The last few weeks have felt super busy. On paper, probably not as busy as they have been in years gone by, but they have wiped me out. So the past two weekends have involved not feeling great, and lots of naps. And I know it’s because I haven’t been prioritising one of the most important things in life: rest.
It’s probably a mixture of guilt and defiance against the fact that my body can’t cope with the things it used to, but I just haven’t been building rest into my days and weeks. I’ve been seeing it as an optional extra, when deep down I know that it’s essential.
And I think that’s the way lots of us run our lives – we’ll crash when we need to; until then, we just ignore the warning signs and keep on keeping on. The fatigue that comes with my rheumatoid arthritis throws this into sharper focus, but I think the principle is the same for all of us.
When we were in the throes of the covid lockdowns, I wondered whether valuing a slower pace would be a legacy we could take forward. For all the pain of isolation, separation and boredom, there was a strange joy for me in just stopping, without any form of guilt. Don’t get me wrong, I never want to go back to lockdown, but I found having the space to think about priorities, my relationships and the rhythms of life surprisingly helpful. But it seems that way of thinking just doesn’t work in the culture we live in, with work, school, family, friends, church… It takes a global pandemic to force us to stop!
I was listening to a podcast last week that reminded me that humans need rest – both in the form of sleep, and in resting our minds. We might try to fight it, but we can only keep going for so long. The onslaught of noise and communication we live with in 2022 is greater than at any time in history. So if we’re going to be serious about functioning healthily – physically, mentally and spiritually – we need to prioritise rest. That might sound indulgent or even lazy to some, but when we see it as fundamental to being our best selves, it takes on a new value. For me, it’s definitely time to reframe rest.
So what can you do to actively prioritise rest? Obviously, people’s circumstances vary greatly – if you are working two jobs to pay the rent, or are getting up seven times a night with a newborn, it might be harder to envision how you can plan in rest. But I think being conscious of the issue is key, and taking the decision to see it as an investment of time. A good place to start is to find the little in-between spaces in the day, even if they are just five minutes. This is something I’ve been trying to do more since starting work. I’m trying to refuse to fill some of them with something useful. One of these spaces is just after I turn off my laptop after work. I drink tea and think and pray for ten minutes before picking up the kids from school. The washing doesn’t get put away, but I am much more me, and much less stressed.
For me, rest is a necessity – I know if I don’t get enough sleep, or if I ‘push through’ when I know I need to stop, I’ll pay for it. But when we detach the feelings of guilt some of us associate with ‘doing nothing’, rest is also joyful, freeing, good for the soul. It allows us to be the freshest, most alive version of ourselves. In our house, we have started blocking out ‘nothing’ in the diary once a week, which is a really helpful reminder that we can take the decision to value rest. It is part of a life well lived.