Rest easy, dear one
“Acquiring and maintaining interior peace, which is impossible without prayer, should consequently be considered a priority for everybody, above all for those who claim to want to do good for their neighbor. Otherwise, more often than not, they would simply be communicating their own restlessness and distress.” – Searching for and Maintaining Peace
Heaving a sigh, I collapsed onto my bed after a long day of travel back to my hometown for Christmas break. I don’t think I can do that again. This thought didn’t refer to the multiple flights, but the months spent working with each day packed to the brim. As I stayed home and slowly entered back into the rhythm of my family’s life, this thought became a bigger reality. Not in the sense that I would no longer complete my responsibilities, but realizing that running myself into the ground, which I viewed to be the definition of a “good missionary,” was not sustainable or true. It was not the way to live.
Trying to think about where to begin with rest, we have to start with our goal. In the balance of work and rest, what is the ultimate goal? What are we working toward? Why are we here? It’s not to earn a degree or job or relationship status. The world may push us towards these things, which are good, but our inheritance is far greater. Our goal is Heaven and to be saints.
In “An Open Letter to Missionaries of the World: The Greatest Threat to Our Souls,” Katie Salazar argues that “until we know what it is to ‘enter into His rest,’ we have no business entering into His activity. Heaven, after all, is Eternal Rest.” This is another step to living counter-culturally (as many saints did) and living in abundance. Sainthood is not reserved for cloistered nuns in a convent, although we love St. Therese of Lisieux. We’re striving for sainthood now! Blessed Carlo Acutis was 15 years old and he wore jeans and a pair of Nikes.
Years of carrying the weight of perfectionism and anxiety have made the impact of stress on my mind and body apparent. Stress can destroy from the inside out. But as I have continued my walk with Christ, I’ve realized the Lord desires more for all of us. One of my teammates continually reminded me this year that who we become is more important than what we do. I remembered the life-giving witness of other missionaries surrounding me, when we had taken weekends away to cook meals together, have intentional conversations, and pray together. There was no doubt, the joy they exhibited came from their personal encounters with the Lord and then sharing His love with others. Even with the weight of stress or exhaustion from mission, I knew we were still called to live life in abundance (John 10:10). We were called to return to the Lord, give up control to Him, and trust Him enough to take care of everything while taking the rest we need.
In St. Pope John Paul II’s papal document, “Christifideles Laici,” also known as, “The Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People,” says the world “becomes the place and means for the lay faithful to fulfill their Christian vocation, because the world itself is destined to glorify God the Father in Christ…They are not called to abandon their position that they have in the world…as the apostle Paul points out ‘So, brethren, in whatever state each is called, let him remain with God.’”
As Saint Pope John Paul II writes, striving for Heaven and sainthood does not mean we leave our work behind. In whatever we do, St. Paul writes that we are meant to be with God and invite Him into whatever we’re doing. St. Pope John Paul II also says when we are living out our calling as the laity of the Church (not as priests or religious, but the congregation), our vocation is holiness. We are called to take up the gospel and share it with the world.
We live in a culture that defines busyness as the key to success and if we’re trying to earn love, work hard, or discover our place in the world, it’s no wonder this is our reaction. The college culture feeds right into this lie. I need to earn this degree, so that I can have a good job, earn money, and live well. These are not inherently bad, but they’ve become disordered. This question of how to rest well and taking time for it has been popping up in conversations amongst other missionaries. Even in the pursuit of good and holy work, we can still believe the lie that we have to do everything to serve others. These people are well-formed, strive for the Good, but are also struggling to rest well.
Rest “is not, as it is understood, an invitation to laziness or inaction. It is an invitation to act, even to act considerably sometimes, but under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, which is a gentle and peaceful spirit”
(Searching for and Maintaining Peace).
Some might argue ‘well I like to constantly be doing something.’ Yet, if we’re constantly filling our lives with more stuff, when all the external stress is stripped away and we don’t have Christ, we’ll be empty. In my first semester, I thought a packed day meant I was doing a good job. I’m still learning how to renounce the lie that being a good missionary means working nonstop. Maybe you’re always thinking about your to do list or running from activity to activity or placing your worth in your test scores. This stems from putting our identity in what we do and not our identity as a son or daughter of God.
Busyness also equals noise. In Rome, craning our necks to marvel at the beauty of the Sistine Chapel, the room was buzzing with conversation. People on the overhead speaker would repeat “Silencio! Silencio!” It would be quiet for a moment before bubbling back up. We’re often afraid of silence and we don’t like standing still. Stillness requires us to not do things, which leads back to our own identity crisis. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says God’s love holds us in existence (CCC 27). Interiorly, we just have to be still and don’t need to try to do things to earn His love. If we begin by practicing this in our hearts, it can transfer to how much we take on in the world.
Busyness also defines our conversation at times. We can’t enter a conversation without complaining about our to do list. Do our tasks and assignments deserve all the stress we give them? Probably not. Again, who you become is more important than what you do.
So, how do we respond? In Mark 8, we hear about the cost of discipleship. Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow Him, we also hear Him say, “What does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?” Heaven is waiting for us, the God of the universe wants you, He’s calling us into abundance of life. We have so much more to gain…God wants to give us so much more than what the world offers us. We settle for so much less than what we are created for.
C.S. Lewis says, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Now, how can we give ourselves the rest we need? This means living counter-culturally. Rest is not escaping reality because God dwells in reality. Rest is allowing God to fill us up so we can enter back into work peacefully because He is at the center. Please don’t drop all your responsibilities, but sit with the Lord and then prioritize what you were created for. Here are some things I’ve learned about entering into rest:
Keeping the Sabbath holy
A priest friend reminded me that this is how we exercise our role as priests, prophets, and kings by our Baptism. We can work for 6 days, that’s all. Mark 2:27 says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” This is what you were made for! Do you trust the Lord enough to give Him the time and space He deserves on this day? That everything else will get done?
Another friend of mine told a group of students post-mission trip that living counter-culturally requires detachment. Praying for 15-20 minutes in silence everyday is detachment from noise. Attending Mass on Sunday instead of doing homework or working for hours is detachment from preference. Filling your mind with scripture, the catechism and not TV, Youtube, the news, or social media is detachment from this world.
Intentionality with your time
How are you being intentional with time? Practice holy leisure! Holy leisure means doing activities that are life-giving. This could be hanging out with friends, reading, taking time to pray. Binging Netflix or scrolling the day away on social media may start out restful, but it can leave us more tired than we started.
Make it happen
Here are some questions to ask yourself, pray with, and begin to make a plan to enter into rest:
- What can you do to take Sunday to be completely free?
- Take a hard and honest look at your schedule! Is your schedule setting you up for Heaven?
- How can you schedule your day to give God the first fruits of your day?
- When are you going to pray? When are you going to frequent the sacraments? When are you going to Mass to receive the Bread of Life?
- Who is going to help hold you accountable?
- How can you bring fellowship and virtuous friendship into your rest and life?
- What are some realistic goals you can make to accomplish this?
You were made for Heaven and to be saints. You were made for life in abundance. Pray about how you can live out of your identity as beloved sons and daughters. Then, take small steps to enter into rest.
Searching for and Maintaining Peace by Fr. Jacque Philippe
Open Letter to Missionaries: The Greatest Threat to Our Souls by Katie Salazar
Christifideles Laici by St. Pope John Paul II
Catechism of the Catholic Church