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For all of us the story began in a garden, a shimmering jewel cradled within an unblemished creation. In that place beauty abounded and life flowed in rhythms of work and rest, intimate connection and God-filled solitude.
We know the story. The two who lived there risked it all to obtain the one thing withheld from their reach, and in that winning they lost. They began to die. As God drove them away, the hope of ever returning to that garden vanished forever. Divorced from the source of life, expatriated from their home, they were left to face their work, their relationship with each other, and their solitude away from the garden, away from God, their Creator. In the rigorous monotony of cultivating the very soil from which they were taken, they would encounter their own dying. To prevent their ever returning to that first home, God stationed majestic heavenly creatures and a spinning, flaming sword to block the way back. On that day paradise was truly lost. Every generation since then has known that something is wrong. Longings and restlessness, sorrow and death find their way into even the best places of our existence.
But the story does not end in tragedy. From before the beginning, God has planned restoration. We have His promise. Those whoknow Him are headed toward another garden, far removed in time from that first one. This second garden exists within the protection of a great walled city. Large enough to encompass all God's own, the city is exquisite, bejeweled, ever lit by the glory of God. At its center is this new garden, built along the banks of a river that flows straight from the throne of God. Park-like and simple, it is a perfect balance to the lavish beauty of the city. Fed by living water from the very throne of God, the trees within that garden bear fruit with patterned faithfulness. Full healing abounds there. In that place all that was taken from Adam and Eve will be restored, and all that was put upon them as they left that first garden will be removed.
In the meantime, however, we live in this in-between place, feeling much of what that exiled first couple felt. Our bones grow weary; life is hard and dull. Longings gnaw at our souls. Our work rarely works out easily; frustration and exhaustion are its likely companions. Quiet evenings where God comes calling and we linger with Him in conversation must only be the stuff dreams are made of. Married love seldom flowers into that intimacy where two people lose their souls to each other, becoming more deeply themselves in the process. Most every relationship in this in-between place speaks more of incompleteness than it does of joy. For the present we live with aching, frustrated hearts, swinging pendulum-like between times of frenzied accomplishing and brain-dead relaxing. We live in the grip of our fears, our lists, our loneliness, our compulsions.
God understands. The story of Jesus' walk on this planet reveals that what we feel in this in-between place pierced His heart as well. But God more than understands. He is passionate to heal us. He yearns for us to be free to set our sights on that future city-garden and to one day live there. His longing is so great that He died for all the sinful brokenness we have brought upon ourselves, each other, this world. His death and resurrection broke the power of the dying that began in the first garden. Now He has gone ahead to make ready our place in that gardened city.
As wonderful as God's desire for us is, the question of this in-between place still begs to be answered. How do we live now? Are we resigned to existing without a heart, without a garden? Are we left with defining the meaning of life by the sweat of our brow? Can we expect nothing more than the frustrations of our own mortality at every juncture of our lives? No. The Scriptures invite us to learn to live a city life (full of people and labor) from a heart nurtured in a garden. They invite us to learn rest. The invitation isn't just for heaven, but for now.
We are a tired and weary people, and yet the Scriptures call us to live from expansive, expectant hearts that know rest at their core. But we have so misunderstood this rest that we may not know what we are longing for. Rest is not numbing or deadening our hearts so they no longer bother us. Rest is not some idealized place where we solve every issue and satisfy every longing. What is it? Rest is that garden place, the place created for Adam and Eve, the place where every Christ-follower is headed. We recognize true rest in people of faith around us. It flows from their hearts even as they experience the turbulence and weariness of life in this world.
The Bible says we have the opportunity to enter that garden rest even in this life. But for our souls to receive it, they must be made ready. As we tend and cultivate our hearts, God will forge space within our souls. In the process, we will realize that our longings and our issues, our dreariness, our heartache, and our heaviness do not have to block our entrance into that garden. In fact, God intends for these very things to become the gates by which we enter His place of rest. My own journey to that garden rest began in a very unexpected way. Let me explain.
