The right to rest

First published as an editorial in the Christian Science Sentinel

Sleep studies have been a popular topic lately as people report a variety of difficulties in getting their rest - chronic insomnia, worries that rise up in the darkness, and work schedules that eat into time for rest.

A report in the Dec. 20, 2004, issue of Time magazine charted new findings on the need for a good night's sleep, which hint at the mental nature of sleep. Scientists say that rest is largely about restoring the brain as opposed to the body.

One noteworthy aspect of the report is the trend in America toward viewing sleep as somewhat of a nuisance, as an impediment to progress. "Sleep is for sissies," the title of one article suggests, highlighting people who literally push themselves to work night and day. Apparently in this age of 24/7 working, shopping, and Internetting, a growing number of people are approaching life in terms of how little rest they can possibly get by on, feeling the overriding need to be accomplishing, producing, doing.

While most of us don't subscribe to extremes, many have felt that life is somehow pushing us beyond the limit of what is natural or normal. We yearn for essential refreshment, relaxation, balance.

Enter the concept of ourselves and the universe as the creation of Soul, a name Mary Baker Eddy ascribed to God in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." The book says, straightforwardly, "Man is the expression of Soul" (page 477). And that means each man and woman has, direct from God, activity, rest in action, peace, calm, serenity, order, tranquility, beauty.

Ultimately it may not be so much about the quantity of shut-eye we get as the quality of the thoughts we think. But along the path to learning this, sleep is a normal part of living.

And not just the oblivion of sleep, but real spiritual rest, restoration, and rejuvenation. We've all had times when absorption in some soul-satisfying activity overrode the need for normal repose. That hints at the essentially mental nature of healthful living of all kinds. There's no shortcut to finding the prayer-based rest that transcends time and physiological states. It comes through relating our lives to Soul, God, better and seeing that our nature is to be like Him - peaceful and productive, creative and serene.

Far from being a guilt-producing activity, the pursuit of true rest is something to encourage. Even Jesus took time for rest and refreshment. He once slept in a storm-tossed boat. Yet, it's not hard to think of him, pressed as he was to help people, saying to himself, "Maybe I should heal some more instead of going up on that mountain to pray." But what did he do? Jesus honored that most basic human need - for spiritual communion, spiritual refreshment. "Jesus prayed; he withdrew from the material senses to refresh his heart with brighter, with spiritual views" (Science and Health, page 32). In order to do his best, most helpful work for humanity, even the master Christian apparently required that refreshment which comes from time spent in communion with God.

A few questions we might ask ourselves, in our search for days that are both restful and productive:

• Is God directing me to push on with a given task - or am I just feeling willfully driven?

• Am I afraid of losing out to others if I don't push myself - or am I feeling Soul guide my activity?

• Is the clock ruling my day - or am I measuring time according to the good that is unfolding from God today? (See Science and Health, page 584.)

• What characterizes my mental atmosphere - an agitated sense of having to do something or the peace of God? Commotion or spiritual serenity?

If there is a natural "right to rest," then undergirding that right is a higher spiritual purpose. Just as physicists' expanded understanding of the laws of gravity and aerodynamics enabled space travel, Soul-science promises remarkable discoveries to those who are asking questions that push mental boundaries - even when it comes to finding the highest and most satisfying type of rest and refreshment.

There remaineth therefore,
a rest to the people of God.

Hebrews 4:9

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