Read an Excerpt
IN SEARCH OF PEACE AND QUIET
Whatever happened to uncluttered and uncomplicated lives?
Maybe every generation asks the same question. But not every generation has had to deal with pressures like ours. We’ve plunged headfirst into the twenty-first century, knowing that the future has arrived but not sure we’re actually ready.
It seems like only yesterday our grandfathers were plowing the lower forty, walking to school, going to town once a week, and getting to bed by eight o’clock. Millions of people who made their debut on our planet in the early part of the twentieth century remember when their towns looked like a chapter from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic Little House on the Prairie.
But Walnut Grove has changed a lot since they added the Taco Bell, Wal-Mart, and Starbucks. Quiet, simple lives have given way to offramps, ATMs, and Quarter Pounders with Cheese.
Pa Ingalls wouldn’t believe his eyes.
Life will never again be like it was when people lived in their quiet little houses on the prairie. Jets slamming into the World Trade Center changed all of that for good. Besides, we all live too close to the freeway to back away from the hold it has on us. Together we enjoy all the benefits and conveniences of high-tech, high-speed living. And together we suffer the inevitable consequences.
The family that makes it through life without bearing the marks of a hurried home is the rare exception, not the rule.
It’s like the Peanuts cartoon in which Lucy offers one of her unsolicited observations about life to Charlie Brown.
“Life,” she muses,“is like a deck chair. Some place it so they can see where they are going. Some place it so they can see where they have been. And some place it so they can see where they are at present.”
Charlie Brown replies, “I can’t even get mine unfolded!”
Many of us feel as if we can’t get our lives unfolded. With all the worry and hurry around us, it’s difficult to gain any kind of honest perspective. Sometimes it takes a whack on the side of the head just to get our attention.
The Hurried Lifestyle: Marshall’s Story
Marshall sat in his car outside the heart specialist’s office, his forehead against his hands on top of the steering wheel. Tears filled his eyes and dripped in dark, wet circles onto his jeans.
The cardiologist’s voice had been grim. He wasn’t bluffing this time. “It’s up to you, Marshall. Either slow down immediately, or put your affairs in order and say your good-byes. I can guarantee that if you don’t back off the pace you’re on, you won’t live long enough to walk your daughter down the aisle. We’ve talked about this before, and I don’t know how to warn you any more strongly. The amount of stress in your life is out of control. It’s got to stop now!”
Marshall’s hands gripped the wheel. How can this be? He had all the things that are supposed to make a person complete. He had a loving, devoted wife and three fairly normal kids. Life had dished him out a generous piece of the American pie. And in the spiritual category, he was a Christian and a well-respected leader in his church.
An overwhelming feeling of betrayal swept over him, bringing anger after the tears. For Marshall, the words slow down were about equal in dread to the death sentence his doctor had pronounced over him. And even with the doctor’s warning ringing in his ears, cutting large pieces out of his schedule seemed flat wrong. Slow down? It was out of the question–even if he wanted to. His commitments to his clients, his partners, and his creditors would not allow him the luxury. He was hooked, frustrated, and tired…so tired.
How had he ever climbed onto such an accelerating treadmill? Days filled with responsibilities, nights filled with obligations, family relationships badgered by distractions, and meals choked down on the run. He knew he was bucking terrible odds by continuing his frenetic pace, but…well, he’d grown accustomed to his crazy life.
Like many of us, Marshall was in desperate need of genuine rest–yet was unwilling to ask the hard questions and make the difficult decisions involved in finding it.
The Hurried Lifestyle: Marsha’s Story
Marsha was a nonstop woman. She was a busy wife and a hurried mother. Her home was equipped with the latest conveniences designed to do the mundane–so she could be freed up to do the all the stuff that kept her running at full speed. Her life was full speed to outsiders looking in, but everything about her internal systems seemed to indicate that exhausted would be a better word to sum up the state she was in.
Marsha was the only woman on her block with the “luxury” of staying home and focusing all her attention on raising her children. This meant that she had even more time than a “working” mother to jam in daily obligations to her children, her church, her kids’ school, her inlaws, the country club, the baby-sitting co-op, and her former sorority.
