We’ve Forgotten How To Rest

‘Tis the season?

Yesterday was the first day of winter.

The season when the land rests underneath a blanket of snow or a cover of hardy vegetation, drawing in moisture and nutrients to prepare for the next season’s activities.

It’s the season when wildlife bed down for a long winter’s nap, only emerging to obtain the necessities for survival.

In the barn, the sheep hunker down in the straw, drawn up close against one another for warmth and comfort. Outside the barn, there is no sound of bird or bug. Just the wind and the quiet. It’s the season of rest.

Except for us humans.

Because the other sound that never ceases outside the barn is the sound of motors whizzing by, perhaps the ultimate symbol of the industrial revolution that liberated us from restrictive boundaries like winter.

No, we 21st century American humans never rest. We’ve advanced beyond that primitive need.

We keep hustling out the door to work, carpooling to our children’s sporting events and birthday parties, rushing to urgent appointments and meetings. We’re driving and fundraising and volunteering and visiting and buying.

We’re working longer hours to buy cars with heated seats and special tires, scraping our windshields and shoveling out driveways in the pre-dawn hours, and inventing made-up holidays to distract us from our weariness.

Do we really need a special day to celebrate rubber duckies? (Mark your already-full calendars for January 13th, folks. It’s coming soon and your kids really need a new flashy thing to keep them happy.)

Even here on the farm, we’re still trying to winterize the pigs’ watering system, shovel out the barn ahead of spring lambing, move sheep to winter pasture, and get our chickens settled into new accommodations now that they’ve come home from the field.

We’re still checking off lists and making new ones for the next thing we need to conquer.

And we do it all so we can continue the relentless grind of productivity and progress toward, well, what exactly?

Toward the solution that will finally solve our problems. Toward the next thing we can’t be happy without.

What are we doing?

We (I) have this idea that my success, my comfort, my progress, my future it’s all up to me.

I realize it’s very un-American of me to say that. But here’s the reality:

I don’t send the rain to supply my faucet. Or cause the grass to grow that feeds the livestock that shows up as meat in my freezer. Or create the natural resources that get harvested out of the ground to warm my house and fuel my car.

And yet, somehow, all of it goes on without me.

Hmmm it seems that I am not as in control as I think I am … but I want to be. And so I strive and toil to go somewhere and be someone and produce something.

Because it’s all up to me. 

We’ve forgotten what rest looks like.

I will be the first to confess that our family does not rest well. We always observe a day of rest every week, but in certain seasons like this one one day of sabbath isn’t enough. This week, we’ve been forced into rest.


Forced rest.

Andy spent the last two weeks hand digging a trench through our barn, under the barn wall, and out to our pig pen. Our former water line to their pen wasn’t winterized so we needed to install a new water line.

And bootstrapped entrepreneurs do the work themselves whenever they can.

So Andy shoveled his way through this massive undertaking, and now we have a fully automated and winterized watering system for our pigs. It’s a really big deal for our little farm. We’re incredibly thankful for it.

But this project came after a very physically demanding season of farm expansion and Andy’s back paid the price. He strained it the following Monday at his day job, and now he’s laid up in bed. Our bodies have limits, and we’re cornered into forced rest when we don’t take the optional route.

We need to come to terms with our limits. It may be that hustle is nothing more than a trending semantic to justify our delusions of self-sufficiency.

Rest from striving.

This one is subtle and pervasive. It happens on the inside and keeps us from resting even when we’re resting.

Striving is what we do when we’re convinced it all depends on us.

Physical rest.

We came from the dirt, and we’ll eventually return to the dirt. The dirt itself needs a rest from its labor and the rest of creation follows suit. (We call it winter.) Maybe we should start taking our cues from the environment into which we have been strategically planted.

Can we not observe that abundant harvests are still produced year after year, even though the land sits still in hibernation for months at a time?

A winter slow used to be part of everyone’s way of life. They didn’t have modern technology to get around it. But in our post-agrarian society, tech allows (forces) us to keep our foot on the gas pedal year-round.

Maybe this isn’t actually what progress looks like.

There is a season for everything.

Now, this is not some naive idea of utopian sabbath. Life is work, and I believe there is joy to be found in work that is worth doing. But our society is in dire need of a healthier value of rest, so that our work doesn’t consume us.

The irony of the timing of Andy’s injury is not lost on us. On this first day of winter, we have been forced into rest. Apparently, we need to learn how to rest well for the sake of our bodies and our souls.

We’re not there yet. But we want to be.

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Jodi Schipper