He makes me lie down (Psalm 23:2).
Psalm 23 tells us that God leads us, and feeds us, and restores us with the cool, still waters of His Spirit. He comforts and crowns us with his goodness and mercy. And, there, right in the middle of this lavish love song, we also see a shocking part of His Fatherly care: forced rest.
He is the Good Shepherd, and He makes us lie down.
I have tasted this kind of God-rest, and I have seen that it is good.
In my 20s, I became deathly ill and lay in a coma.
He made me lie down.
Within two months of planting the church, with all of its consuming fear and doubt, I gave birth to a son who needed me to stop, to love, and to linger.
He made me lie down.
In 2018, I fell headlong into burnout and depression, and could no longer work or think.
He made me lie down.
In each of these times, God spoke to me in soul frequencies that the static of pride and busyness had drowned out long ago. From a distance, these pastures looked like gray, rocky deserts, but they grew lush and green with His goodness — once I surrendered and lay down.
I didn’t know how to rest, and, despite all of these dramatic personal lessons, I’m still learning. We’ve seen quite clearly that our world doesn’t know how to rest either. In 2020, the planet literally closed, and instead of asking God why He might want us to pause — to rest — to repent — our hearts schemed to get away from the silence of our own insignificance. God made us lie down, and instead of leaning in and listening, we pulled away and powered up. We clawed and scraped to control our narratives, our politics, our space, and our time.
We tried to figure everything out instead of believing — resting — in the peace that He already has.
So, how do we learn to rest?
Rest is one of the best ways to say “I love you, God,” because it says “I trust You, God.” It’s a physical and spiritual admission that He’s worthy of being in control, and we are not. And like learning anything else, resting takes intention and practice.
There are two kinds of rest, too, and both are good gifts from God that He longs for you to enjoy.
Let’s start with the easier one.
How to practice external rest.
External rest is the rest of circumstances — of your physical space and time. God gave us sleep, and God gave us the Sabbath. He also gave you life, with all its free beauty and abundance. God intends for you to enjoy His world and the good things that He put in it. He made it just for you.
Here are a few tips on practicing external rest:
- Make rest regular. The Sabbath — a weekly day of rest — has been a part of God’s plan since the very beginning. There’s a reason for this: in the same way we can endure a hard week because we know our vacation is scheduled soon, or we can get through a challenging day of work with the thought of PJs, popcorn, and our favorite show on the couch tonight, God wants us to know that a space for our soul to breathe is on the horizon. Schedule weekly downtime, and keep the appointment with yourself. Can’t start with a whole day? Start with a half day, or an afternoon, or an hour, and grow from there.
- Don’t settle for the scroll. A huge reason we aren’t finding rest is that we’re stopping before we make it all the way there. We’re settling for the first distraction (or first hundred of them) that scrolls by. In fact, what we think of as rest these days — TV, TikTok, Twitter — often just makes us more restless. Distraction is default, but rest always comes after a deliberate choice: “I will not do this, I will do that instead.” Don’t stop short of your goal. Practice being intentional.
- Use all your senses. There’s a reason you love grabbing that cup of coffee or other special treat — it makes you stop for a minute and feel something, with its warmth, taste, and scent. Rest always comes more quickly when you activate your senses. So don’t just read a book — light a candle and turn on some music, too. Don’t just go for a walk — pick some flowers, smell the air, marvel at the sky. Stop and taste your food, feel the grass, breathe in your clean laundry, wrap up in your favorite blanket. Real things help you rest.
- Plan tiny joys. Spend time figuring out what you really love to do — what matters to you. Make a list of ten small things that fill up your unique, handmade soul. Schedule a few of them as often as you can, and keep the list at the ready for any moment where you’re settling for social media, or wondering “what should I do now?”
Now, for the harder kind of rest.
How to practice internal rest.
Internal rest is the rest of the soul, and it takes a lifetime to nurture and grow. Unlike external rest, it doesn’t depend on circumstances. You can carry it with you into all kinds of situations, especially in those seasons when space is hard to come by.
Here are some ways to start learning internal rest:
- Paint a new picture of God. The God of Psalm 23 — the Shepherd — is a compassionate place to land. Nothing will rest your soul more than knowing God’s face toward you is full of kindness, not condemnation. Read the gospels, and know who Jesus is for yourself.
- Be ok with you. God has scheduled an entire lifetime on His calendar for you to be conformed into the image of Christ and to complete the work He’s asked of you. He’s in no hurry, and the soul energy you waste on shame for not being better or more or different is all you. That’s not Jesus, and that’s not His Spirit, and it’s why you’re so weary — it’s killing you. Choose to live free. Rest in where He has you today. And go ahead and show up, flaws and all — Christ has built enough beauty in you to come as you are.
- Focus only on what you can do. Instead of striving and straining to solve “all the things,” and running out of willpower and adrenaline in tears or collapse, learn to come to the end of yourself more quickly — and in a much healthier way. Try this during the next problem you face: put your hand on your heart, and talk to yourself out loud: “You’ve done all you can do, (your name), and you have a good God who loves you. He’ll take it from here.”
- Listen to wise voices. There is healing power in a grace-centered community, where you can find wisdom from people who have been where you are, who can see your situation more clearly from the outside, and who can point you to Jesus and His ways. Find a class or a group, soak your heart in scripture, ask for someone to help you, or press into a promising friendship. If you really want to dig through the reasons behind your unrest, talk to a professional Christian counselor. You’ll find no deeper rest than in the truth about God and about yourself.
The cost of not learning to rest.
Your mind and your body were made to find rest, and they’ll keep looking for it, and settling for any imitation of it. And then, instead of what happens in Psalm 23 after we lie down — instead of being led by God “in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” — you’ll forge your own thorny, exhausting trails of unrighteousness in your own name, choosing the shallow breaths of control, sin, addiction, or wasted time.
Find one small way to practice rest today. Tell God you trust Him to handle your life, and take even a short intentional, deliberate, life-giving break. You’ll be exercising your rest “muscle,” restoring your soul, and strengthening your knowledge of who God is, who you are, and how much He loves you.
Learn to make it all the way to rest, and then, surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life, and you will dwell in the house of the Lord. Forever.