FINDING REST IN A RESTLESS WORLD
This past weekend spent in celebration of our Patronal Feast was one which brought many blessings, among the highlights of which were the inspirational words of our beloved Bishop ANTHONY. One of the messages that seemed to resonate deeply with many of us was his encouragement for us to pay attention to getting enough rest in our busy lives. It is providential, therefore, that this week we come to the 24th of Father Thomas Hopko’s 55 Maxims for Christian Living: Do Your Work, Then Forget It. Many of us have no problem with the first part, but struggle to lay our work aside and rest. In this week’s Midweek Reflection, we hear from Sam Williams, the Youth Director from St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church of Wyckoff, New Jersey, who reflects on this important topic.
by Sam Williams
Overscheduled, stressed, and tired.
That pretty much describes every person I know. We pride ourselves in our multitasking abilities during the day, but can’t seem to calm our thoughts to get to bed at night. We begin our days tired, we joke about our need for coffee, and find that there aren’t enough hours in the day to finish what just has to get done. If we’re not staying super busy, we think we’re being lazy. And what’s just one more obligation? I can handle that, no problem!
And then we burn out and realize we aren’t the Energizer Bunny.
If we’re always running, eventually we’re going to hit empty. We have to learn how to refuel if we’re going to do anything to the best of our potential. We need to learn how to rest.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
This passage encourages me when I feel overwhelmed. But how can we put these words to good use in our lives? How can we find rest in this restless world of ours?
Come to Christ
The first thing that Jesus tells us is that we should come to Him. It’s such a simple command, “come!” yet so hard for us to actually do. Though we are tired of being tired, we’re also stubborn. We are so used to handling everything, we don’t know how to do any less.
The good news is that we don’t have to handle it all, alone. We don’t have to bear all of our worries and busyness, alone. Christ tells us that we can unburden ourselves onto Him. But how?
First, we simply need to come to Him in prayer. When we feel overburdened or stressed, we should take a moment to breathe. Just stop and say a quick prayer. Ask Christ for strength for that moment.
Second, we have to let go of the need to do everything. We have to unclench our hands that hold so tightly to our busy schedules, and give them up to Christ. Give your day, your anxiety and your busy schedule up to Him. Offer your work up to God for Him to bless and to help you get through it all.
God isn’t going to take something from us if we don’t let go of it first. So we should let go of the need to be in control of our schedule, and offer our responsibilities up to Him so that we can follow the next command Christ gives us.
Take on His yoke
Once we have come to Christ in prayer and have laid down our stressed out lives before Him, what’s the next step? He says to take His yoke upon ourselves. But what does that even mean?
A yoke is a wooden beam that connects two animals (like oxen) and allows them to pull a load or do work together. So when Christ says to take on His yoke, He’s telling us that He’ll be in the job with us. He isn’t giving us additional stress or work; He’s taking the pressure off of us and is putting it upon Himself!
But if Christ wants us to take on His yoke, what yoke are we shouldering now? Saint Paul talks about the “yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1) that our sinful self wants to return to. He says that the temptations of the world actually shackle us into slavery. Jesus is telling us to lay down all our worries and struggles and to accept His help in sharing our burdens.
Learn from Christ
So we’re willing to approach Christ in prayer. We accept that He can help us get through our day. But what does He have to teach us about how to deal with our 21st century world, with all of its temptations and anxieties?
We forget that Jesus did not live in a simple time, either. He lived in Palestine at a time when the Holy Land was occupied by yet another foreign power. It wasn’t much more than a century after the Jewish revolt of the Maccabees and there was constant rumor of a rebel leader (which many hoped Jesus would prove to be) rising up to free the Jews from their Roman overlords.
On top of the political climate, Jesus could hardly ever get alone time. Everywhere He went, people were following Him, asking for help and healing, and pressing in on Him in huge crowds. How did He handle all of His stress?
Jesus took time to rest.
Over and over again, we find Jesus going off alone to pray. He spent quality time with His friends and family. He spent time in the Temple praying in community. This is a model we would be wise to emulate. Take time for the things that really matter: community prayer, time with loved ones, and quiet time with God. When our focus is on anything else, we lose sight of what really matters.
The Old Testament stresses the importance of a Sabbath rest. Jews since the time of Moses have kept the seventh day holy by setting it aside for rest and devotion to God. While Sunday is the Lord’s Day for Christians – a day for community worship– Saturday is still the Sabbath. Though we don’t need to observe the Sabbath like our Jewish friends might, do we give ourselves some sort of Sabbath rest each week? Do we allow ourselves to have time to unwind?
We might not ever have the time to take an entire day to stay home and just relax with family. But we can take an hour or two, regularly, or we can take a few minutes each day to just be still and quiet before God.
Scripture reminds us, “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), but are we ever still?
Scripture reminds us of the wisdom in having a moment each day, and a time each week, to quiet down and reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going. But if we never stop, looking back means we’ll bump into something; and if we never look back, we won’t know if we’re going in the right direction.
And that direction, as we saw in the first point, means moving towards Christ.
We all need rest; it’s part of being human. The world tells us that success rests in being able to juggle overbooked schedules while running on empty. Christ, on the other hand, says to come to Him, to offer up our burdens to Him so that He can help us carry them. Taking time to rest and to be still are not only recommended for success and healthy lives, they’re absolutely necessary for us to live as Christians. Without this time to reflect and to spend time with God, we can find ourselves locked into the yoke of slavery rather than experiencing the freedom that comes with the yoke of Christ.
Do you often find yourself burdened by stress and controlled by an impossible schedule? How can you offer this to Christ so that He can help you carry the weight?
Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.