The Anatomy of Rest

I am a bit of an exercise enthusiast. I started out slow with Pilates and walking before moving on to running with light weight lifting; and now, my most recent switch, is to heavier weight lifting with more intense cardio. I love it. It is an amazing stress reliever and keeps my body and soul strong and healthy.

Unless I do too much.

In the world of exercise this is called overtraining and its symptoms include sore muscles, heightened heart rate, irritability, depression, insomnia, loss of motivation and even a greater susceptibility to sickness as we become weaker.

I guess too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

Usually the act of lifting weights is considered the moment where strength gains are made, but this would be incorrect. In fact, during a weight lifting session the muscles become distressed and there are little rips and tears made to the muscle tissue. It is only through rest that the strength gains are made as our bodies fuse together new muscle fibers creating a thicker muscle with a greater capacity for lifting.

Strength isn’t gained as we work. Strength is gained as we rest.

God is so counterintuitive to what I perceive to be the truth. I often find myself trying to do more, to add more, to be more, and I feel guilty when I can’t continue or when I find myself losing language and energy. I believe that to do more is to be more effective.

I’d be wrong.

God has created us for both work and rest. These components function together and one without the other weakens us. Work is important. We must expend energy, we must push, we must risk, we must learn; but we are missing a key element to health, both physical and spiritual, if we cannot stop, breathe and rest. We will not make gains if we do not rest with intention.

In Psalm 23, at the very beginning of the Psalm, David writes, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.”

How is your soul restored? By being laid down in green grass where the water is still and quiet. Your soul is restored in rest.

I think it is safe to say that a cross-cultural life is an intense one. Even on the best of days it is still hard. Many of us are starved for rest and many of us don’t make the time or don’t know how to find it. We consider rest to be selfish or unimportant or simply a luxury that we can’t afford. Rest is this phantom of a dream just outside our reach.

But rest is a part of our intrinsic, God designed personhood from the very beginning and without it we will fatigue. Spiritually, physically, emotionally, linguistically we will fatigue to the point where our health suffers, our motivation is lost and we become irritable without sleep and peace for our souls. We think that if we just push ourselves more we can overcome our weakness.

We forget that our strength lies in our rest . . . and our rest lies in Christ.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

Take a break.

Get a massage, take a vacation, sleep, go for a run, read a book, watch a movie, cook, eat ice cream, play, laugh, cry, accept yourself, trust God.


God’s got the world under control and has given us limitations for our own good and for his glory; when we rest we are embracing rest as an act of worship to a holy and good God. In the process our souls are restored and fused together to make for stronger character, stronger relationships and we can push forward with enthusiasm as we wait on God and watch him move.

“Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest.” Exodus 23:12

Do you get enough rest? Do you view rest more as weakness or worship? What steps can you take towards implementing active rest into your life?


  1. Monica F March 28, 2017

    This is so, so good, especially this quote: “God is so counterintuitive to what I perceive to be the truth. I often find myself trying to do more, to add more, to be more, and I feel guilty when I can’t continue or when I find myself losing language and energy. I believe that to do more is to be more effective.”
    I lived like this for years, to the point of burn out. I felt so guilty when we took a ‘real sabbatical’- it felt wrong to rest! Who was going to ‘do the work back there’?! What a difference a few years make- after learning to truly REST, incorporate REST into my life, and live a RESTFUL existence…I never want to go back to the rush, the pressure and stress of doing more and trying to be more. I love this post, and hope it encourages other women who are in need of rest! Thank you for reminding us of the importance of REST!

    1. Joy Smalley March 28, 2017

      Hi Monica,

      I agree! It often feels so wrong to rest. I’m really glad to hear that you have been able to incorporate rest into your life as a habit. How has rest manifested itself in your life? Do you take a day a week for rest or is rest more of a releasing of work? I’d love to know!

      1. Monica April 6, 2017

        Hi Joy, for me ‘rest’ is creating margin so that I can do the things I enjoy, like go swimming, do Bible Study, take a walk with my kids. They are rest-inducing ‘activities’, if that makes sense. I’m learning not to fill my days up with lots of appointments, meeting up with people, etc. Our family ‘rests’ together on Sundays as well… afternoons are meant for naps, board games, reading, kayaking, etc. When we lived overseas, we also made a point to rest on Sunday afternoons as well. It didn’t always happen there, and it doesn’t always happen there, but we made/make the effort!

  2. Leigha March 28, 2017

    I love this, Joy. What a powerful metaphor. I too, wrestle with guilt when I’m not doing all the things. This year (our seventh, coincidentally) has been different while we’re in transition. Not necessarily by choice, we’ve spent this year in a different city and have enjoyed the unique blessings that have come with it, notably the fellowship with other expats and believers (and conveniences like grocery stores and Western restaurants!). I feel like this temporary change has been God’s way of forcing me to stop doing doing doing, and I’m so grateful for the break, but unfortunately I can’t say it’s been without some level of guilt. Mostly when I think of how others (supporters, colleagues) might view it as being unengaged. Why is it so hard to accept that we need rest to go forward? Or to shake the perceived judgement when we do need some time (or a whole season) off? Thanks for the thought provoking reminder of what I know to be God’s truth!

    1. Joy Smalley March 29, 2017

      It’s crazy right? How guilty we can feel for taking a moment to rest, regroup and breathe. I struggle a lot with guilt when I’m resting which makes the rest not restful at all. I think it is one of God’s graces when he uses extenuating circumstances and forces me to rest but I still have a hard time embracing it. Lord willing this time in the city will have brought a renewed sense of energy and purpose to you as you go back to the village and enjoy the coolness and calmness of life at home 🙂

  3. Kathy March 29, 2017

    I am sitting here,exhausted, battling a cold, and trying to read Velvet Ashes before I crash. I struggle with getting enough rest – have my whole life, even before I became a M, I know that for me it is a combination of things that keep me from getting enough rest – perfectionism, procrastination, lack of discipline, thinking that if I don’t do it it won’t get done lots of outside interruptions – my goodness, I’m a mess! Right now I’m in the midst of an important project with a looming deadline. Most times I can just power through, but from time to time I hit up against exhaustion. I know it’s not healthy, and it’s not God honoring. It seems to be a rut I have been in my whole life, and I am not sure how to escape.

    I love the phrase Monica used about living a restful existence. That appeals to me so much! When I do force myself to slow down and rest, it is so life-giving. I’m not sure why I can’t maintain that. Part of it seems to be that when I feel I need to take a day to rest, the rest of the world doesn’t seem to realize it’s my day off! But I know it’s more than that, and I really do desire to live a restful life that honors God and protects the body He has given me. Thank you for this article, bringing this to my attention at a time when I’m really feeling the need for rest. I know I need to do business with God about some of the reasons I don’t rest as He would have me do.

    1. Joy Smalley March 29, 2017

      Hi Kathy,

      I will be praying for your health as well as the completion of your project by the deadline. I can relate to what you are saying. I am also not a restful person if I know that there is something that must be done and outside interruptions can be a killer! I pray that God, in his grace, will give you some needed rest for your soul as well as your body.

      1. Kathy March 31, 2017

        Thank you, Joy. I know that my need to learn to rest well goes far beyond this project deadline. I am finding encouragement and wisdom in the posts I am reading this week in Velvet Ashes. Thank you for your prayers.

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