Rest is a Heart Issue

Are you answering “how are you?” with “exhausted,” too? This past daylight savings, I, with all seriousness, did not notice my clocks were an hour behind for three counseling sessions until another therapist pointed it out. That’s how tired I have been. Which is why self-care has been my lifeline. However, the thing I’ve been learning is that true, biblical rest isn’t just self-care. Sure, bath bombs, candles, massages, coloring books, yoga, and meditation help. But deep down, I think we all know as wonderful as these pleasurable activities are, they can’t provide true rest for our souls. That’s because according to God’s Word, rest is an internal issue. As Christianese as this may sound, rest is a “heart” issue.

Several months ago, at the end of a long counseling day, when I was knee-deep in self-reliance and unable to rest (read: distracting myself with social media, chocolate chip cookies, and Hulu) I was reminded of Mary and Martha’s story: 

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 

And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 

But Martha was distracted with much serving

And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, ESV, emphasis mine)

Although Martha was culturally doing the acceptable thing by being hospitable and serving the many guests who accompanied Jesus, she missed Jesus. Her expectations and motivation for service were off. Mary, on the other hand, chose the good portion. Sitting at the feet of Jesus as any male disciple would at the feet of their rabbi (teacher), Mary was so enthralled by the long-awaited Messiah she did the culturally “wrong” thing by neglecting preparations with her sister. Jesus could have left it with the external evidence of Martha’s problem, but He didn’t. Jesus flips the script on the urgency of her anxiety and essentially says, “Martha, Martha, No! Don’t miss it! The only need/must/necessary you truly have is me!” Straight up: anxiety is a liar. Anxiety lies about what matters most and tells us to be stirred up to serve temporary things. Whereas Jesus, our “one thing,” is eternal, lasting, good, permanent. Mary missed Jesus, the one whom her service was for in the first place. It’s less about Mary’s service being wrong in it of itself and more about her service being done with the wrong heart of anxiety, not love. 

Service and rest aren’t just about what we do but how we do it. Martha did all of the culturally “right” things with anxiety, but Mary chose the culturally wrong “one thing” with a submissive trust. Similarly, I have learned as a therapist that we can do all the self-care in the world, even spiritual disciplines like prayer between sessions, but if we aren’t abiding in Christ, we won’t find the true, soul-deep rest we were created to experience with God. Rest can but doesn’t have to fit into a specific time frame (like Sabbath), it can also be a posture of the heart with which we do things moment by moment through the Spirit.

This Christmas season, let’s take a note from Martha on service and rest, considering one practical application. We can make our holiday preparations (or our final treatment plans before Christmas) with a heart of anxiety or love, with our eyes on the things for Jesus or on Jesus Himself. But we can’t do both. We could rush through our never-ending Christmas-y lists so we could get to practicing self-care… or, we can wrap these gifts, mail these cards, bake these cookies, finish these sessions, and decorate mindfully in His love. And who knows, maybe we’ll have time to throw in a bath bomb, too.

Rachel is an intern at Beacon and enjoys coming alongside others (especially youth and young adults!) when life gets messy to help navigate through a variety of obstacles: spiritual issues, anxiety, depression, life-transitions, decision-making, relationship conflict, identity, sexual concerns, and family problems. She’s committed to making sure her clients feel heard, valued, and loved in a safe and warm environment where they’re empowered to achieve their counseling goals.When not counseling, consulting, and studying, Rachel’s probably writing, running, catching up with friends over an Americano, or exploring West Michigan’s beauty with her husband.

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