It happened twenty years ago, but the impact of her words lives on. Maggie and I were chatting together outside, watching her two children and my two older ones ride their Big Wheels down our driveway to the grass of the back yard. We were friends as well as neighbors; from my front door, I could look through the yard across the street and see her back door. Because of the connection that had developed between our husbands, their family joined our church and a small group that met every Sunday night in our home. Our preschoolers played together almost daily, and she attended a neighborhood Bible study I led. It was early spring; the longer days and warmer weather stretched out before us as a token of what lay ahead-late-afternoon play for children, summer suppers together, swimming at a nearby pool.
But the conversation took a turn I never would have anticipated. "I don't want to be in your Bible study anymore," Maggie blurted out. "I'm so tired of all your questions. You want to know everything about me, but not because it's me. It's like you're gathering information to stack your life up against. You have no rest inside you. By the time I leave the study, I'm just worn out from you."
Her words shocked me, but the accuracy of her accusation pierced a deep place within me. I apologized and asked her to change her mind. But she was adamant. It was the end of the Bible study and the end of our relationship as far as she was concerned. In the next months I floundered. Perhaps she was just mad and would get past it, but all my efforts to revisit the issue failed. Her little girls no longer appeared at my front door. I struggled as I told my children again and again that we probably should not invite their family over to play.
As a cool politeness settled over what had once been friendship, quick solutions looked tempting: turn to friends we had in common and ask them what they thought about what she had said; find someone to justify me and write Maggie off. In my mind I argued with her indictment. As a young mother, young wife, young Christian, how could I see life as anything but an endless series of tasks to be executed as flawlessly as possible? I recognized that I struggled with issues of control and fear in some relationships, but it seemed that everybody I knew had similar battles. Yet no matter how I thought it through, I could not escape the power and weight of her words.
Her indictment paralyzed me by naming something I knew was in my soul, knew was eating me alive-something I didn't know how to cure. I had a restless, restless heart; it was not a place to be at peace, to be at home. On the contrary, my heart was a place of such constant disarray, hurry, and fear that there was hardly room for me inside it. Much less Jesus.
Even as I faced the reality that I could not repair the friendship, longing for a deeper healing came into focus. Ten years before this encounter with Maggie, I had trusted God to save me through His Son Jesus Christ. Sometime after that, I found Jesus' promise, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:28-29). Seeing my life through Maggie's eyes, I realized I was far from experiencing that reality. Too embarrassed to ask anyone around me for help, I turned instead to the Bible. What did God have to say about rest? Several phrases from Hebrews 4 came alive, exposing me and calling me to follow:
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.... It still remains that some will enter that rest.... There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.... Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest. (verses 1,6,9,11)
Both the promise and the warning of these words blazed to life. God had made available a reality called rest, yet it was possible for us to fall short of it, to miss it. Furthermore, although God named this gift rest, it was something we were to make every effort to enter. I was confused: What kind of effort? How would a person work hard at not working? The words that followed gave a clue.
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thought and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
Evidently, as God's Word exposed and penetrated my soul, I would find His rest. His Word would explain me to myself and heal the things that kept my heart so restless. It would show me what it meant to "make every effort" to enter that rest.
The Company of Restless People
You too may long for a still and full heart. You question if it's possible to make it through life's turbulence without being jarred and whipped around by every change in the weather of your world. Fatigue from the constant turmoil of pressures, worries, and unmet desires weighs heavily on your soul. Then added to those things may be issues that seem insurmountable: grief that cannot find an ending place, deep places of hurt, depression that won't lift. Whether your struggle is mundane or profound, you hunger for something that will quiet and refresh your heart.
Christine knows the longing for contentment and a rich sense of well-being, and she doesn't like remembering all the dead-end roads she's taken to try to get there. She learned the Christian pattern of endless activity early and well. As a teenager she used annual mission trips as opportunities to excel as a leader. When her heart said there had to be more than wall-to-wall action, travel, and being in charge, she decided to try marriage. Choosing quickly, she chose poorly. As her marriage spiraled down into a volatile coexistence, she began the gargantuan task of overhauling her husband and controlling her children.
