While mowing the lawn last summer, I moved the wrong way and felt an ominous pop in my lower back. The next moment I was hobbling to the kitchen for ice packs, ibuprofen, and a muscle relaxer.
“I can’t afford this right now,” I told my husband through tears. It’s a lament I repeat each time I wake up with a scratchy throat, or when that pressure at the base of my skull starts creeping toward migraine status.
I CAN’T AFFORD THIS RIGHT NOW.
By “this,” I mean slowing down. Resting. Letting my body heal from whatever compromised it in the first place.
But it’s not just forced rest that triggers this feeling. I hear the same expression from others when the subject of voluntary rest comes up: “Yeah, that would be nice. But I can’t afford it right now.”
Lie #1: Rest is a luxury.
We refer to rest as something costly, using financial language. When we say we can’t afford to rest, we’re not just talking about the cost of a plane ticket or spa day, we’re talking about time. We mean our time is already allocated to other things. There just isn’t anything left to spend on extras.
And that’s the problem. We see rest as something extra. A luxury reserved for annual vacations, or the occasional Sunday afternoon.
But God wrote rest into the law of nature. A river can only feed the ocean if it’s replenished by a spring, or a rain storm. Without input, there can be no output.
WHAT TO BELIEVE INSTEAD: Rest is how we’re designed to replace what has been depleted through work. When we neglect rest, we limit our effectiveness and risk burnout, or worse. (Ask me how I know.) When budgeting time, rest belongs among the mandatory expenditures. There’s nothing discretionary about it.
Lie #2: Choosing rest is selfish/wasteful/lazy/ [insert guilt-inducing adjective here]
If you believe rest is a luxury, and your time budget doesn’t allow for luxury, you’ll feel guilty for taking personal time. Weak because your candle doesn’t burn at both ends. Irresponsible for leaving tasks unfinished while you try to relax.
My own guilt about rest is triggered by motherhood. There’s so much pressure to Be All The Things for our children: nurturer, chef, taxi driver, tutor, cheerleader, counselor, friend, spiritual advisor, playmate, fashion consultant, disciplinarian, friend.
Given the demands, it’s all too easy to sacrifice rest on the altar of service. But is that really the noble choice?
WHAT TO BELIEVE INSTEAD: Again, rest is part of our design. If you’re a human being who does any sort of work, paid or otherwise, it’s natural to need rest in order to be fully present and engaged with your people. Personal rest is a gift you give to those who depend on you, not something you take from them.
Lie #3: If I slow down, ______ will fall apart.
The first time I did November Slowdown, several readers responded that the idea of slowing down for a month was terrifying. With so many balls in the air, they literally felt adrenaline shoot through their veins just thinking about rest. They had too many responsibilities to step back without something falling apart.
I call this a lie not because it’s false (I can’t guarantee something won’t fall apart), but because it’s based on a false assumption: that falling apart is a bad thing.
WHAT TO BELIEVE INSTEAD: Some things need to fall apart. Usually they’re things that are overly dependent on one person. Living creatures aside, if something in your life can’t survive unless you’re in a restless, overextended state, maybe that thing needs to die.
I say this as someone who’s living it. The struggle is real. Tim and I are trying to take this approach with our remodeling business, which has sucked us both dry for too many years. It’s a daily, sometimes hourly faith walk to set reasonable boundaries, choose rest, and let the chips fall where they may. But it’s worth it.
If any of these lies have been holding you back from choosing rest, perhaps this Advent season is the perfect time to practice truth. What would it look like, as holiday chaos ensues, for you to intentionally step back?
If that idea sounds impossible, or terrifying, you’re not alone. I’m just wrapping up my annual November Slowdown, a month-long deep breath I’ve been taking since 2014. Every year I’m a little nervous about it, and every year I’m so glad I pushed through the fear.
Remember, when it comes to rest, there are no rules, no wrong way to do it. Just give yourself permission to try. Experiment. Be curious about what gives you life and what drains you.
Most of all, recognize when lies are holding you back from the rest you need, and tell yourself the truth instead.
Are there other things that hold you back from choosing rest? What’s your biggest obstacle to slowing down?
This article originally appeared at AlisonMcLennan.com.