By Tammy Darling
Every year I fall for it: the promise of simplicity wrapped in a subliminal message that if I just had the right organizational tools, my life would be streamlined and tranquil. By year’s end I’m restless, anxious for a new beginning, a fresh start. I begin picking up magazines at Walmart, such as Real Simple, in the hopes that my life will be just that. Somewhere between Christmas and New Year’s, I convince myself that this new year will bring a much-needed respite from the chaos.
When I’m restless within, I mistakenly convince myself that organizing my closets or filing away myriad paperwork will ease that unrest. Not so. I am learning that the only thing that will help with unrest is its opposite: rest.
So this year instead of my annual tradition of filing a mound of papers on New Year’s Day, I plan to rest. No more striving, no more rushing, no more sunrise to sunset and beyond busyness. The inner panic I create by believing “I’m so busy” (a bit prideful now that I think of it) will give way to enjoying the presence of the Lord. I will slow down, pay attention, and breathe.
Jesus said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitted on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message).
Sounds streamlined and tranquil to me. A respite from chaos? Absolutely. Yes, this is the new year that I need; I suspect you do as well. And so I invite you this new year to rest. Make Matthew 11:28-30 your goal for the year. Embrace it. Live it. Breathe it in.
I cannot begin to imagine how many hours I spend (waste) in a year wondering what I’m going to wear to church, to a concert—even to the grocery store, for crying out loud. Will I be too hot, too cold, too over-the-top, too slobbish? And the big question (pun intended): Does what I’m wearing make me look fat?
But according to Matthew 6:31, I should not worry about what I wear. That means when Sunday morning rolls around, I don’t need to try on three or four outfits. That time would be better spent preparing my heart and mind for the upcoming morning service. As long as it’s modest and fits with the season, I’m good to go.
Walking with Christ, we don’t have to fill the empty spaces with stuff or endless activity. When we’re attached to the vine, we don’t care what we wear to church, only that we are there. When we are immersed in the river of life, we won’t be stagnating in the pond of productivity, stuck in the mire of it all.
We have a tendency to think of simplicity as downsizing and organizing. They are related, but they are not one in the same. The Christian discipline (and it is a discipline) of simplicity is not about organizing our stuff into perfect color-coded bins or files. It’s about getting our priorities in order.
Our priorities should begin within as we seek God and rest in his presence. Everything else flows outward from that. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
When biblical simplicity is an internal priority, it will then impact our outer lifestyle. At this point we may see a need to downsize, not because we think that by doing so we will experience serenity, but because we are following the rhythms of grace and see that our excess can be used for the benefit of others and not merely for our own consumption. When this is the motive, getting rid of excess is a peaceful project.
To live out a year of rest means that we are content with Christ alone. Our focus is not on the external but on the eternal. A shift of perspective and priorities makes all the difference.
In Saint Augustine’s Confessions, he stated, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
Having vs. Making Time
How much space in your life is there for God? Do you have time for him or do you have to make time for him? There’s a big difference, you know, and it determines whether or not we can truly experience a year of rest.
Making time for God means that we squeeze him in amongst our busyness. Our schedule is arranged to fit him in, like an emergency appointment at the doctor’s. And whether we want to admit it or not, we feel inconvenienced by it all.
Having time for God is where we find rest for our souls. Our schedules are made around him, because he is our number one priority. We seek his face and then go about our business. We follow his lead instead of expecting him to follow ours.
If you don’t really have time for God and instead find yourself having to make time for him, you may need to change some things before you’ll experience that rest. For instance, you may need to prune certain obligations from your schedule and start saying no to reduce the number of commitments that you take on. Remember, even Jesus did not say yes to every person and every request. But he did invite his disciples to get away, to rest.
Seek God so that you are clear on what he wants you to be doing. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens,” said Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3:1. Now may not be the time; we don’t have to do everything in one season.
If you have kids at home, you may need to look at their schedules as well. Do they have any down time? Are you training them to follow God, yet they have no time for him? If your kids are in nonstop, multiple activities, perhaps they need to start making some hard choices as to what stays and what goes.
Forget about the “million” things you need to accomplish and start with the one right in front of you. Living in the moment enables us to focus entirely on whatever we’re doing at the time. This eliminates the hurried feeling of “I’ve got too much to do!”
Breathe deep. Every breath that you take is God-infused. Remind yourself every day that no matter where you go and no matter what you do, you are in the presence of God. Do that for 365 days, and you will undoubtedly have a year of rest.
Tammy Darling writes from her home in Three Springs, Pennsylvania.