My 2015 began with a provocative question: “How would your life look different if you stopped working and rested in the work that Jesus has already done for you?” I was uncomfortable as I had to admit to myself that my life would look different. There would be freedom from my constant striving and peace in just living. I was caught in a trap of comparison, instead of being who God made me to be. I was constantly working when I needed to be resting in His finished work on the cross.
My mind is always planning, questioning, and evaluating. It is partially how I am naturally wired, and it can be very good. I, however, had slipped out of the healthy habits of learning and growth. But how could I stop my never-ending quest for self-improvement and relax? My husband often describes my mind as “spinning.” The gears in my head never stop. I am always contemplating, list making, or reevaluating. My mind needed to rest so that my soul could rest.
The application that God laid on my heart may seem like an odd one: Read fiction. Fiction had seemed pretty pointless to me. It didn’t help me accomplish anything. I am a doer, but I needed a fast from reading self-help, successful living, do-it-better books. For years I had been laser focused on reading book after book that could help me be a better wife, mother, cook, homeschooler, Christian, etc. God was calling me to step out of my comfort zone, read stories, and trust Him.
2015 was to be a year of fallow. “Fallow” is a farming term that refers a period of time when no seed is sown in order to restore fertility to the ground. Similarly the nation of Israel was commanded by God to give the land a Sabbath rest every seven years (Exodus 23:10-12.) This Sabbath year was to be an outward expression of faith and acknowledgment that it is God who provides.
For three months I read absolutely nothing. My conscience would not allow me to read a book from my normal genera, but I stubbornly held onto my prejudice of “useless” fiction. Finally, I gave in. Honestly, I was sorta pushed in. My son wanted to read Harry Potter. Remembering that there was a little controversy when it came out, I thought I should read it first. So I got the book, but only because it was on my “to-do” list.
Reading Harry was far from a chore. I enjoyed getting wrapped up in the story, and my appetite was sufficiently whetted for other fictional books. It was just what I needed, a break from more ideas of who I should be and methods of how I could be better.
Stories change us. They shape us. I believed that to be true for my children, but for a while I denied that the same is true for me as well. I can look back now and see all that has grown out of the soil of my year of rest. I noticed in reading fiction I began to develop more compassion for others because the story helped me to get a perspective other than my own- the woman struggling with mental illness who feels alone, the man with anger to mask the trauma of war.
God can be known in the beauty of an unfolding story, in the art of brilliant language, and the peace that comes with rest.
Currently I am reading three books-each one from a different genera. I would have never done that before. I am “spinning” (in a healthy way) on what it means to love God with my heart, soul, mind and strength. I am asking how each of these unique areas need to be tended to in worship of a creative God, rather than lumping them into a general pile of “love God with everything.”
I am also growing in my knowledge of God as a good father who wants us to delight in both simple pleasure and hard work. I think of my own children again. I would never want them to have a mindset of “never quite good enough” for enjoyment, always striving with no time for rest. I want my kids to read and question, learn and grow, evaluate and seek out new ways and methods. I also want them to be at peace and pick up a good book or creative project for the pure enjoyment of it. I think that my Heavenly Father wants the same for me.
I am so thankful that I took a fallow year to learn to live more freely in the grace that God offers. I am glad that I learned that my world didn’t fall apart when I took a Sabbath rest. I am excited to keep learning that God can be known in the beauty of an unfolding story, in the art of brilliant language, and the peace that comes with rest.
(In full disclosure I confess; I did sneak in reading Teaching from Rest in the fall of my fallow year, but since it was about trusting more and doing less my conscience was clear!)