting observations about how Canadians view rest. Unlike many European countries with much longer vacation time, Canada mandates 19 paid vacation days for full-time employment and a quarter of us don’t even take all of our owned time off. Furthermore, “in the eight-year period from 1998 to 2005, leisure time decreased by two hours and the average workweek increased by 1.7 hours.”
We are actually moving away from a more balanced life. Why is this? Can it be that we are good at understanding the value of hard work, but not so much the value of rest? Not taking a vacation may be good for the pocketbook or for earning brownie points with the boss – but it hampers productivity and, as several long-term studies show – can be actually quite detrimental to our health.
So a willingness to enjoy a rest from our labours is a wise decision. But for the people of God, made in the image of God, it’s also a responsibility.
God himself rests. It’s built into the very creation of the world, where God works for six days and then rests on the seventh. In this, God shows us that we are made both for work and for rest. Rest is in all of the patterns of our lives. It is in the daily balance between day and night, waking and sleeping. T.S. Eliot writes in Choruses from the Rock:
“In our rhythm of earthly life we tire of light. We are glad when the day ends, when the play ends; and ecstasy is too much pain.
We are children quickly tired: children who are up in the night and fall asleep as the rocket is fired; and the day is long for work or play.
We tire of distraction or concentration, we sleep and are glad to sleep.”
This rhythm of rest can be seen in the yearly calendar of the church, with the ordinary time broken by festivals and feasts. There is even the scope of our lives, the height of our productivity bracketed by childhood and old age.
Holidays, vacations, and rest. They remind us who we are.
Even more than the weekly need for Sabbath, holidays remind us that we are more than our work and greater than the sum of our achievements.
In the busyness of my working days and weeks, it is easy for me to lose sight of the reality of who I am. When so much of my time, effort, and energy go into being a good teacher, it is too easy to make the mistake of thinking that this is what gives me worth. When I view my work this way, my successes, instead of giving me pleasure, tend to feed my pride, and my failures or challenges can turn disappointment into bitterness or disengagement.
When I forget who I am, I move from the centre of the wheel to the rim and I rise and fall with every turn in my day. It’s hard to get out of this rut when we’re in it. Even more than the weekly need for Sabbath, holidays remind us that we are more than our work and greater than the sum of our achievements.
We are not only valued for our productivity, but we are valuable because of who we are: beloved children of the God that made the oceans and the mountains. Our ultimate value lies in our relationship with God.
Most of my holidays are in the way of a “staycation”. This is not generally much of a hardship. As I write this, I am looking out the window to leaves that gleam in the sun and part to show me glimpses of the North Shore Mountains. This evening, to escape the heat of my apartment, I will head down to the park by the river and breathe in the scents of wild roses and the log booms of cedar that the tugboats tow upstream. Summer in Vancouver can be glorious.
A few years ago, I had a vacation revelation when my family went on a vacation to Mexico during Spring Break. Up until this point, my idea of a vacation was akin to a military exercise. Make a list of everything in the vicinity that is important or beautiful. Make a detailed schedule to fit it all in. Get up early and fall into bed exhausted, happy and filled to the brim with a profusion of art, architecture, experience and food. I still like this type of holiday, but this trip to Mexico was an epiphany.
For four days, I alternated between reading, swimming, eating and existing in a half-awake, meditative doze. I was reading Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, and, being far too relaxed to race through it at my normal pace, I read a page, and put down my book. Instead of reading further, I looked at the water and enjoyed resting in the presence of God, conscious that he was speaking to me and I was listening.
Looking back on that week, I am reminded of one of the closing prayers for Compline, the last service of the church day before we head off to our nightly rest:
Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours
of this night (and the hours of our vacation days),
so that we who are wearied by the changes and
chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
As we head off to whatever holidays we have: a long anticipated trip, a week at the lake or even a day at the beach, this could be a prayer to offer up to the God who is the source of all true rest.