KIERNAN: Theology of Rest: Grace in the present moment

August 15, 2023

This summer, a homily struck me, “Do I really know what it means to rest?” The priest reflected on our “talent” of making our lives busy. There is pressure to move on to the next task, to constantly be “doing” something, and the need to occupy our time. Occasionally the way we utilize our time is productive: mowing the lawn, washing dishes or tending a garden. Other times the business is not productive: binge-watching a tv series, scrolling through social media or playing games on our phones. We also rush from a project or task to the next one on an endless to-do list.

This recalled when my wife and I were engaged. There was a temptation to rush through the engagement process to get to our marriage. Yet there is grace in every moment. Being engaged offered us an opportunity to be patient, learn about ourselves, and build habits that we would need later as a married couple. Without this grace, our marriage would not be successful. Rushing to the end would have negated many important life experiences and God’s grace.

I imagine it works the same way for you. For example, we can look back and ask ourselves, where did this summer go? How did it pass so quickly? Do you wish for more summertime? Well, the homily also challenged us; what would we do if we had more time? Would we attend to the important things, or would this time become more of a distraction, luring us into a false sense of security about our ability to complete tasks?

This homily also drew to my mind a section from CS Lewis’ work “The Screwtape Letters,” a book containing conversations between an experienced demon and demons in training on how to win over human souls. In one conversation, we hear, “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality, our best work is done by keeping things out.” This tactic described by the demon is to occupy human beings with so much that they become consumed by the concerns of the world, and the voice of God begins to fade.

What is the remedy for this? The homily answered in a way that is cloyingly simple, astutely profound, yet extraordinarily difficult — rest. So, what exactly is rest? Rest can take many forms: reading a book, listening to music, playing a board game with your children, going on a walk with your spouse, or zooming with a friend. However, the theology of rest is deeper.

Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you, and there you can find rest.” At first, this seems counterintuitive because an ox that is yoked meant toil and labor. However, taking Jesus’ yoke means walking alongside Jesus and learning to see the world from His perspective.

Doing so transforms our earthly perspective into God’s own perspective, allowing us to focus on what is truly important. In this grace, we find authentic rest. The only way this can be accomplished is to make some time for silence and prayer. We desperately need an opportunity to decompress, find solace in the stillness, and connect back to God without any distractions. This can be a prayerful reading of Scripture, spending time in adoration, meditating upon the mysteries of the Rosary, or a quiet stroll through the neighborhood.

As the beginning of school approaches, the temptation to become even busier will grow exponentially. How has your summer been? Did you find the rest you need? If yes, wonderful — how can this pattern continue? If not, there is still time. Don’t give up!

Matt Kiernan is an associate director with the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.

(Herald file photo)