I am tired these days. I keep seeing headlines about trauma and “covid fatigue” so maybe you are too. And herein lies the opportunity.
American culture is saturated with the values of the industrial revolution and we prize efficiency in deep and dangerous ways. We tend to see ourselves as machines, fueled by food, water, and sleep, each one to be tweaked and refined for the sake of increased productivity. We feel the pain of it when we can’t get through the to do list, but the repercussions are also much more serious. For example, we struggle to value or care for those in our society who are less typically productive than others: people who are disabled, sick, uneducated, elderly.
We have seen recently how distorted the faith can become when it gets tangled with cultural values, so let’s use our collective fatigue to practice untangling this one. We are not machines. We are human. We are terribly and wonderfully limited. And in our culture, it is part of our discipleship to practice those limits. So, let’s all sleep in and then have a nap and then go for a walk and go to bed early. Or not, because maybe you don’t have the resources to do that in this space. That’s ok too, and part of this practice is to let go of some of our expectations of perfection. Heaven forbid our rest become another to do item.
As I encourage rest and grace with ourselves, I can hear part of myself yelling, “There is work to be done! And you can’t just stop! Especially those people with power need to be working on behalf of those who are suffering.” And I agree with myself, but lately I have been more and more convinced that finding and accepting my limits is a part of this work, not different from it.
We don’t find relentless productivity in Scripture. What we find is that even God rested and commanded us to do the same. I recently had a congregant ask me how I managed to take a Sabbath. She was feeling overwhelmed with her school work and struggled to rest. And I said to her what the scriptures say to me, “you take a sabbath because you are not a slave.” Not to school work, not to work work, not to the relentless expectations of being a parent, not to a to-do list, and not the cultural pressure that tells you that you should be able to do it all. Actually, you shouldn’t.
In Romans 12 Paul insists that we not “think of yourself more highly than you ought” and then goes on to explain that we each have “different gifts according to the grace given to us.” We each have gifts, but not all the gifts, and those limits are given to us by God. Acknowledging this seems to be one of the ways that we resist conformity to the pattern of this world (12:2). That passage suggests that the health of our communities depends on our willingness to press into our limits. Between Paul’s discussion of gifting and the command to Sabbath, it is clear that our limits are given to us by God, and that we may fail at our efforts to improve this broken world when we stray outside them.
The Instagram account @nowhitesaviors has been exposing to me that part of my whiteness is to believe that I should be able to solve every problem everywhere, and how that belief and the work that comes out of it tend to dehumanize others rather than help. It’s not that I shouldn’t work on behalf of others, but that that work needs to be done from a place of humility, and my white supremacy is decidedly not humble.
Acknowledging my need for rest and my own limits helps me to remember my own humanity so that I can properly acknowledge the humanity of others. Speaking largely to people of color @thenapministry insists that rest, particularly for women of color, is both a form of reparations and resistance to that same white supremacy. Our communities are strengthened when everyone rests well.
One of the things that has been apparent to me during Covid is that our society is set up in such a way that we are not able to rest even when we desperately need to. Shouldn’t a healthy society have room in it for us to get sick? But instead people have lost jobs, businesses, houses. This forced slowing is a chance for us to rethink some things, but let us begin by allowing ourselves to get the rest we need. Let us receive our limits as the gift of God they are rather than something to push and strain against. To quote @thenapministry, “Rest is not some cute lil luxury item you grant yourself as an extra treat after you’ve worked like a machine and are now burned out. Rest is our path to liberation. A portal for healing. A human right.”
As I was writing this piece I got a notification from Time magazine about the 14 books I should read this February. O Lord, have mercy on us all! Instead, I’m going to slowly work through the books I already have on my shelf and read some Harry Potter with my kids.
Thank you for this. Especially for forging so firmly the connection between rest and liberation. In my own life I wrestle with the problem of retirement, and may I rest, and how much, and even how to rest.
Just nap with a beagle. Problem solved.
I love the permission this gives us to treat our own limits with the same grace with which we handle the limits of others. Not only permission but encouragement to take care of ourselves in a way that is counter to productivity culture.
Thanks for this article!