Resting, both with sleep and with relaxing while awake, is important for our mental health. Mental ill-health can make us wide-awake when we desperately wish not to be, may be triggered by overwork and a lack of rest, and may lead us to be constantly exhausted. Rest also has a spiritual purpose, rest for our bodies and minds is something God is very much interested in.
We have all heard the famous quote, “on the seventh day God rested” (Genesis 2:2). It is not that God was tired, that he needed to replenish his strength, but that he was satisfied with his work of creation, and that it was complete. Later in the Bible the Israelites were told to keep the seventh-day Sabbath (Saturday):
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Orthodox Jewish people today take the Sabbath and the injunction to do no work very seriously. Christians, however, have taken a different view: some keep the Saturday Sabbath as seriously as Jews, most take the Sabbath for Christians to be the first day of the week (Sunday) based on a number of NT references, and many do not treat any day as a particularly “restful” day, a day on which they do no work, however we define that.
Rest is, though, important for us. I’ve been in jobs where I worked a seven day week, and I’ve been in ones when I worked on both Saturday and Sunday – so neither option for a Sabbath was available. Yet I believe it is important for us to have rest – most of us have at least one day off a week, and I think it is important for our mental and spiritual health to have that day off.
I think it is interesting to note that in the 23rd Psalm David says: “He makes me lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:2) – he makes, not suggests. I think that God has designed the human body to need rest and to replenish itself, and our souls too, and that sometimes in this world we forget about resting, and end up weary. I know that for me a lack of rest can lead me either way with bipolar disorder, actually. If I sleep too little I become hypomanic, if I work too much I end up with anxiety problems leading to deep depression.
There are in fact many times that rest is described as something God wants or requires us to have which are not specifically related to the Sabbath. Sometimes the Bible describes our natural human desire/need for rest, such as in Psalm 55:6-8: I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.”
We are told in Colossians 2:16ff that the Sabbath day as such is not necessary (although we are certainly allowed to have a Sabbath-day, whenever we so wish) although the principle of resting from our labours is seen throughout the Bible. I think that we should be aware that God blessed the idea of resting from what we are doing, of relaxing and repairing ourselves ready to fight the good fight in the world again. I know I have been guilty of working too hard and resting too little. By resting I don’t mean the rules and regulations orthodox Jewish people go through – I tend to think that is a little over-the-top, but perhaps not checking our emails, or staying up late, or worrying about work. There have been times I have longed for a cessation of worry about work related issues – I am not saying I know how to stop that, but I do think I should try!
I am having enforced rest at the moment, because I am not working, but I think this time is helpful to me- it gives me time to think and to read and it has given me plenty of time to let my mind repair itself from my last bout of depression. Sometimes a rest such as this is to be welcomed. Perhaps if you are unemployed, or off sick, it might be helpful to think of that time as a Sabbath, as a time to rest and to grow closer to God. There is a spiritual meaning of “rest” in the Bible too.
Isaiah talks about what “rest” means, spiritually, in 30:15:
This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”
In this passage Isaiah is condemning Judah, who made an alliance with Egypt, and God is saying that if they would rest in him – waiting on God to see what he would have them do – and be quiet and listen to him, then they would be strong and they would be victorious. Here we see “rest” as calmness and confidence in God.
In Matthew, Jesus famously says he will give us rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28-9), and this is the rest of those who accept him. In this world we may have tribulation (John 16:33) but we have rest in the Lord, we have the salvation of the Lord and the hope of the eternal rest in the future. In fact the author of Hebrews has a great deal to say about rest. He says that:
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; (Hebrews 4:9)
This is not, if you read the rest of the chapter, the Sabbath day as such, but a more eternal rest. It is more like the rest that was promised the Israelites when they entered Canaan, not restricted to one day, but, unlike Canaan, there will be no end to this rest, no interruption, no toil or trouble but only rest from our labours on earth. We are told that we must make every effort to enter this rest (4:11) and must ensure that we obey Christ. It follows on from Jesus’ statement in John 14:14 that he is going to prepare a place for us, a place of mansions which will be our home.
We need rest, as humans, and our souls also need rest, and need a time when we live in God’s presence, abide in his stillness, and replenish ourselves for the battle ahead. One of the things I am doing to try to ensure my good mental health is to have enough time to sleep, enough time to think and to pray, and time doing things I enjoy and which relax me. While I probably have too much time to rest just now, I plan on making time to just rest when I enter the workplace again.
I found a re-telling of Psalm 23 which I thought might interest:
The Lord is my pace-setter, I shall not rush,
He makes me stop and rest for quiet intervals,
He provides me with images of stillness,
which restore my serenity.
He leads me in the ways of efficiency,
through calmness of mind,
And his guidance is peace.
Even though I have a great many things
to accomplish each day.
I will not fret for his presence is here.
His timelessness, his all-importance
will keep me in balance.
He prepares refreshment and renewal
in the midst of my activity
By anointing my mind with his oils of tranquillity,
My cup of joyous energy overflows.
Surely harmony and effectiveness
shall be the fruits of my hours,
For I walk in the pace of my Lord,
and dwell in his house for ever.