“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Jesus, Matthew 11:28).
Okay, this topic has been on my heart for quite sometime, so I wanted to help clear up the confusion and pray that this leads to greater rest-seeking and engagement with life in all of us!
Growing up, my father (who is probably reading this and I think will agree with me), was always busy. He is an amazing man and a jack-of-all-trades. Most of my childhood memories with him include things like constructing a cage for our bunny, building a garden and learning the process, hanging dry wall for a basement remodel, struggling through the process of learning how to drive a “stick-shift” truck, changing the oil in our cars, and hours upon hours of completing over-the-top creative, A+ school projects. We were always doing something and stayed very busy. I have already learned so much from my dad and am honored that God would choose him for me.
One thing, however, that I also heard a lot growing up is something that still resounds loudly in my head; “Get up, turn off the T.V. and go do something!” Saturdays were family house cleaning days, which were usually balanced with some fun activities at night with the church or neighborhood friends. But, I remember feeling some guilt in my younger years if I was lying around for too long and “not being productive” (as my dad might say). Taking a nap, for instance, felt risky at times because I was afraid of “being caught” and being convicted of laziness.
I get it now. My father was trying to keep my mom, siblings, and I from the damaging and toxic effects of laziness, as any good protector would. The Bible has much to say on this subject:
“Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Prov 10:4)
“A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied” (Prov 13:4)
“The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway” (Prov 15:9)
My problem was that I don’t know that I ever fully grasped the difference between resting and being lazy. It was as if I saw all rest as laziness (partly because of the pressure I felt in my childhood to be active). I never understood that laziness is a passive behavior that leads to feelings of greater dissatisfaction, emptiness, and guilt. I didn’t realize until much later that relaxation is an active behavior that leads to rest, refreshment, release of tension, and confidence. I don’t think this is just semantics or word-play, either; it is important that we see this distinction!
Relaxation looks different for all of us. Hiking a mountain for four hours to reach the summit is extremely relaxing and refreshing for me, while it may be anxiety-producing for someone else. Doing sudoku or activities like that are great “stress-relievers” for some, while I frankly want nothing to do with them! Interestingly, relaxation may take some hard work up front! The payoff, though, is worth the effort. The dictionary is very clear about the definition of relaxation. To relax is to “rest or engage in an enjoyable activity so as to become less tired or anxious.” The key word here is “engage.” Relaxation is an active and intentional event that leads to the reduction of stress. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus says the words “Come to me…”; this is an active choice that leads to receiving rest. These are words of engagement. When we actively choose to relax, we trade in our depletion and anxieties for His rest and are filled up again to pour ourselves out! Herein lies the important difference from laziness.
The laziness that I see in our culture (and unfortunately, specifically choking my generation) seems to manifest as apathy. This word means, “a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern; indifference.” Here’s what apathy says:
“Going to church isn’t important, it’s just a building. I can worship God on my own with my family at home.”
Apathy makes excuses and isolates us.
“Today sucked… I just need a drink.”
Apathy leads to the pursuit of an “escape” and oftentimes, an addiction. This compounds our problems and causes cycles of greater anxiety and depression.
“I’m not going to get involved, they will just reject me like everyone else.”
Apathy blames others, thrives in the victim mentality, and chooses fear over hope.
Check out this powerful quote by a wise Holocaust survivor, political activist, and author Elie Wiesel:
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
When we are faced with the inevitable stresses and pressures of life, long work days, frustrating clients, hard conversations, marital conflict, etc… we need to ask ourselves, “What is my choice and motivation right now? Is it to “escape” from the pain in pursuit of a temporary fix (laziness) or is it to “engage” and cope appropriately with the pain in order to find a lasting solution (relaxation)?”
My father and I have shared more conversation and time together as adults coming to an mutual understanding of what real rest and relaxation is. I have have seen him grow in pursuing relaxation and engaging with rest. I see him seeking Jesus to find this rest. I see the refreshment he feels after worship or engaging with church community groups. I see how this positively effects the spiritual atmosphere of our family. I deeply value this shift in him! I feel that it demonstrates a new level of spiritual and emotional discipline and maturity. I value his intentionality in attempting to protect me from apathy and laziness in my life. This is the father I want to be for my children. I believe that we can all be examples to those that we love about how to choose rest when we are “weary and carry heavy burdens” rather than retreating from the pain to a temporary “high” or release. To choose laziness is to “escape” and give into apathy. To relax is to rest and actively engage.
How do you choose to relax? Does it lead to feelings of freedom, contentment, and joy or to time-wasting, procrastination, and eventual guilt? Is it possible that you have mistaken passivity and laziness for relaxation?
Challenge: This week, when you’re faced with a stressor or problem, decide to choose to engage the problem and work to decrease the anxiety (deep breathing, reframing your perspective, challenging negative thoughts, progressive muscle relaxation, etc…) rather than escaping from it and giving into temptation (drinking or drug-use, pornography, excessive television, social media use, and gaming, complaining, overeating).
*If you feel unequipped to engage, rather than to escape, counseling may be a helpful process to give you the tools, practice, hope, and confidence you need to address overwhelming anxiety or fear. It would be an honor for us, here at Cornerstone Christian Counseling, to take that journey with you.