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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Tempering January ambition: and finding rest

jenmichel@me.com

January In my own life, January normally blusters in with resolve and resolution. Maybe it’s the invitation of the winter landscape. The world, swathed in white, quiets to a hush, and the silence inspires reflection—the reflection, ambition. In January, I feel urged to straighten my house (an impulse no doubt inspired by hibernation).  But I don’t only decide to clean. I also determine to neaten my life. And though I don’t necessarily make goals in the formal sense, I do love the crisp, clean sheets of a new year.

 

But this year began differently for me. I didn’t hustle the kids back to school as I might normally have. I didn’t write ambitious lists. And while I did clean out two basement storage closets, I also decided intentionally to rest. One month, full-stop. (Whatever that meant. The only thing I knew for sure was that it included poetry.)  If I resisted hard and fast rules about what constituted rest and what constituted work (cleaning out storage closets can, in fact, be considered restful), I did commit to turning down any formal writing projects. (As it turns out, the only rule I set was the rule I broke precisely twice: one, to write this article at the invitation of the her.meneutics editors; two, to begin reading Randy Alcorn’s new book, Happiness, in preparation for an interview.) But despite those two transgressions (for which my husband exasperatedly pronounced, “You stink,”) I have embraced rest. I am, in fact, still lingering in the pause.

 

“What do you need rest from?” my spiritual director asked at the beginning of this month.

 

Isn’t it obvious? I wanted to answer.

 

Rest from deadlines.

Rest from the demands of other people.

Rest from hurry.

 

And it’s true that since the spring of 2015, I went breathlessly from one deadline to another. The year drove hard. But it is also true that this season of January rest, graciously spread for me like a feast by the table-setting God, has reminded me that it is not work or family or externally-opposed obligations that keep me from resting.

 

I am most ruthless at the reins of my life.

 

I am the Egyptian taskmaster with the leather strap, and until I rest from myself (and the hard-driving internal voices), there will be no rest at all.

 

I remember long car trips as a child. I’d sit in the back of the station wagon, staring out the car window, watching the landscape blur past. I’d fix my eyes on some solitary tree in the middle of the field and admire its rooted resistance to the rush. Whoosh went the corn. Whoosh went the soybeans. But the tree stood strong. Fiercely proud. Defiant. Imperial. I would imagine myself taking solace in its canopy of shade, stepping into the pool dappled with quiet and puddled with silence.

 

I wanted rest then, even as a young child without bills to pay, emails to answer, and library books to return. I still want it now. Like Judith Shulevitz writes in her book, The Sabbath World, “At some point, we all look for a Sabbath, whether or not we call it that. At the core of the Sabbath lives an unassuageable longing.” Humans, made by a working and resting God, are made for working and resting. We don’t have infinite battery life. We need pause from the quotidian. We need retreat from the inner voices goading constant improvement. Some days—a day a week, a month a year—we need to defiantly be still and know that He is God.

 

The habit of resting, however, will not be a habit that anyone forces upon you. But that’s when you remember the tree. And the Jesus who hung from it. The seventh-day resting God issues an invitation to take up easier burdens than the ones you lay on your own back. Whoosh go the soybeans. Whoosh go the corn. And the world, hurtling through space, minds the Maker’s word. He is God. You are not. In him (not your January ambition), the world is holding together.

 

As I linger in the pause of one more week of rest (whatever that means), I remember that rest is afforded to me. Because rest is central to the good news.

 

He settles me down in green pastures.

He leads me beside waters of rest.

He restores my soul.