Some of the inmates I work with in the Dallas County jail have homelessness in their life stories. It is hard to get a job, to receive government assistance, or to save anything—even a few scraps of food—without an address. One woman who hasn’t had a place for seven or so years recently said something that affected me profoundly. She said that when you live on the streets for a while, sometimes you do things you really don’t want to do just to be able to lie down for a few hours.
Rest. Rest is in the lowest reaches of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In addition to being the most basic of human physiological needs, rest is holy. If humans are made in God’s image, the enjoyment of rest is one of the most primal ways in which we resemble God. Our Jewish brothers and sisters take the holiness of rest incredibly seriously.
And yet there’s a counter cultural element to rest, or even to slowing down. Some of us fill every waking moment with busy-ness in response to cultural messages urging us to keep working and to work ever harder to get ahead. Sometimes we overfill our time with busy-ness to avoid ourselves, our families or God, all the while congratulating ourselves on what hard workers we are. I posit that habitual overscheduling as an avoidance mechanism is a sin of omission, as paradoxical as that might sound. It neglects time scheduled specifically for meeting ourselves and God in rest.
We can find ourselves drawn out of balance in the other direction, too. Those who enjoy a life of leisure run the risk of taking rest for granted, missing opportunities for gratitude or doing too little. Resisting action can manifest as laziness, or in seven deadly sins parlance, sloth. It reflects indifference to the gifts entrusted to us. We could also characterize a reluctance to put our talents into action as a sin of omission, avoids a right use of our blessings.
The discipline of engagement that counteracts laziness is study. Study offers opportunities to hear the word of God. When we recognize God as revealed in scripture, we are equipped to see his work in the lives of others and in community, history and nature. Moreover, we are equipped to act. Try studying something you disagree with rather than something that reinforces what you already believe. We work harder to perceive when we’re drawn into tension by differing views. It helps us hear the still small voice amid our own well-rehearsed lines.
The discipline of abstinence that counteracts excessive busy-ness is frugality. There are a couple of flavors. Frugality is abstaining from spending for status, glamour or luxury. Simplicity is a form of frugality centered on a few principles, and poverty is the rejection of all possessions. In any form, the idea is to find our sustenance in grace rather than in material things. In addition to releasing attachments to things, we might also ponder attachments to ideas we hold about ourselves or about others. Ideas about self-worth in particular may be ripe for release.
I leave you with a traditional Episcopal prayer for quiet confidence.
O God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God.
Join the conversation. Where do you find your strength and confidence?
Copyright 2013 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.