Inside: For happiness and a full beautiful life, it’s essential that we slow down and make space for purposeful rest. We can’t pour out what we don’t first pour in.
For years I repeated a cycle of ignoring my body and brain’s call to rest and then inevitably falling ill and being forced to cancel all plans to lay on the couch reading for a weekend.
I loved it.
It dawned on me finally that perhaps I could arrange my life in such a way that I could choose to slow down and rest without getting sick. A novel concept at the time.
It seems obvious now, of course – but back then, it really was a lightbulb moment.
It required hard, consistent practice as I learned to set healthier boundaries and say no, lowered my own expectations and grappled with my perfectionism that resisted rest if there was any work to do or disorder in my home. I practiced treating myself like I matter as much as everyone else I aimed to serve and stopped giving away the best of me to people outside of my home.
It was in that season, years ago now, that I first came to understand the truth that I cannot pour out what I don’t first pour in.
Not only am I allowed, but for wholeness, happiness, and a full, beautiful life, it is essential that I slow down and make space for purposeful rest.
We cannot pour out what we don’t first pour in! We can find purpose and joy in a slow, seasonal, simple life.
What is Purposeful Rest?
Sometimes we’re forced into rest – like when injured or ill. Or we “sort-of rest” as in we half-heartedly pay lip service to it but mostly feel guilty for being unproductive.
Purposeful rest, on the other hand, is when we recognize that rest is an essential part of our mind-body-spirit health and to our ability to show up with joy and in service to our family, community, and work. It means we intentionally carve out time in our daily, weekly, and yearly rhythm for enjoyable, restorative rest. On purpose. Guilt-free.
Purposeful rest challenges our affinity for productivity. It asks us to consider that just because we can do something doesn’t mean we ought to – nor will it automatically make us happy. Sometimes, the most productive thing we can do is say yes to rest: Rest can actually boost productivity and creativity. But beyond that, rest matters simply because we are human and rest is one of the ways we’re hardwired to recharge and live happy and healthy. Some of us need more down-time than others to live body, mind, spirit healthy.
Stay Creative and Flexible about Finding Rest in Every Season
Self-awareness helps us tune in honestly and compassionately to our unique needs in every season.
When I was a mom of little people my needs for rest, and my ability to carve out time for rest looked different than today. Back then, when I’d read blog posts suggesting I get up early to write or for alone-time I wanted to cry. I was exhausted: I was homeschooling my two older kids with very different learning preferences and personalities, my youngest struggled with insomnia (she slept her first full night at 6.5 years old), and I lived with undiagnosed autoimmune disease and chronic pain, which contributed to fatigue. We didn’t have family around to help and although I tried hiring babysitters on occasion it quickly became apparent that they were generally not equipped for how much danger my youngest daughter could get into when they turned their back on her.
Rest looked like chunks of time late, after kids went to bed, and walking on my treadmill downstairs after warning my kids not to disrupt me unless they were bleeding or choking to death.
As my kids grew, two joined a local high school, and in addition to sports I shuttled one to piano lessons in a different town heading West, and another to orthodontist appointments in the city heading East, and eventually launched both into the world. I made meals that reflected the special dietary needs in our home as well as favourite treats and worked hard to be present and stay connected to each of my beautiful kids not to mention my husband. I lost many family members in this season and went through a challenging hip replacement and recovery – all of which took a toll on my emotional and physical energy. I was finally diagnosed with Hashimoto’s and began the work to get that stabilized.
I was able to start going out more and make frugal trips to visit extended family. As our kids became more independent rest felt easier to come by, and I could even sleep in at times and dive into personal interests not related to motherhood or homeschooling.
These past years we’ve helped two kids move from high school through post-secondary, as our oldest struggled through highs and lows with his mental health. I stopped homeschooling and built a business of my own brick by brick, loving the flexibility it affords me to stay responsive to my family’s needs including lots of visits to the city to support and connect with my kids and actual dates with my husband of now 26 years. My husband and I both have gradually shifted our expectations around how we volunteer and use our gifts, letting go of some things and picking up others more aligned to our values and purpose in this season. But admittedly a lot of energy and love have been poured into providing an anchor for each of our kids.
We had a lot more time and space to rest this past handful of years, also a lot of stress – far more flexibility and financial opportunity since I too was bringing in an income. Rest looked like travel, taking our family out for a nice meal, and my old standby – laying on the couch for a weekend here or there to read.
When We Can’t or Don’t Want to Slow Down
The past two years I’ve not allowed myself much purposeful rest. We were in crisis mode, doing our best to stay afloat, trying to save our son’s life. I cut away the non-essential but could not stop altogether. I continued working part-time because we needed the finances to help him and I knew that I needed something positive to focus on or I would crumble under all the intense pain and fear. I needed to be strong for my whole family.
Even after a car accident left me injured and concussed, and then my son died, I kept moving. There are so many hard tasks associated with losing an adult child so there was simply work to do, though I outsourced to friends and family when they were able to step in. But also, as a family, we agreed that stopping work or school beyond a few weeks would give our brains too much time to think about the reality of our loss and grief and this felt like a recipe for trouble. So we kept moving.
It was only the week before the pandemic hit close to home that I heard my whole self – body, mind, and spirit tell me that it was time to slow down and make space for purposeful rest. I understood that this was not optional but urgent and for my own good. So I started by leaning into my old nurturing standby and laid on the couch that Saturday, reading a good book or two.
Rest is not idleness. It is the key to a better life. -Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
The Pandemic is Forcing (or Inviting) us to Slow Down
We are fortunate that my husband still has his income and though my income has drastically dropped, I can nonetheless serve my community in various ways, paid or not. But I notice something in this time of uncertainty and upheaval – a call and invitation to purposeful rest.
Anxiety and stress can deplete us and whether we have paid work or not in this season, it’s going to be important for us to find even snippets of time for rest so that we stay strong and emerge whole from this challenging experience. I know this won’t be easy for everyone.
In my case, I continue to notice fear-based resistance: it’s already been a hard 6 months; if I rest I’ll fall more behind. If I rest while others cannot, is this selfish? (I chat about guilt, gratitude, grace, and grit in this short video below). If I rest, really truly give myself permission to rest after such a long season of trauma and grief, will I find my way back again?
You likely have your own stories around why you can or cannot rest.
Spend Each Day On Purpose
If you’re familiar with Dave Ramsey you’ll know he teaches people to give every dollar a name. You do this so that your money doesn’t fall through the cracks or get spent haphazardly. In a similar way, I find it useful to give every day a name. This day is for writing, yesterday was for client work and errands. Tomorrow is for purposeful rest. This helps me remember to slow down and spend my days on purpose.
I am deeply concerned for the myriad ways that all of us around the world will be impacted by the pandemic – I do not take this lightly. Yet I am also grateful for space to slow down and rest. A season to sleep more and read more and make meals for my family unhurried. To massage my daughter’s shoulders, chat with friends, and go for walks in the woods, even as I support my community online. I’m grateful for boundaries that cleared my calendar though I sure hope it’s temporary. For time and space to grieve and slowly process trauma while we’re required to stay at home.
I half-joke when I suggest that you “should” lay on the couch all weekend because that might sound like torture to you; anyway, I don’t think I’m qualified to tell you what you “should” do with your life. Just like different personalty types recharge in different ways, rest, after all, comes in many shapes and forms. The most important thing, it seems to me, is that we each identify what fills our cup and then faithfully carve out pockets of time for that, pandemic or not.
May you find pockets of hope and slivers of beauty in your every day,