Jusepe de Ribera, "Jacob's Dream"

I have the hardest time relaxing. I can never quite unfold the layered intensity, can never quite unwind. It is a strange and difficult thing, you know – to let go, to breathe. But this is what God wants from us. From me.

Lots of people are this way, and in different ways. No one is contorted in the same hidden knots. As for me, the wakeful burn is expressed through a sort of repression. I fidget incessantly, hands stuffed into pockets, shoulders twitching as if to resettle their invisible weights. Everyone does it – or most everyone. Most everyone hasn’t learned how to rest.

I have no idea how to rest.

I laugh at myself, if only because I know I should not take everything so seriously. We should not take ourselves so damned seriously. We should not – and perhaps we are blessed enough to know at least that much.

My colleagues all have their different ways of coping. We are all of us too intense. Some sit down together for a meal. Some watch a TV show or two. Some have loved ones who mock them mercilessly – which is in fact an act of mercy.

As for me, I’ve got Krav Maga. The one place I know where I can be as intense as I want because that is what they desire: immense focus, immense effort. By the end I am too drained of energy to stay taut. But that does nothing to teach me how to rest; it only makes me too exhausted to keep working.

I have no idea how to rest.

And I in my relentless wakefulness go about my days observing all sorts of things. Perhaps not what is most important or most relevant – if you are going to drop a hint, you’d better do so by announcing it to me – but other things. So I have seen what it is to rest, to really rest.

I can remember being over at one of my friends’ houses, a couple that I know and admire. I sat with weary intensity on their couch, trying with all my might to be welcoming and warm. She read to her daughter, and he cleaned dishes. All of us adults were tired. That strange state of being too tired: alert and incapable of sleep, but not fully present to the moment.

Their young son, asleep, started crying miserably. He had gotten his foot caught and twisted in his crib. The poor child was inconsolable, inconsolable until he found his mother’s arms. I heard his silence first. It caught me unaware, pulling me away from thoughts that strayed to all the work I had to do. I looked across the room and saw the little boy with his mother. She stood turned away, enclosed by an empty doorframe. And her little boy rested his cheek against her thin shoulder, quiet as she steadied his breathing with a smoothing hand against his back.

He rested, you see, in her arms. Really rested.

I forget a lot of things, but I won’t forget that.

Or I won’t forget the way that boy’s mother leans against her father. After a long day spent chasing their children, and he a grueling day at work. There is something about the very physicality of it that soothes. I remember my parents used to do that. There is something there, whatever it is.

Whatever it means to rest.

We are too lonely when we cannot pause to breathe. Too stretched along the edges of our worries. It is no brilliant thing to say that God wants us to rest with Him. To trust grace. To breathe. But it seems to be no easy thing, however simple it might be to say.

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