A Good Rest
I used to sleep in windows.
We stayed in hotels, growing up, more often than we stayed in a house. My sister and I got to where we could name the hotels and motels that were better than all the rest. We did not like ones that allowed pets, because the rooms smelled funny, for instance. We loved the ones that had a “room” within a room, which allowed us to have our own space. If there wasn’t a free breakfast in the morning, it was no fun. At least one pool was a necessity while an indoor pool was preferred (once, we stayed at a hotel that had a waterfall in it’s indoor pool: this was luxury!). We preferred ones whose doors to the rooms were inside (no outside entry, please). Ice machines were awesome, and I preferred rooms that had the old air conditioning units, the ones that blew the air up into your face, as opposed to the central air and heat units because I liked the feel of the air blowing on me. And, if you were me, your favorite hotel wasn’t the lavish or expensive ones like the Opryland Hotel, or the Sheraton: no, it was the Country Inn and Suites, and for one reason only: the windows. Their windows have little edges to them, ledges that are big enough for a kid to sleep in. And sleep in them, I did. My mom would put blankets on it and extra pillows and I would tuck myself in toward the window and fall fast asleep. Sleeping in the window’s small space made me feel safe but that wasn’t the start of my life-long love affair with windows.
When I was six years old, my great-grandmother, Mama O, died. Mama O wrote me letters. Mama O let me play with her cane and sit with her in her garden. Mama O made me feel special. I deeply, deeply loved her, and I was heartbroken when she died. I remember being told that she had died. I remember begging to go to the funeral, because I wanted to see her one more time. My mother, however, thought I was too young to attend a funeral and so left me in Nashville with my dad’s parents (my dad had run off somewhere again). In one of the bedrooms of my grandparents’ home, there was a twin bed that had been pushed up against a small window. I remember pulling my baby doll with me and sitting squished between the window and the edge of the bed. It was raining outside, and I was broken-hearted, but that window seat made me feel hidden and safe. With retrospect, it is easy to see that that moment, sitting in that window, mourning the loss of Mama O, was the start of my life-long love affair with windows.
Small spaces make me feel safe. But they do more than that, too. When restricted to a space barely big enough for me, I feel rested. This is a hard feeling to explain but, most of the time, my heart feels, well, wired, anxious almost, and for absolutely no good reason. Still, there’s a feeling of vulnerability that only presents itself when I’m in a large, open space, like a room. When I press myself as close to the wall as is possible, or when I hug a pillow tightly to me, or when I sit in the ledge of a window, even when I crawl inside my daughter’s Rose Cottage tent, I feel my heart slow a beat, relax, even if just marginally. Rest is easier to contemplate.
We have a pet rabbit whose name is Sugar. She is an adorable Netherland Dwarf bunny who is perfect for our family. She motivated me to do some bunny research and I discovered that bunnies like to hide, which is why they will crowd themselves in the corner of the cage and sit there for hours. It is why Sugar inevitably hops under the bed if we let her out in the bedroom. This makes me feel that much closer to a rabbit, for I like to feel hidden too. Not only does it make me feel that much safer, it also gives me rest.
These days, I pay attention to things that make me feel rested. I take stock of where I’m at, and what I’m doing, when I feel that gentle tug on my heart, simply because I don’t find much rest these days. It is habit to stay up way past midnight and still get out of bed for a full day at six in the morning. When I do lay down, rest is often unattainable. I’ll doze into dreams laced with terrifying memories, then jerk awake or I’ll flip flop with my eyes staring at the ceiling, trying to divine a plan for creating an off switch to my brain. When it’s time to get up, I usually do not feel fully rested, merely relieved that the night is over. So, the word rest has special meaning to me and, of late, I’ve been thinking about what exact it means and what its benefits exactly are.
We all know that the body demands sleep, that, without it, damaging, even potentially fatal, effects will occur. The effects of sleep are often addicting to some: why, else, do adults generally leap at the chance for a nap? It used to amaze me that Joe could fall asleep within minutes of resting, regardless of the time of day but don’t most of the population crave sleep? It provides energy and allows us to think with clearer minds. It makes us feel less stressed and a new day often provides us with encouragement and hope. Sleep, then, is a key ingredient to happiness.
Yet, most of us, can’t put our finger on exactly what it means to feel rested. Isn’t it ironic that one of the universal emotions isn’t even easily identified? When we feel rested, we say we are happy or that we have energy. Not, generally, that we feel rested. I wonder if that’s because true rest lies not only in getting the required number of hours of sleep but also from an over-all sense of peace and understanding?
