Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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Returning to Rest

January 28, 2020

Kris Camealy


In the dark, I make my way from bedside to kitchen, minding the steps that creek, walking awkwardly down the edges of the staircase, praying under my breath that my movement will go undetected, so that my time alone will be uninterrupted. The coffee machine had whirled into action at 4:15AM, I’d heard its grinding in my dream, except that part was real. If it had disturbed anyone else in the house, they weren’t roused the way I am by its workings. This is grace, as I went to bed only hours ago, with the expectation of having the quiet morning hours to myself. Reaching into the cabinet, I select one of my favorite mugs—the hand-thrown one I got on retreat in the Texas low country some years back. When I hold it, I remember the slow rhythm of those days hidden in the valley. I remember the quiet trickle of the emerald green river that meandered beside the main house. I remembered the way that space had opened to me, swallowing me up, hiding me from the ever-reaching, squeezing arms of technology always buzzing in my hand, in my pocket. There’s no cell service out here, they’d told me on arrival. I’d grinned and welcomed it, stuffing my phone into the bowels of my overnight bag.

In my study upstairs, down the hall from my sleeping children, I sit at my desk, mug in hand, coffee steaming into my face, and light the pink candle that sits centered below my monitor. This is a ritual. A rhythm. I call this desk an altar and while I don’t mean it to sound pious, I know it may ring out that way. This is where I work, and also, when I come in a certain frame of mind, it’s where I rest too.

This season finds me without much spare time to offer towards anything other than the necessities of running the household, meal preparation, laundry washing chauffeuring kids from activity to activity. There’s no moment where I can say, “I wonder what I will do today?”.  Every moment is spoken for, save the 4:30AM time slot with my mug, at my desk. I’ve carved these pre-dawn hours out for the intentional practice of surrender. This is where I sit quietly in the invisible Presence and listen. This is when I pray most concertedly. And when I write words that more often than not, are for no one but God to read. The energy it takes to craft something that is not for public consumption could arguably be seen as a waste of time. I realize this always, but feel it acutely when I have real work to do and real deadlines pressing.

In his book, Wayne Mueller writes, “our lack of rest….colors the way we build and sustain community, it dictates the way we respond to suffering, and it shapes the ways in which we seek peace and healing in the world.”

I see prayer as an invitation to rest. The morning hours in the dark, a quiet pronouncement against the march of the day that will bully me with demands and appointments that must be attended to. I don’t have to rise early, it’s not a mandate—but it is an uninterrupted invitation to rest in the Presence of God.

In my parenting and in my actual work, I am a community builder, and I know first-hand the violence that is perpetrated by hurried, harried, un-rested people in the name of productivity, in the name of accomplishment, in the ever-elusive quest for success. I know because when I have refused to surrender, I have contributed to it. I have been both perpetrator and victim.

In the dim candlelight I notice how the glaze on my mug mimics the look of brown mountains pressed against blue sky. I can’t tell if that the potter’s intention, or a “happy accident” (to borrow from painter, Bob Ross). That year that I’d found myself in the middle of the Texas valley, untethered to my cell phone and my laptop, I’d come dangerously close to a breaking point. The weekend away fell on the heels of a season of family trauma, and a confirmed diagnosis that had left me reeling and raw. Months of fitful sleep had accumulated leaving me on edge and tearful at the slightest provocation. If as the Psalmist writes, God holds our tears in bottles, surely I’d filled many in that season. I’d arrived in that arid valley as brittle and thirsty as the Texas brush. I craved quiet, but had been unable to find it at home with the inescapable weight of our situation ever before me.

The retreat was part of my work and it was respite, and though it had been scheduled months in advance, I couldn’t have known how fiercely I’d need it when it finally came time to board that plane. These things astound me—God’s timing, God’s provision. Though I too often balk at His cadence, it is always perfect. I tell myself to remember this when I’m up in arms about how slow He seems in His coming.

Rest resets our rhythms.

In surrender, we re-gain perspective—or find a new one (usually, the latter). Muller goes on to say that “without rest, we respond from a survival mode, where everything we meet assumes a terrifying prominence,[1]” a statement as true as any proverb ever written. I know my own default places of habitation in frenetic seasons are dark corners of terrible, imagined possibilities, fear of relational strain (imagined and assumed offenses where none have been intended or perpetrated), envy, sloth, anxiety, panic, terror…it seems the list of holes I can fall into, when unrested are endless, a void of catastrophe waiting to suck me in to an oblivion of my own making. Survival mode, indeed.

What I experienced that weekend retreat, and on other retreats since then, is this inexplicable slowing of time that defies all reasonable logic. The clock moves at the same pace as always, but “retreat time” is a real thing. Away from the dinging of phones and the insistency of the daily schedule, time feels fluid, flowing at a pace completely other.

I sat for long stretches on the balcony overlooking the river only to rise from my seat and find it had scarcely been an hour. So much of the day still lay before me. This happened again and again. What’s puzzling about this time of rest was how natural if feels when you’re in the midst of it. It’s as if God is sharing a secret about the universe with you, and you are somehow in on it, even though you have no idea how He’s doing it.  This is a terrible explanation, but how can you explain something that defies explanation? A metaphor may help… time on retreat feels like what I imagine eternity might feel like. Days passing but measured somehow by a different meter all together. (Perhaps you ought to just go on retreat, and then you’ll know what I am trying to and failing at articulating.)

When I returned home from the valley, nothing about my situation had changed. Time away had been a respite, a rest, not a re-setting of the actual particulars of the situation. I came home to the same diagnosis, the same standing appointments on the calendar, the same need for groceries and laundry and chores waiting to be done. But I did not return home the same. I returned with fresh eyes. With renewed strength. With hope revived— even if only a little. A little was all I needed. It was enough. Muller reminds that “it’s only in the soil of Sabbath tranquility we can seed the possibility of beginning a new day, a new week—even a new life, again and again, each time with fresh eyes, rested and refreshed, born within the completely gratuitous sanctuary of time.”

When Jesus invited the disciples to find their rest in Him, He was inviting us into the expanse of His Holy being. The rest afforded to us by the humble act of abiding, of surrendering ourselves to the utter envelopment of our Maker, offers us a restoration and renewal unparalleled by anything the world can offer. It’s there, in that gratuitous sanctuary of time Himself (Hebrews 4) that we are revived for whatever lies ahead. It is from this place we return to the fields of our lives with renewed energy and spirit to continue in our participation with the One who is steadily renewing all things, even us.

[1] Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives. Bantam Books, 1999

The featured image is courtesy of author Kris Camealy and is used with her permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.


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  1. Jody Collins says:

    Kris, how I am grateful for your obedience and the fruit it has borne in everyone else’s lives as you have made a place for us to retreat and rest.
    I love the way your words call us into God’s presence and his faithfulness.

  2. Kris, your words never cease to amaze me. They are always so timely and never fall to the ground in waste. I am grateful for a heart that shares so willingly and a pen that can keep the pace with those feelings as they come. Thank you again for lifting me up without ever even knowing it was needed…

  3. Susan says:

    What beautiful words to begin the day with ♥️ What a gift this was today and what a gift you are! Thank you for answering the call to breathe life into the message He wants you to share…

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