Dreams and Rest
After being out on a month-long sabbatical and preaching on the subject of dreams over the summer, I wanted to make an important connection between these two subjects: dreams and rest. It sounds fairly obvious, but our ability to dream is intimately linked to our ability to rest. When I say rest, I don’t necessarily mean “going on a trip” or “taking a day off.” I’m sure we all have experienced those vacations that were not restful in the least bit. So, rest must be something far more than the American idea of taking a vacation.
Rest in Scripture is linked to the sacred practice of honoring the Sabbath. And Sabbath, as you know, finds its origins in the accounts of creation in Genesis 1-2. Obviously the Genesis story has God resting from the activity of creating on the seventh day. What is less obvious is the pattern that leads up to the first Sabbath-rest was this pattern engrained in the Genesis story of each time period being marked by, “it was evening and morning.” There has been much discussion over the significance of the text not following the pattern we would assume, which is morning first, evening second. I recently heard someone say that the reason why God does things on an “evening then morning” pattern is because rest is what fuels creativity.
Simply put: your ability to dream is built upon your ability to rest. If you’re worn down and burned out, your problems will be magnified and God’s calling on your life will begin to wane. There’s no way around it: dreaming is a result of dwelling in a state of restfulness, not in the midst of frenetic activity. This begs the question, “How are you doing in the area of rest?” In a culture that prides itself on constantly giving off the appearance of being crazy busy, we have to relearn the discipline of rest.
Here are some questions to help you assess how you are doing in the area of rest:
- Do you require multiple cups of coffee (or caffeine hits) just to get through the day? It is becoming routine for people to push their bodies beyond their finite capacity into a dangerous, unhealthy place. In order to keep up with the demands on our plate, we take supplements to help push our bodies through barriers that God designed for a reason. If you do this long enough to your body, it will take a toll and the price will be steep. Depression, anxiety attacks, heart disease and hypertension, relationship failures, etc. will be the price you pay if you refuse to accept your God-ordained limitations. Keep in mind that some jobs are physically demanding (e.g., standing on your feet all day, working with your hands, etc.), while others are emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually taxing. I think the temptation to self-medicate and form addictive behaviors is extremely high, particularly if you have an emotionally draining role. Why? It’s easier to spot when your body is physically exhausted. We are less adept at identifying when we reach a saturation point emotionally and mentally, so we reach for substances that will help us push through our finite limitations. Over time, we can become reliant on these substances just to make it through the day.
- Is it hard for you to get sleep because your mind is still running when you finally get a few moments of peace and quiet? Sleep is a daily reminder of our place in the world; the world goes on spinning even when we’re not awake. Amazing how that happens. During the month I was away, it was a great and sobering reminder of my role in the grand scheme of things. I don’t hold things together at work or in my social circles nearly as much as I like to think I do. And realizing this fact is actually freeing, not depressing. I don’t have to trick myself into believing that I am carrying a weight that I was never able to carry in the first place. This is one way sleep can be a daily reminder of our place in the universe, as well as the power of the resurrection. We are remade and given the gift of new life each morning.
- When you see friends or co-workers in public on an “off day,” do you find yourself still wanting to project busyness or productivity to them? If all of your off days are filled with projects and to-do lists, just for a different boss, then you’re probably not finding rest. The concept of Sabbath is rooted in the necessity of ceasing our work—whether it is completed or not—and finding value in simply being, not in what we can produce. I know that I can see projects take up whole days on my weekend if I’m not careful. While pulling my weight around the house is essential, being constantly worried about endless to-do lists will not provide the rest I need to flourish.
- Are you constantly checking your technology devices to monitor social media platforms (i.e., Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.)? One of the subtle forms of “hustling” is constantly feeling like you need to manage your online persona. Even our attempts to be real or authentic can actually just be another way to try to gain status over others, “who are clearly not as transparent and vulnerable as I am.” If you don’t think technology and social media play into our inability to rest, try giving it up for a day each week. Early on, you will find yourself instinctively grabbing for your device to check social media at stoplights, on the couch, or any moment when you reach a lull. It’s frightening how addicted we are becoming to this incessant form of restlessness.
- Do you rely solely on activity-based rituals (e.g., running, working in the yard, reading a book, etc.) to connect with God? While it is certainly possible to connect with God through activities, it should not be the sole source of deepening our connection with Him. The point of rest is not just for us to recharge physically and emotionally, but also to reconnect spiritually with the Creator of everything seen and unseen. We do this through disciplines like uninterrupted prayer (communing and communicating with God), Scripture study (learning more about His character/nature and rooting ourselves in the truths that He describes about Himself), and solitude (listening for His voice and finding God in the “whisper” moments of life).
Rest is a spiritual discipline, which means you may have to work at learning to rest (it sounds like an oxymoron, I know). I can tell you at this stage that I am not nearly as skilled as I hope to be when it comes to rest. I can also say I am getting better at it. I’m learning to take pride in getting enough sleep each night, even as a parent of young children. I want to resist the urge to “humble brag” about running on fumes when it is a habit that can eat away at you spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
If all of this talk about rest and Sabbath sounds like laziness to you, or if you think practicing regular rest sounds way too easy, I would encourage you to rethink the subject. Essentially removing myself from my job, my community, and even my closest friends for a month took intentional effort. It was not easy. But, in Genesis language, it was very good.