Rest is the place we begin – learning a new rhythm for living

rest is not something to be earned. Self-care is not something we're only allowed once we have crossed a certain number of things off the to-do list. Rest is the place we begin. - Fiona Lynne Koefoed-Jespersen

We live in a terraced house that backs onto a railway line. Trains come by every 5-10 minutes depending on the time of day, a fact that my young son adores. The tracks are the same height as our bedroom windows, and the embankment up to the tracks is covered in thick overgrown shrubbery and gnarled trees, which is perfect urban wildlife habitat.

The foxes have been appearing daily over the last couple of weeks. In the first year we have lived here, I’d only spot one maybe once a month, so it’s quite a change. We’ll be sitting at the kitchen table having lunch when Oskar will squeal excitedly, or Kaya will glance up from her play on the living room floor and say, “Oh, a fox!”.

There are two of them. One is almost silver, just her head still showing rusty red. She’s small and thin and cautious, stopping frequently to survey the landscape around her before trotting quickly on to the next spot. She runs along the train tracks, down through the shrubbery and then we’ll spot her jumping into a neighbour’s garden.

The other one is larger, and such a bright bronze that she took my breath away the first time I saw her. Her tail is bushy, her ears jet black. She’s the kind of fox that defies all stereotypes of her urban companions. I’ve only seen her a few times.

A couple of weeks ago I was in the kitchen alone when I saw her wander along the wall at the back of the gardens towards us. When she reached our garden she hopped onto the roof of the shed and sat down. Her eyes were half closed in the bright winter sunshine and she looked entirely at peace. I stood at the sink watching her until she flopped down to sleep on the warm roof, head on her paws.

It felt like a really intimate moment. Maybe that sounds weird, but I felt like I was intruding on her personal rest time, so I took myself away from the window and left her there to enjoy the warmth of the sun.

Her presence spoke to me though. I am bad at resting. I have a suspicion it might actually be our whole culture that is bad at resting, but I have noticed it in my own life this past year. Mothering a baby and a toddler is intense work, but it is also so hard to just switch off. As soon as they are napping or asleep, I am tackling my long list of things to get done to keep our lives ticking over – call the insurance company, hang up the laundry, put in a groceries order, write that birthday card that should have been sent last week, book the rental car for the holiday.

I always think, oh I’ll just get a few things done and then I will feel better about stopping, more entitled to a real rest.

But rest is not something to be earned. Self-care is not something we’re only allowed once we have crossed a certain number of things off the to-do list. Rest is the place we begin. 

My spiritual director has been trying to get this through to me for a while. She’s probably inwardly sighing in frustration at me in every session, but she’s ever patient when she reminds me again that we work out of our rest, that Adam and Eve were created on day six, meaning their first full day of life was day seven – the Sabbath day of rest.

It’s completely counter-cultural, this call and command to rest. Of course, there’s no off button to being a mother, especially when you have tinies. When they’re sleeping, you always have one ear on them, you never entirely switch off. Maybe you have a really intense job, you work long hours, or you volunteer in your spare time, you have an ageing parent to care for or a church ministry that believes your time and energy is infinite (have you noticed churches can be the absolute worst at this?).

But I do have moments I could stop and rest, and the great temptation is to just keep going in those moments, to embrace martyrdom and the lie that I am only worth as much as I have crossed off that list. Or to lose that rest time down the dark deep hole of social media and Netflix. I’m all for a few episodes of Big Bang Theory to help you flick the internal off-button (belly laughing to Sheldon is hugely rejuvenating) but when every night of the week ends that way, I finish the week feeling like I haven’t truly rested. And social media is pretty much the opposite of restful.

If I’m honest, I often feel guilty for resting. It’s so hard to break the lie that rest is something to be earned and I have not yet earned it. And so I come back to the fox, taking her moment to simply lie down and enjoy the warmth of the sun on a cold winter’s day. I watched her, and it was as if her enjoyment was just spilling out from her to me. I could sense it so powerfully.

I am a better mother when I rest. I am a better wife. I am a better writer and friend and neighbour. Because rest doesn’t just refresh my mind and body; it refreshes my soul by reminding me I am more than the sum of my accomplishments. I am enough, I have enough, there will be enough. It’s a statement of trust in the Creator who teaches us to rest before working.