Balancing the academic and social calendars of one preteen and two teenagers kept Marsha in her car most of the time, providing taxi service to school, lacrosse practice, band rehearsal, and swim team. Add in four pilates and one yoga workout a week, two women’s Bible studies, volunteering at the hospital, and the ever-present demands of keeping a large house functioning at capacity, and you’ve got a woman who barely has time to change her mind, let alone her outfit. If the GPS on Marsha’s car could speak its mind, it would tell her to stay home and take a nap.
Even though they didn’t need the money, Marsha thought it made sense to add a growing eBay business to the open moments she had in her busy days. Marsha was T-I-R-E-D. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, this hurried woman was in deep need of genuine rest.
In an effort to recapture this missing element in her world, Marsha took a daily one-hour vacation. At 2:00 p.m. every weekday, she would retire to her room, get comfortable on her bed, pick up the remote control, and push the appropriate button that called up channel forty-two on her cable menu. Then, for the next fifty-eight minutes, Marsha would join Laura Ingalls and her family as they experienced life in their little house on the prairie.
Marsha envied the pioneer family’s seemingly uncomplicated lifestyle. She loved watching reruns of Little House on the Prairie on the TV Land network. Choices were fewer back then–and seemingly easier to make. The list of necessities for happiness consisted of little more than food, clothing, shelter, and love.
When did it all change?Marsha wondered as the lilting Little House theme signaled the end of yet another episode. When did the list of necessities for happiness get so long? Somewhere between yesterday and tomorrow it’s been expanded to include snowboards, laser eye surgery, payper- view TV, wireless Internet access, iPods, and breast implants. How did life get so complicated?
Marsha’s life was full to the point of overflowing, but she was running on empty when it came to inner contentment. Her spirit craved rest the way an exhausted body craves sleep. But she had no idea where to find it.
Rest Is (Not) Out of the Question
Marshall and Marsha are not alone, and they aren’t without hope. In the midst of the most hurried and haggard schedules, they can discover lasting calm that reaches into the very center of their lives. And so can we.
God wants us to enjoy genuine rest–not just the “good night’s sleep” kind of rest that satisfies the body but an internal rest that bathes the soul in contentment.
It’s a relief to know that rest isn’t out of the question. There are elements of rest that can be appropriated into our lives. In the pages that follow, we will look at the foundation for genuine rest along with six crucial battlegrounds where the struggle for rest can be waged and won.
But there is a paradox ahead. As we will see in later chapters, these very elements that bring us rest may also force us to redefine our comfort zones.
When a Paradox Becomes a Principle
I’m certain that a similar sense of paradox wasn’t lost on Joshua as he stood poised to cross the Jordan River. Forty years of restless wandering were behind him. He and Caleb were the only survivors of the original gathering of pilgrims that had left Egypt four decades earlier. The decaying remains of that bickering and idolatrous generation lay lifeless under the Sinai sands.
Moses, his leader and close friend, had been the last to go. Now General Joshua, a fearless spy and decorated war hero, was commander in chief of Israel. Behind him stood the offspring of that “wilderness” group–women and children eager to stop wandering. Beside him stood thousands of untried armor-clad soldiers, anxious to get their first taste of battle. Before him sprawled the unconquered mountains and valleys of the Promised Land.
The assurance of God’s own words washed across Joshua’s spirit as he prepared his people to claim their promised real estate: “The LORD your God is giving you rest and has granted you this land” (Joshua 1:13).
Ahead of Joshua lay struggle and hardship; behind him, only death in the desert. Yet all was not lost. God had spoken a promise that must have brought incredible hope to the weary commander’s heart. God had told him that as surely as he would enter the land, he would enter into rest as well.
The paradox is really a principle for us today: genuine rest is never far away from the middle of a challenge. Joshua’s giants were Canaanite warriors who cast long and intimidating shadows. And just like them, the giants facing you and me cast intimidating shadows as well. What you’ll find most ironic in all of this is that the secrets of genuine rest promised to the nation of Israel are still keys to living life to the fullest today.
Years ago, a contest was held in which artists were invited to paint a picture of peace. The entries were eventually narrowed down to just two. The first artist had interpreted perfect peace by painting a quiet lake cradled high in the lonely mountains. The second artist painted a thundering waterfall with the branch of a birch tree bending over the foam. On the fork of that limb, just shy of the spray, a robin sat undisturbed on her nest.
You and I can have that kind of peace. Our lifestyles are filled with unavoidable stress and activity that don’t look like they’re going to go away. In learning what God’s Word has to say about genuine rest, we too can gain an unshakable calm. Even in the middle of the storm.