When I worked at the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) office in Winnipeg 20 years ago, I took pride in showing up early. Occasionally I even arrived before Norm, the custodian, who turned the lights on at 7 a.m.
Sometimes, I was also the last to leave.
I was doing advocacy with a Cree community and there was no shortage of passion or work.
I can also say that the poofy blue couch in the little room near the front desk at MCC offered a sound night’s rest, though I was sure to be at my desk before Norm arrived, as I felt sheepish about sleeping at work.
Before that, I served with MCC in an Indigenous community on Vancouver Island. As I walked the streets of Tsulquate village, I would often hear someone call out a window in a friendly voice: “Where’s the fire?” In other words: “Hey white boy, nice to have you here, but what’s with the purposeful gait? Is your time really so important that you can’t tune into our pace?”
Before that, I served with MCC in Brazil as an 18-year-old. I worked at a large daycare where I drove kids around and ran errands. I spent a lot of time in a beige VW Kombi and a lot of time standing in line at banks, trying hard not to do anything to somehow upset the armed guards and feeling a deep, antsy, unsettled need to do something more important than wait in line.
Years later, when I read a prominent Anabaptist academic’s use of the term “compulsiveness of purpose,” it hit me in the gut. A spiritual indictment. I was driven. I was compulsive. I was restless, and not in a good way.
Though directed toward good, my compulsion had hold of me.
Eventually, I moved to a mini-farm with old buildings, big gardens and endless possibilities. Here I learned another form of compulsion—project addiction. Treehouses, barn restoration, crooked fence gates, crooked everything, leaky roofs, leaky ego . . . high on Home Depot.
Projects can be ethical, necessary and creative—you should see our new all-natural (almost) grape trellis—but they can also be the rot of restlessness.
The feature in this issue explores rest and restlessness. Over my restless years, I was also taught the ways of silence, solitude, stillness and rest. The learning is slow. The best I have to offer are confessions.
Rest is scary. True rest—not indulgent spa-style rest—requires humility, surrender, letting go, weaning from digital distraction.
I recall—hopefully correctly—Old Testament theologian Waldemar Janzen telling a class of young Mennonites that the Sabbath, the day of rest, is a day to let God be God, a day to cease from striving, to recognize that it is God’s goodness, not our efforts, that count (I’m paraphrasing).
Control freaks can’t rest. People caught in the supposed importance of their own productivity will miss God’s gift.
Jesus did not say: “Come to me all you who sleep at the office, and I will teach you to survive on even less sleep. Take my wireless yoke upon you and you’ll be even more effective.”
He gently offered rest.
Thanks: With this issue, Anneli Loepp Thiessen concludes her worship-centred column, “Voices and Stories.” We express gratitude for the uncommon degree of giftedness and dedication Anneli brings to the church. And we offer best wishes as she focusses on completing her studies.
Correction: In our June 16 issue, we said Dan Driediger is a “licensed” cartographer. While his business is licensed to print maps, Driediger is not a licensed cartographer. The error was ours.
Digital: CM will publish three digital-only issues this summer, including the next one. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to be put on the list.
Welding for peace: We put a fighter jet on the cover of our Jan. 30 issue, and reflections about government arms spending inside that issue. Ken Loewen responded in his workshop, creating the sculpture pictured on the cover. Thanks for sharing Ken.
Will Braun welcomes feedback at email@example.com.