How often is it that I feel both extremely sad and yet also well rested? Instead, isn’t it that we often complain of feeling tired when we are sad? Perhaps this isn’t a coincidence. Perhaps this is because true rest comes from the mind, not the body.
Jesus said: “Come to me, all of you with heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” I find it interesting that He associated “heavy burdens”, emotional and psychological stress, with a need for rest. It makes me remember that the brain is just like any other part of our body: It can get tired. We removed my daughter from a fantastic school because she was being worked too hard: literally, her teachers called me to tell me that she was “too tired”: that, even though she was trying, she was just exhausted. Then, she would come home and be unable to do anything but lay down. She’d try to play but be unable to do so for but a few minutes at a time. The girl was genuinely and physically exhausted—yet, the only part of her that had been truly engaged all day was her brain. We started homeschooling instead and within a week, she’d perked up and was acting like a kid again. By the time I finish writing at ten or eleven at night, after a full and very actively engaged day with the girls, my head hurts and I usually feel just about brain dead. More than my body, my brain is asking for rest.
With painful memories, though, and busy schedules, how can we obtain rest?
First and foremost, pray. Refer again to His promise: “Come to me, all of you with heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Of course, the way we come to Him is through prayer. Attending to our spiritual relationship with the Almighty provides numerous gifts, rest being amongst them. In addition to that, though, I think it’s important to carve out time to find our own “hiding spots”—places or activities within which we feel our hearts fill, where we don’t feel hurried and within which we feel safe and relaxed. Feeling rested does not mean having a good night’s rest: believe you me, if that was the case, I could kiss dreams of restfulness goodbye. No, it comes from allowing our hearts to hide from the stresses of the day, to think about nothing except simply being.
For a very long time, I thought that by resting or sleeping, I was being selfish, somehow, and unproductive because in the number of hours I could sleep, I could also finish half a dozen projects or obligations. If, sometime during the day (or night), I find a moment to crawl beneath the covers, slide closer to the wall, sit in the widow, and listen to the nothing more important than my children breathing or the sound of air conditioning unit shutting off, then I help maintain a rested heart, which can do far more, far better, than a non-rested one. The benefits of rest aren’t only increased productivity but intangible gifts too invaluable for measurement, like hope and motivation. Within minutes of sitting on the window, or of crowding against the wall or pillow, my heart becomes quiet and I can actually do nothing, I can rest.
Sometimes rest is the very thing which I seek to avoid. Semantics get in my way. I equate rest with sleep, and I am fearful of sleep. I am afraid of doing nothing because I fear that, in so doing, I invite fearful memories or thoughts. Yet, when I sit in the window, or crowd closer to the wall, all I find is that my thoughts slow down, which prevents me from feeling totally overwhelmed. Rest, then, is just a pause, a pause we give ourselves to possess all the sensory and tactile stimuli which has dominated our senses since we first opened our eyes in the morning. By dancing a waltz of avoidance, the only one that ends up hurt is yourself. I admittedly don’t give time to rest every day; perhaps that is how I have come to so greatly appreciate it and to realize that there is more to rest than getting to bed before daybreak.
If we don’t eat, our stomachs growl. If we don’t drink, we become quickly dehydrated. If we don’t rest, peace and joy stay just beyond reach. The good thing is that resting, true resting, needn’t take long: just a few minutes in one of my hiding spots can totally make my smiles more genuine, my aches small and life better. Stress is a terrible weight: it’s very heavy, even on days when we carry it without stumbling. Obviously, I can’t claim to be totally successful in this area. The good thing, though, is that it doesn’t take long to feel rested and that we do have help: through prayer, we can call upon the help of the One who promises the ultimate rest, for our minds and bodies.
The next time I feel tired, I’m going to stop and think for a minute to see if there is any way I can remedy that exhaustion level to help improve my attitude and my day, see if I can’t take five minutes out of my day to curl up in the window and stare out at the world. See if I can’t take five minutes to just be and feel the magic of a slowed-down heart rate. After that, I’ll test to see whether it worked or not by concentrating on how many genuine smiles I give afterward.
I smiled when I used the dictionary to look up the word “rest.” It has many definitions but two of them are as follows:
to refresh oneself, as by sleeping, lying down, or relaxing;
to relieve weariness by cessation of exertion or labor;
to be at ease; have tranquility or peace.”