Rest as Resistance
“Rest as Resistance”
January 15, 2023 - Cobleskill United Methodist Church, Pastor Anna Blinn Cole
Second Sunday after Epiphany
I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. 2 He drew me up from the desolate pit,[a] out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.
4 Happy are those who make the Lord their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods. 5 You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts towards us; none can compare with you. Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted.
6 Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear.[b] Burnt-offering and sin-offering you have not required. 7 Then I said, ‘Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me.[c] 8 I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.’
9 I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord. 10 I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.
11 Do not, O Lord, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe for ever.
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ 32 And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’[a]
35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ 39 He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).
I had to laugh out loud this week when I came across this gem on the internet. Pictured is a large, fluffy ostrich in the impossible situation of being chased by very fast cheetah with the caption, “Trying to make it through life like:”. When I saw this, I thought: yes, I must not be the only person who feels like daily life is, most days, like this picture…a totally unrealistic struggle between what I want to be and do and what, in reality, is actually happening. Why does life so often feel like an impossible race that never ends?
I know I’m not alone in feeling like this at times (because it was actually one of you who posted this). But I suspect that actually, a lot of us feel like this a lot of the time. Hustling, stressed, always behind where we want to be, holding full plates while running on an empty tank.
TIME magazine this month featured articles on happiness and the widespread lack thereof. Fewer than 20% of Americans said they were very happy in 2022 and more than 25% of U.S. adults said they were too stressed to function. Twenty-five percent. That’s a quarter of the population feeling like this on most days.
While most of the year can feel like a hustle, there’s something about this particular time of the year, coming off the holiday season and into all the expectations of a new year that can give us added pressure and stress.
I saw another post last week on social media that had a picture of the December and January calendars but many of the days at the end of the one month and beginning of the next were all wobbly and blurry-looking with question marks.
The caption read like this:
"There’s a cruelty about the seasons of Christmas and New Years - when you’re the most exhausted, when there’s the least amount of sunlight – there’s this hard shift from the pressure to celebrate over to the pressure to set goals and become a better person…Ads for last minute gift ideas suddenly transform into reels about intermittent fasting and gut cleanses.”
Brian Mann, the author goes on to say that he works in marketing and so it’s easy for him to understand how this shift happens from a business perspective. But as an ordinary human living through these seasons, it can feel like a never-ending hustle. Make a perfect Christmas and then turn around make your life perfect with resolutions. Buy this, buy that, do this, show up for that, bend over backwards to just feel like you’re doing enough to succeed at life.
Another name for this constant state of trying to meet expectations is something called “grind” culture. “Grind” is a nickname that has been given to working hard for a certain outcome. “Nose to the grindstone,” the old saying goes. Grind culture refers to the false belief that to be valuable or worthy in our society, you must be productive. That your life must look a certain way, dotted with signs that you’re “making it” in order to be a success. What is also true about grind culture, is that trying to stay ahead and be productive almost always comes at the cost of something else. “Nose to the grindstone,” they say… but what exactly happens to your nose in this situation?
The pressure to keep running harder and harder in life is sneaky and it creeps up on us in unsuspecting ways. We hear other parents talking and we think maybe our child should be in more extracurriculars. We see an ad on TV and think maybe we should be driving a better car. We read a magazine and think maybe we should keep our house cleaner and more organized. We get an extra day off from work and school and we think maybe we should take our holiday and get something done that we’ve been meaning to do for a long time. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
Or maybe not.
Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Christian writer has talked about three lies that seep into our being and try to define us.
I am what I do.
I am what I have.
I am what other people say or think about me.
These beliefs are so ground into our understanding of ourselves that it’s difficult to step away and see that they are lies. I would even call them false gods. The reason they are false is because they all have to do with how we shape our identity around external influences, how we seek meaning and purpose from what culture and society expects and demands of us. They have nothing to do with our inherent worth as beloved children of God who are made in God’s image, perfect as is.
In Psalm 40, the psalmist sings a song about when he waited patiently and found that God showed up to help pull him out of the mess he’d gotten into. And it was then that God put a new song on his lips. An epiphany, of sorts. A realization that God doesn’t require sacrifices and burnt offerings for us to find our purpose and our meaning. Instead, God gives us an open ear. In other words, God doesn’t want us to bend over backward trying to be something we’re not. God wants us to pay attention and simplify our lives to include only the most important things. Like the truer belief that who we are is rooted in God’s identity, not the expectations of others.
