One of the busiest weeks of a person’s year could be the week before a vacation. Beyond the necessity of packing, the covering of normal duties at home, work, and in other spheres of life requires a large amount of forethought and planning. After all of that preparation, the final moment before pulling out of the driveway is pregnant with the question, “Did we forget anything?” Not only do we not want to forget to bring something important, but we want to be sure that we have fully dealt with everything we are leaving behind.
Such planning is not only a prerequisite for a week of relaxation, but for any period of rest. Rest cannot happen apart from the hard work of preparation. While we may be able to ignore and put off certain responsibilities as we seek a moment of peace, if we are going to genuinely rest, it’s going to take some effort.
It makes sense that rest naturally follows hard work. If we consider the great day of rest in Scripture, the Sabbath, we find that the first day of rest was practiced by God himself after six days of work – six days of preparation and filling, all leading to a time for reflecting on and rejoicing in all he had made. That model of the Sabbath from the very beginning then informed the later law of ceasing from work on the last day of the week, with the understood necessity of hard work and preparation to make that day of rest possible. If you can’t bake bread or grind grain or slaughter your animals or start a fire on the following day, then you’re going to need to get things rolling the day before. And while that extra work makes one day harder, it prepares the way for the following day to be one of rest and joy. The planning is worth it because it leads to true rest.
Often, instead of preparing for rest by working hard, we try to sneak into rest by ignoring responsibility. Yes, the dishes need done, we’re going to have to eat at some point, and that call is probably work letting me know that I failed to finish a necessary project, but I am going to sit on this couch and “rest.” We imagine that filling our eyes and ears with the latest Netflix release will sweep away the nagging feeling that our leisure is really laziness and neglect. But when the credits roll, we find that the flood of responsibilities we shunned sweeps away any temporary rest we felt. We may have been entertained, or even found a bit of relaxation, but the final product doesn’t feel like true rest.
Certainly there are moments when we can simply sit down and find a moment of unexpected calm. We should be wise enough to embrace those gifts and not rush past them in an effort to not lose our prized position in the rat race. Yet it would also seem wise to value regularly scheduled rest that we rigorously prepare for – a rest that extends not only to our physical bodies, but to our minds and hearts. A rest that calls us to rejoice in all the good gifts the Father has given.
But we should be careful to not idealize the preparation or the rest. No matter how much we plan, we will surely forget something. It will flood our minds like the question of whether or not we locked the door before heading to the beach, threatening to pull us from our rest into work and worry. It’s those moments that remind us that rest is ultimately an act of faith and trust. Our preparation is never perfect, and even if we get everything covered, we may still wonder if certain things can go on without us present. Rest then moves from rigorous preparation to a fight of faith. Rest calls us to trust in the sovereign goodness of our Father and the truth that he holds all things together by the word of his power, not us. He then is the source of all true rest, both from physical toil and from the curse of sin and death.
As Jesus calls us to find rest for our souls in him, he does not call us to prepare in the same way we might for earthly rest. He simply tells us to come to him. To cease striving. Our work to find soul rest prepares us for resting in Christ in a different but similar way as it opens our eyes to the reality that no preparation or effort on our part can secure the true rest found in knowing our sins forgiven and our souls secured in Christ as we wait for the eternal rest that is to come. We don’t work our way into that rest or sneak into it; we joyfully enter into it by faith.