Monday, October 10, 2011

Come Rest

"Aren't you exhausted?" Jenn asked as I waited for yet another kettle of water to boil.
I laughed, wanly, perhaps, because I had just decided that I was going to begin this post with the line, "I am so tired."

Reckoned simply according to hours, there's nothing unusual about the amount of work I am doing this week, but Jenn's question reminds me that I have good reason to be tired this semester. Two weeks ago I was spent several 15-hour days working on dissertation revisions, and last week, while it brought a break from Coleridge and MacDonald and literary tradition, was soon full of cover letters for job applications and essays to grade.

I don't write this as a complaint. I love my work and know that I am privileged to make my living as a scholar and a teacher. However, Jenn's question has set me thinking about how I work, and how my work habits shape my understanding of home.

As the child of campus ministers, I did not grow up with any concept of a separation between work and home. When your dining room is piled with monthly reports, and students knock on the porch for counsel at 2 o'clock in the morning, being at home is also being at work.  My adult life has also lacked these divisions. Especially when I lived in a two-room apartment, establishing separate spaces for work and rest became very difficult.  As I have moved through graduate school, I have tried to learn how to make home a space for both work and rest. The work part is easy. I come home trailing lesson plans, and my dissertation haunts every bookshelf.

"But how do you do it?" Jenn asked as I poured the now-hot water over the tea leaves. "How do you keep these hours every day?"
This happens at nearly every party I attend.
In college, I had a number of wise and determined friends who made sure that our campus was a place I worked and played. I didn't need to make my own times and sites for rest, because sooner or later someone would kidnap me for a mountain-road drive, or come and demand that I exchange paper-writing for supper with friends. As a proper grown-up, I have to be more intentional about making rest a part of my homemaking.

And I have been intentional. As I tried to answer Jenn, a number of coping strategies came to mind.  I keep Sundays as a Sabbath from any kind of school work or business. If I am working from home, I keep grading and dissertation work in the office, away from my bedroom. I go for walks, do yoga, ride my bicycle. I schedule time with friends. I even indulge in the blissful numbness of television every once in a while.

Some days, however, these things are not enough to give me the joy, peace, and strength that I know are the fruit of real rest.  Although I know it is healthy and humble to stop working at least a little while before bed, I still feel guilty whenever I put my papers or books away before ten or eleven.  Pride and anxiety often compel me to work more than is wise or even effective, and my to-do lists nearly always overestimate the number of hours in a day. As a single person, I can sustain days and days or work because few people think they have the right to demand that I stop and spend time with them. I like to think that when I am done done grading this next set of essays, or done with job applications, or done writing my dissertation, that I will rest. But those are treacherous thoughts. I need to learn to rest now. Matthew 11.28 says, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." I want to know what that rest. I want to surrender to it and find myself renewed. I want to ponder that invitation, to feel the cool smooth weight of it like pearls in my hand.

But that will have to wait for another day. Tonight, I am too tired to think clearly about how to rest well, and there is still work left to do. 

Is a home a place of rest for you? Is resting from work ever a challenge? How do you build rest into your life?


  1. Your final thoughts hit me like a load of bricks. Granted, I am not single, do not have a "job", am not applying for anything and I do not have a dissertation to write. I simply have 3 little lives depending on me 24 hours a day and a husband who's grace I depend upon when I feel like I can't deal with them anymore for a while.

    I struggle greatly with finding time to rest, and I know it is something I desperately need.

    Love your posts. Miss you, friend.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Caring for a family is an enormous amount of work, Erin, and I would wager that your work for your family--wonderful as it is--is even more difficult to step away from than my dissertation. It is so much harder to rest when we love the reasons and ones we work for.