Rest and Restlessness

June 29, 2023 | Feature | Volume 27 Issue 13
The Hermitage, a place of spiritual rest. (Photo by Kevin Driedger)

We asked the Canadian Mennonite community to reflect on rest and restlessness.

Where do you find rest for your soul?
What do you need rest from?
How does Jesus’ promise in Matthew 11 connect with your experience? “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29

Below are some responses.

Our heart is restless until it finds rest in you. –Augustine

After years of volunteering, and then working, at The Hermitage, a contemplative retreat centre in Three Rivers, Michigan, I eventually learned that the most important gift we had to offer our guests was rest.

I would tell retreatants: It is in rest that we most make ourselves available to God. Rest is a gift to receive and not a state that can be achieved. In rest, we let go of ambitions and the desire to control. We learn to improvise with the Spirit. Silence is often a catalyst to rest.

My twenty-first century self, however, is trained in anxiety and striving. Rest, we’re told, is a luxury available for purchase by the rich. The capitalist rest they sell is only a tool for you to “recharge” and return as a more effective producer/consumer.

My Mennonite self is trained in the virtues of hard-working service, and the sense of never doing enough. Is a well-rested Mennonite an oxymoron?

Tricia Hersey’s wonderful book Rest is Resistance, reminds me that the pinnacle of God’s week of creation is not humanity, but rest. Rest reclaims our bodies and our time from being mere economic tools serving the idol of productivity. “Much of our resistance to rest, sleep and slowing down is an ego problem,” writes Hersey. “You believe you can and must do it all because of our obsession with individualism and our disconnection to spirituality.”

As attractive as the gift of rest is, we find it so hard to receive. Our restless hearts are addicted to self-validating busyness. Yet, God continues to extend the gift of rest, waiting for us to empty and extend our hands. May we learn to value the liberating quality of our rest more than the quantity of our productivity.

–Kevin Driedger, Winkler, Manitoba


The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Rest if you must, but never quit. –St. Theresa of Avila

As a church youth leader who works nights at an emergency youth shelter and lives in a group home for teenage boys who have no other housing options, rest can seem both a privilege and necessity.

I talk faith and play with youth whose joy and kindness show me a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, and still, the work inevitably strips away my emotional energy. Acts of solidarity with the marginalized Christ too often do the same for my hope, as one young person after another falls to the demonic force that is the unregulated toxic drug supply.

Yet, in the midst of the anger, helplessness, grief and consuming unfairness of my two worlds, continually turning to Christ creates space to refresh and find hope to keep loving and serving. The hope is the hope that all those who’ve passed are not truly gone, because Christ has really overcome death.

The Israelites sat on the shore, with the chaos of the sea in front and the incoming slaughter of the empire behind them, and were called to sit and be still, to know that Yahweh is Yahweh.

I, too, can sit in the chaos of fear and confusion of what is in front of me, and a growing grief behind me, and know that Jesus is Jesus.

It is in this mysterious stillness that I may find rest and hope for my wearied soul as Jesus softly whispers that the act of reconciling all things to him is still in process, that I’m just one tiny piece on a trajectory in the great-grand redemption story, and that in the end all shall be well.

–Brett Mathews, youth ministry leader, Highland Community Church, Abbotsford, B.C.


Often in my life, I struggle with the restless delusion that I need to wake up tomorrow morning and dismantle systemic racism and solve the climate crisis with my own bare hands. My soul finds rest from this exhausting and silly way of thinking when I’m invited by Anishinaabe kwe (women) to listen and learn in water ceremonies on the Grand River watershed where I live.

These Indigenous women pray and care for the water and teach us that she (water) has spirit and original instructions from Creator to cleanse and care for all of creation. I cannot move, digest, heal or even breathe without the help of water, carrying out her original instructions in my body in many small ways every day. 

As the Anishinaabe kwe always remind us, water is life. Humans have original instructions from Creator too. Jesus articulates them simply and powerfully: Love one another.

My soul finds rest when I give up my impossibly grand delusions and simply carry out my original instructions to love and work for justice, in small ways every day on this land, with the help of water, the gift from Creator.