When we are defined by these beliefs, our true identity gets overtaken by a hustle for purpose and happiness and that never quite gets us there. We’re always racing and never arriving. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking closer at these lies we tell ourselves, starting today with the first one.
I am what I do.
But in order to examine this lie fully, we need help. We need help because this is a lie that has become engrained into the very fabric of our “American way,” that we are what we do, what we make, what we produce, what we achieve. We are not. And the only way to stand up to the lie, is to practice its opposite. Rest. Our rest can and should be an act of resistance.
Rest as a resistance is something we must learn with open ears, though. And the best teachers are the ones whose rest has meant actual, literal freedom.
A friend of mine from seminary, has helped me to understand this in a new way. Her name is Tricia Hersey and she has taken up the cause of rest as resistance as her main ministry. In fact, she’s become known as The Nap Bishop. As a Black woman, she sees her message to rest and renew not just as a helpful reminder to take frequent naps, but as a movement to reclaim rest as a way to push back against systems of oppression that began with slavery and continue today in the “grind culture” of the American way. She sees slowing down as something that is not frivolous, luxurious, or privileged, but as a divine human right.
A right that was not always accessible to every person.
For centuries, Black folks in this country were forced to work against their will and it didn’t give them any advantage, wealth, privilege or status, no matter how hard they worked. Their labor, their hustle privileged only the white people who owned them. A choice to rest was not a choice they could make. And so in the more than a century that has passed since the official end of slavery, rest has been a badge of freedom for people of color. Choosing how, when and for whom to use one’s resources of time and energy is not just a decision to nap for the fun of it, it’s a statement of freedom and liberation from systems of oppression.
In this vein, Tricia, and other others, have brought more attention to the ways in which Martin Luther King Jr sustained his quest for racial and economic justice by prioritizing rest. He was a passionate speaker, incredible organizer of people, and a prophetic pastor, yet behind the scenes he was a family man. He loved to play pool. And he took time away from his work to relax and vacation with his family. This is not a side that we see often of Dr. King, but it’s just as important to his movement of freedom and liberation. His ability to choose rest was a resistance to the grind culture that tried to hold him in bondage even after emancipation had freed his people from slavery. Rest was a form of resistance that he wanted people to see and learn. His people had fought hard for the agency to be able to say no when rest was what they needed. He didn’t want anyone to forget how hard that agency had been to achieve and how easy it is forget still. Human beings were not made to be cogs in a machine, but how often we act like it. We live our lives as if our work and our hustle and our achievements will please God at the expense of our mental and physical health. We were made to reflect the image of God and God is a Sabbath-taking God.
So I have a few concrete suggestions as we move forward from today’s worship.
This is Martin Luther King Jr weekend and I think that makes it the perfect time to not only talk about rest as resistance but to practice it. We often see a holiday like this, a Monday off with not many plans, as an excuse for fitting more into our lives. A get stuff done day. But what if we honored it as a day to celebrate the right to rest Martin Luther King and others worked so hard to achieve.
What if we used some part of the day to sit ourselves down and do nothing except use the open ears God gave us. Rest our body, idle our hands, open our ears and while we do that, use 17 of those minutes to listen to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” You can easily find it by searching online. If we’re too busy to do this, it really begs the question, Why? For what?
The next suggestion I have is this. Examine your own life and find room for breaks. Are there things you do in your life only because of the expectations of the culture around you? Are there things on your to-do list that instead reflect a sense of the purpose you feel as a reflection of God’s image? Would hitting the pause button from time to time ultimately give you more energy for that which is most important?
Taking a break isn’t easy. And it’s harder for some than it is for others. So lastly, can we be people who not only help ourselves rest, but make room for others in our life to rest as well? We live in a world that will always demand something from us. Let’s try to not be the ones who are always demanding it. Rest is essential and it must be a choice available to every person.
This is all going to take practice. As the Nap Bishop says, “Rest is a meticulous love practice. Practice daily.”
At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, some people began to follow along behind him, curious. “What are you looking for?” Jesus asked them. They wanted to go where he went and stay with him. “Come and see,” Jesus tells them. This is where the story begins. The Lamb of God asks us to come along and see. Pay attention and be here in this moment. We have a lot to learn to learn, but first let’s rest.
Grace and Peace, Pastor Anna