Fifteen years later, having made little progress toward either goal, she turned to work, a place with adult people and tangible rewards for competence. By skill and good connections, she landed a job at a fast-moving start-up company. The company soared and so did she, at least on the outside. Disappointed that success couldn't fill her heart, however, she began to dull it with alcohol and frequent shopping events. But nothing eased her restlessness. When her marriage fell apart, the divorce only fueled the fire of her search. Maybe a new city, a new job, maybe work in a Christian organization would fill her aching core. She's still at it, going from one thing to the next, but the peace she seeks is like a highway water mirage on a hot summer day; as soon as she comes close to reaching a new goal, it vanishes again.
Other women experience the restlessness of their hearts in more subtle ways. Ruth just aches. Outsiders see her as a strong, successful single woman, but she knows differently. Despite her professional training and recent promotion, she will never have the place in her dad's eyes that her brother does. For starters, she's female, and from her father's perspective, that means she doesn't really count. Second, her father and brother are both surgeons, while she is "just" an engineer. She fills her life with good things: acting in the community theater, volunteering as the graphics person for a charitable organization, caring for her dog, who keeps her from dying in the silence of her empty townhouse.
These things help, but the low-grade heart pain never goes away. She doesn't fit. She cannot relate to her single friends who obsess about marriage. Neither can she completely enter into the world of her married friends. Sooner or later, she runs into an invisible wall. She tells herself she ought to value her professional training and her independence, but the emptiness of not belonging to someone and the meaninglessness of not having someone who needs her gnaw at her soul. A few months ago she sent me a copy of a prayer from her journal. The prayer contained this sentence: "I am so lonely, dear God, what will ever fill up my heart?"
For Emily it's been a drop over the edge of an abyss. Will she ever find peace again? She had known for months that something was wrong, deep down, with her fifteen-year-old son. No words came when she tried to verbalize what she sensed, but she was scared. Coaxing him to open up or resorting to the interrogating questions parents ask when they are desperate had yielded nothing. Then one afternoon as she put his clean laundry in his room, she felt an overpowering urge to open his closet and look inside the shoeboxes where he kept his baseball card collection. Never having been a snooper, she resisted. But before she could walk out, she found herself at the closet door. In the third box she discovered what she'd intuitively dreaded: drug paraphernalia, pictures, CDs that made her guts wrench.
Her husband was in the midst of one of the most critical workweeks of his life. How could she distract him with this? But how could she carry it alone? Even if they both knew, and even if their son recovered from the breach of his privacy, and even if he were willing to work on his issues, even then, healing would take a long time. Return voyages to sanity and wholeness are never instantaneous. How could she possibly have a heart that lived at rest in the midst of it all?
* * *
Hearts that do not know rest are not just a modern phenomenon. Almost since Creation, our hearts have been restless. At the serpent's enticement, Eve became restless for more than the garden offered. As God removed Adam and Eve from that place of beauty, they passed to us a restlessness that settled into the core of our being. Deep, deep down we hunger for what was lost. Instinctively we long to find some perfect place. The stories in Scripture confirm that restlessness is the built-in condition of being human.
Abraham and Sarah struggled to find peace without children. The children of Israel grumbled for forty years in the wilderness; nothing met their desires and expectations. King David prowled the balcony of his palace with a heart restless for some new pleasure, some new thrill. King Solomon accumulated wife after wife. The writer of Ecclesiastes despaired that anything could satisfy his soul.
The New Testament reveals this same inner dis-ease. For years the woman at the well in John 4 searched for someone, anyone who would just love her. Judas was restless for something more than just being Jesus' follower and friend. Until the Crucifixion, Peter had an unquenchable need to be head man of the inner circle. Before his encounter with Jesus, Paul saw life as a series of opportunities to prove his superiority.
Excerpted from CHOOSING Rest by SALLY BREEDLOVE Copyright © 2002 by Sally Breedlove . Excerpted by permission.
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|1.||A Garden, a Longing, a Gate||13|
|2.||This Peopled Place||33|
|3.||The Land of Shadows||49|
|4.||The Grumble Grinds On||69|
|5.||The Grip of Fear||87|
|6.||Listening to My Tears||105|
|7.||Left in the Darkness||121|
|8.||Forging a Place of Rest||139|
Posted September 28, 2012
Posted February 1, 2012