Happy XXX XXXX!

The truth: I hate the saying “Happy New Year!”   It’s another day for goodness sake. Isn’t everyday a new beginning?

Maybe I could use this reasoning for an excuse, a reason that I have such a hard time transitioning into the New Year. Microsoft word even changed what I typed, “new year,” into “New Year” emphasizing the importance of my error. No matter, I want to continue to savor the mornings since December 31st, sitting on my comfy couch until time for lunch, grazing on cheese balls and chips and dip. Then, maybe read myself to sleep for an oh-so-brief two-hour nap because I am on a break.

The truth is that maybe I don’t know how to navigate work and rest; sometimes I’m not sure which is which. For example, cooking a meal when I have all the ingredients and no time limit is not work. Cooking a meal during a major holiday when I have other people to feed is work. Many times I am artfully engaged in preparing for a class or writing and ideas exude in the shower and I hurry to write them down no matter what else looms. Today I spent time laboriously staring at a syllabus and seemingly accomplished nothing. The difference seems to be where I am in the struggle.

In Kathleen Norris’ book, Acedia & Me, I read this insight from Henri Nouwen:

…”the literal translation of the words ‘pray always’ is ‘come to rest.” The Greek word for rest” he adds, “is ‘hesychia,’ and ‘hesychasm’ is a term which refers to the spirituality of the dessert.” The “rest” … is not an easy one, and as Nouwen writes, it “has little to do with the absence of conflict or pain. It is a rest in God in the midst of a very intense daily struggle.”

I seem to have lost that sense of rest lately, in the midst of living. Many months ago I discovered in Martin Marty’s book, When True Simplicity is Gained, this prayer by Saint Gertrude.

“Be near to me so that I may not feel the heaviness of labor, nor sink under adversity.”

I have the prayer on my desk and have repeated it before and during some particularly difficult tasks. It works – in the context of giving my best to the work before me—without striving.

Nouwen’s insight offers substance for my claim. Rest not from labor but into God’s provision. I cannot do everything; my work is not perfect, however it is a first step that I can take. As the book of compline encourages, there is a sense of liberation in that fact that we cannot do everything. I can do something and do it well and the rest is an opening for grace to enter.

This kind of focus is the best response to counter my complex understanding of work and rest—as well as the slothful ways I’ve adopted to avoid almost everything this Happy New Year.

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