The concept of rest is mentioned over 40 times in the New Testament. Jesus clearly prioritized the practice of getting away and taking time to refresh between periods of busy and taxing ministry. To our own detriment, our culture has grown to look down on the idea of rest, labeling it as laziness or waste. Those who learn to read their own needs and advocate for their own rest are stigmatized, called weak. This week we have watched this play out on the international stage as Simone Biles withdrew from Olympic gymnastics events to honor her physical and mental well-being. Celebrities and elected officials predictably lambasted Biles, and I am sure we all heard the mix of support and criticism of Biles’ decision in our own circles.
This situation reminded me of a sermon that our pastor, Mary Alice Birdwhistle, gave at Highland Baptist Church on July 18 (audio available here, transcript here). Based on the gospel reading from that week’s liturgy (Mark 6:30-34), Mary Alice stated, “There is something about resting and being with Jesus that directly impacts the way in which we are sent out to do the work of Jesus. There is something about rest that allows us to be formed and transformed to do the things God is calling us to do – and to be the people God is calling us to be…The question we might ask ourselves this morning is: how often do you and I intentionally take time to do what Jesus instructs the disciples do here? How often do we truly rest and allow ourselves to be renewed for whatever it is God is calling us toward? Or do we just keep going at such a fast past until we’re exhausted, and then we crash, and repeat the cycle all over again?”
How have the toxic systems around us convinced us that we are only as valuable as what we produce? How have we bought in to that lie in our own lives, and therefore ignore our inner voice that tells us we need to sit down for a while and just be?
Simone Biles’ assertion that she heard from her body and knew she needed to take a seat to protect her physical and mental health, and then the bravery she showed in listening to that discernment, is an inspiration. I pray that each of us learns from this example. She is more than what she produces in the gym. You are more than what you produce at work and in your various activities.
I also want to take a moment to acknowledge the obvious truth that we, as a nation, feel that we have the right to tell Black women what to do with their bodies. Racism is this nation’s original sin, and is inextricably linked to our reactions here. It is again our opportunity and challenge: believe Black women. Trust Black women. Protect Black women.
Rest is resistance, pushing back on systems that will kill us if given opportunity. Our Creator has told us how our bodies were meant to operate: with rest and regular refreshing. They also gave us the ability to read and discern our physical needs. Let us honor ourselves and these gifts from our Creator, and rest without shame.