–Scott Morton Ninomiya, Grand River Watershed, Anishnaabe and Haudenosaunee territory (Kitchener, Ontario)


Psalm for Silence
By Carol Penner

I crave silence like water.
In this noisy non-stop fast-paced high-powered
injection-fueled people-filled emotion-packed
day, I say,
“I crave silence like water.”
Drop, drop, drop
into my soul, soul, soul.
I will listen for the drip and the echo.
I will look, look, look
for the dropper of silence
and wait, wait, wait to be filled.
Silence expands noiselessly.
It blossoms unexpectedly,
beautifully, completely,
and it doesn’t leave when you open
your eyes.
Silence is companionable,
it likes your company,
and wants you to stick around.
Silence is the long-term friend of pause,
and is acquainted with catch-your-breath.
Close cousins with sleep.
Wait’s uncle.
Silence swoops over the world,
its wings brush our hair.
Silence outdistances all takers.
In the vast reaches of space,
supernovas explode in silence.
Silence seeps into the world
through the night sky.
I open my mouth
as round as the moon
and breathe in silence.


Come to me
Jesus’ most memorable words about rest are found in Matthew 11: “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

We know rest and healthy life-balance is essential for our spiritual, physical and emotional wellbeing. Without rest, our mind and body do not function as God designed.   

To receive Jesus’ promise of rest, first consider what it is you need rest from.

Do you need rest from “too much”? In a culture that promotes fast living and full schedules there is always another project to tackle, another item on the to-do list, another goal to accomplish. It’s enough to leave us weary. And weary doesn’t just look like a 3 p.m. caffeine crash. It’s the incessant inner voice that tells us we will never do enough or be enough. In response, we do more and try harder until there is nothing left to give.

“Come to me…” Jesus invites, you who struggle under a load of unreasonable expectations, feel the burden of trying to be all things to all people, or work overtime to not let anyone down, and “I will give you rest.”

It is only when we become fully aware of our deep weariness that Jesus’ promise of rest becomes not just welcome but renewing.

The rest Jesus offers is unlike any other, reaching the depths of our being. While the world demands performance, Jesus gives us rest that comes from abiding in his presence.

Called into intimate relationship with the One who will help us bear the burden and carry the load, Jesus says, “take my yoke upon you….”

Can you identify how Jesus’ accompaniment has helped you bear a heavy load? Jesus invites us to come to him with all our anxiety, fears, weariness and restlessness. In Jesus, we find rest, the deep rest that allows us to take a break, recover and renew our strength.

–Kara Carter, lead pastor of Wellesley Mennonite Church, Wellesley, Ontario


By Annika Krause

Rest is the breath of God in you exhaling
It is so deep and so vast that it settles the chaos in your blood
It slows a frantically beating heart
And releases the tightness in your chest
Turning a tempest into a summer breeze
That whisks away through the brush
What you worried was a permanent furrow on your brow
Rest is discovering again your ties to the natural world
Lying so still on the ground that your hair intertwines with mycelium
And you feel the pulse of the earth below you
Light breaking through the canopy nourishes the soul
Your mind sinks so far into the dirt and tree roots
It is absorbed into the ecosystem
Your chest opens with new life
Lungs expanding and contracting in symbiosis
Breathe deeply, Beloved, and deeper still
When you dare to rest like this
Everything called good exhales with you. 

The Hermitage, a place of spiritual rest. (Photo by Kevin Driedger)

The Hermitage, a place of silence and stillness. (Photo by Kevin Driedger)

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It's been very great to discover meditation, and I feel certain it will take me further and further into the depths of serenity, as many say it will. We rest the body, but do we really rest the mind? The world will never be fully at peace, near or far, but inwardly our peace can be continual and limitless, in my belief.

Meditation might be described as focused resting or resting focus, and one must overcome restlessness in order to do it. An active, balanced life is good, but too many restless thoughts are not. How can we dive deeper and deeper into the ocean of tranquility without stilling our minds? They're often too turbulent and need training.

I'm very novice at meditation, but already experience a deepening of joy, calmness and clarity. I think of it as better anchoring to the infinite, eternal Kingdom within. As a spiritual practice, there's perhaps nothing higher.

Some great Christians have testified to the power of meditation, though some may call it something else. "Deeper prayer", perhaps. Gandhi meditated a tremendous amount. Paul said he "died daily", which means meditation, some say. And it's what Jesus meant by "go into your closet and pray," some say. Go into your mind and meditate.

However, there's no need to take anyone's word for it. Just do it and then you know!

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