Restorative Rest: A Spiritual Practice

By Hilda R. Davis

September 1, 2023

De Pree Journal, Third Third

Jesus said, Come off by yourselves; lets take a break and get a little rest.” For there was constant coming and going. They didnt even have time to eat. Mark 6:31 (MSG)

This scripture from the Gospel of Mark reminds me of my years in divinity school. We were busy. We were pastors, parents, spouses, community leaders—usually all at the same time. I, like many of the other second-career divinity students, was overwhelmed with my “constant coming and going.” We were in danger of losing our connection to God and our own spirits. We were writing papers and reading lots of scholars, which left us little time to listen to our own inner voices. However, we figured out something needed to change and approached the dean with our concerns. Thankfully, we were heard and adjustments were made. We were provided a space where we could talk and be listened to or sit in silence and pray. We flourished. That was my introduction to the value of a spiritual practice. Twenty years later, I continue to benefit from spiritual practices that allow me to step away from my busy life and rest.

Spiritual  practices draw us closer to God and each other. What we do for our spiritual practices varies according to our purpose, intent, and where we are in life. Some well-known spiritual practices are meditation, prayer, fasting, gratitude, and silence. Spiritual practices not only help us align our will with God’s will for our lives, but they also draw us into a sacred space where we connect to God and ourselves. As you think about how you want to develop your relationship with God and what ways you want to deepen your practices, I invite you to consider the practice that helped me: The spiritual practice of rest. Rest heals our bodies, reduces stress, and improves productivity. In other words, we experience restorative rest.

We hear a lot about the necessity of sleep. Getting enough sleep enhances your mental and physical health. Even as I encourage you to get more sleep, research also supports similar wellness benefits from rest. An expert on rest, Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith wrote Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity.Her research determined there are seven types of rest: physical, mental, social, creative, emotional, spiritual, and sensory—and what type we may need to flourish varies. In an informal July 2023 survey , the De Pree Center audience was asked what type of rest they needed. Emotional and mental rest topped the chart. We can use more rest.

God rested on the seventh day and gave us the command to rest. Jesus invites us to come to him when we are weary to receive the rest we need (Matthew 11:28).  This means that rest is not a burden; it is a priority. Here are ways you can integrate restorative rest into your busy lives: through activities, as preparation for challenges, and as a time to listen to our souls.

Restorative Rest as Action

Though we may think of rest as stopping our activities, rest can also be an activity that takes our minds away from the daily routine. Rest, unlike sleep, can be active; and active is what happens when I worship on Sunday. Worship at my church takes seriously the psalmist’s invocation to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” We have an impressive choir of vocal musicians who are supported by a full range of instrumental musicians who all lead us into worship. Then our pastor adds the rhythm of the spoken word that serves to further energize the worship experience as well as inspire us to draw closer to God.

I include my worship experience that is filled with sound, energy, and action as rest because rest can transport us out of the worries and challenges of our lives to a place of joy and restoration.  The thousands who worship together at my church every Sunday find restorative rest through physically engaging in worship. Our mental health is improved, our stress is reduced, and we enjoy enhanced well-being. That is active rest.

Active rest can also be exercise; some achieve enhanced well-being when running. You may deepen your connection to our Creator by actively connecting to nature through gardening or bird watching, for example. Active rest shifts our gaze from challenges and instead puts us in the flow of God’s gifts of joy and well-being.

Restorative Rest as Preparation

When I have a major project coming up, I immediately kick into high gear. I research for days, take notes, and collect whatever I think I might need for optimal performance. I am tired before I begin. However, if I prepare by stopping to rest and then reflecting on the task before me, I get more done with better outcomes.

As Jesus came to the end of his earthly ministry, he paused and prayed in preparation for what was ahead. He knew what he was being called to do. He also knew he needed to prepare, so he went to a quiet place and prayed. I believe he was preparing his mind and spirit by taking some time to pause before his final assignment.

Restorative Rest to Listen

Parker Palmer, author of Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, writes, “The soul speaks its truth only under quiet, inviting, and trustworthy conditions.” When I joined a Third Third Flourishing cohort I found an “inviting and trustworthy” space that allowed me to be authentic. Others said they experienced a sense of well-being in the cohort because they were listened to with kindness and without judgment. That community was a trusted listening space that invited us to relax our defenses and rest in safety.

In the third third of our lives, we may ask ourselves the “What next?” question and feel like we must know the answer. However, when we step aside from our daily activities and take a restorative rest, we recognize it’s okay not to know our next step. To quote Ranier Maria Rilke, “Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Whether we listen to our souls in community or in solitude, we will come away from the experience more rested, more connected to God, and less anxious about knowing the answers.

Recap: Why We Need Restorative Rest

Restorative rest can take many forms. Restorative rest enhances well-being. You can practice restorative rest while doing an activity, in preparation for a challenge, or by listening to your soul. Resting is a spiritual practice that will keep you vital and relevant in the third third of life. Rest for 10 minutes in the middle of the day or spend 10-15 minutes before bed practicing breathwork, writing, or listening to some relaxing music. Restorative rest is an opportunity to shut down those busy voices in your head and rest to restore your mind, body, and soul.

Banner image by Andre Hunter on Unsplash.

Hilda R. Davis

Cohort Guide

Dr. Hilda R. Davis , PhD, LPC, is the Founder of Creative Wellness. She has combined her vocational interests in spirituality and wellness to offer programs and ministries in congregations, government and private agencies, and educational institutions. Her work in local congregations led to ...

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