Mercy Mondays: Thoughts on receiving sacred rest by Matthew J. Kelly
“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” ~Isaiah 30:15, New King James Bible
My mother never stops.
The oldest of eight children from an Italian immigrant family, her childhood was defined by taking care of her younger siblings. Eventually, she had her own family. Now that she is retired, she takes care of her elderly mother and my father who is homebound, and she babysits my sister’s three young children who are ages seven, five and three.
Two of my mom’s four sisters cannot drive, so mom often offers rides to get them to doctor’s appointments, the bank or grocery store, which she also does for her mother and for my father. She is happiest when she is with her family, cooking and serving a meal. This is my mother’s hospitality, and this is her communion.
One thing my mother never had the opportunity to explore was taking time for herself. For her, it is a foreign idea — almost incomprehensible — and in her own words, “selfish.” To serve is her happiness, and she never complains. Yet I’ve seen how in perpetually serving others, she has neglected taking care of herself — ignoring physical warning signs, which in turn, have come back and manifested in scary ways. These include off-the-charts chronic high blood pressure and a recent stress-induced stroke. No matter what, though, the art of receiving rest remains a foreign concept to my mother.
I’m from a different generation where “me time” is no longer considered a selfish or vain thing to do. Indeed, the very best time to rest is when it seems like there’s no time to do it. As with my mother’s health, if we don’t rest, our bodies will force us to. No matter what, though, pressures from life, work and outside forces are always urging us to do more, consume more, buy more, work more and produce more.
For many of us, it’s also difficult to unplug digitally, because there’s just too much that needs to be done, feelings of the fear of missing out (FOMO!) begin to surface, or the guilt we feel taking a pause outweighs the benefits of actually doing it. We’re programmed to not stop, and we multitask like it’s our job.
I’m guilty of this. In spare moments, I find myself immediately taking out my phone to check social media, my bank statement or the weather — even having done those things only 10 minutes before. Somehow, I didn’t know that day’s variable wind speed, and yet I feel like my life would have been greatly improved by this information.
But despite everything, what I have learned is how renewing and life-giving it is to receive the gift of rest. In many ways, the pandemic has forced us to take a step back. The forceful hand of quarantine and social distancing was unexpected and sudden, but for many of us, it provided a silver lining – amid chaos we were forced to just STOP. Suddenly, daily life became very different.
Many of us found ourselves with the time to be able to focus on the things we had been putting off for so long. We reconnected with old friends. Distractions subsided — which at first, at least for me, proved uncomfortable — and we experienced a new kind of mental rest. By receiving this rest, we allowed a healthy change into our lives so that we could prioritize what was truly important and what wasn’t. The pandemic has allowed us a time of letting go and of self reflection.
In her book, “Sacred Rest,” Saundra Dalton-Smith writes:
“We all need sanctuary, a secure place where protection reigns and comfort is received. We need relief from the daily struggles of and times of immunity from outside attacks. Sanctuary is not simply a place; it’s a state of being. There we find a sense of security and peace that flows from our connection to God. Sanctuary is where we lay down our fight and rest. In the process, we find our way back home to a relationship with God. This is the journey that rescued me from myself and wooed me back into the arms of God.”
I offer a challenge to find simple ways to be intentional about rest in your own life. Allow yourself to tune out distractions and renew your spirit and your relationship with God. As a musician, I find rest — mental, spiritual, physical and emotional — through practicing the piano and organ.
Recently, I fell and twisted my ankle, which means I can’t play the pedals on the organ or work the piano pedals at the moment. So I’ve adjusted, and my modus operandi for sacred rest has been something as simple as a good Sudoku puzzle and my favorite tea, followed by ten minutes of silence. It’s so simple it’s almost too good to be true. As the winter leaves us with snow and cold, it’s a perfect excuse to stay inside, unplug and allow a time of rest and renewal.
I love my mother and am proud that as of this moment, she is enjoying a vacation in Florida with her girlfriends. They had to force her to go, and in retrospect I should have bribed them do do it sooner. This is her second vacation in 72 years. She’s having the time of her life, and I’m grateful that she is experiencing the gift of rest she deserves.
I hope that you will take a moment today to pause and allow the peace of God to wash over you and fill you with a renewed sense of rest, renewal and respite. May you find success in resting well.
Article by Matthew J. Kelly, campus minister of music, liturgy & multifaith ministry
This post is part of an ongoing series called Mercy Mondays that highlights Salve Regina’s dedication to its Mercy Mission. Search the tag Mercy Mission for more updates on the Mercy branches of Salve Regina.