The Capacity to Stop


The story is told of an experiment one man made with a pigeon that was born in a cage and had never been allowed to taste freedom.  One day the owner took the bird outside and flung it into the air, and was delightfully surprised to find that the bird’s capacity for flight was perfect. It was seemingly born with the instincts and ability to fly as if it had never known anything else.  However, its perfect flight soon turned to disaster as the bird began to grow weary, its flight circles growing more frantic and smaller in diameter until it finally fell against its owners chest and collapsed onto the ground.  Although the bird had indeed inherited the instinct of flight, it had not inherited the capacity to stop.  It was only the sudden shock of collision with something outside of itself that saved its little life from being spent completely in a flurry of flapping wings (story adapted from Springs in the Valley devotional).

Life in our crazy world often resembles this sad story, doesn’t it?  Especially as we leave summer behind – which held at least a few moments of pause for most people – we are already preparing for the mad dash of the next season.  It seems preparation is always a season ahead, beckoning us ever onward.  We missed last year’s halloween costumes at Costco because we waited until October to shop.  Their pre-season stock had come and gone!

It makes sense, if we are governed by the pace of life in which we are immersed.  But it doesn’t make much sense if we are governed by the life of the Spirit we’ve been given.  If we are in Christ, there will always be a tension that resists constant striving and favors rest for the soul, so much so that sometimes a collision of sorts will come to jar us out of the rat race we’ve been living.

Two and a half years ago, I had just such a collision.  Seemingly out of nowhere, I was slammed into a health crisis that was completely unexpected and is still, in many aspects, completely unexplainable.  At the time, my friends and family were unnerved.  It seemed like a great tragedy and no one, myself included, knew how to respond.  But because God is so gracious, loving and kind, I knew where to turn for answers.  Although I didn’t get a “why”, I did get a life-saving word that changed everything for me.

God was giving me a forced season of rest.  Not just physical rest, but mental, emotional, and spiritual as well.  I had become so immersed in the crazy busyness of being a wife/mom/servant/friend/student/teacher that I was running myself into overwhelm on a constant basis.  Truly, I didn’t know any other way.  People would encourage me to rest, but I didn’t see how rest was possible.  Stopping was not an option because I had too much on my plate.  I had so much, in fact, that God wanted to bring more, but could not, because I had no room to entertain anything else.

So I hit the divine stop sign He held up for me, and I was ushered into a season of recalibration,  a season I look back on now as a course correction.  I was forced to reevaluate all of my priorities and responsibilities, and to give up almost all of what I had been carrying.  I simply could not do more than the very basics that involved caring for myself and my family.  I had to learn how to live differently.  And I had to cultivate the habit of rest as a permanent possession.

I am finally beginning to spread my wings and entertain the thought of flying again.  But I am not the same woman I was before that collision.  I have learned the powerful secret that “rest is not a sedative for the sick, but a tonic for the strong.” Rest has saved me from becoming a slave to even the good things I am called to do in this life.  It is a gift God gives to those He loves. And it is a gift that makes room for more of what matters.

Jesus issues a great invitation to people who suffer from constant striving when He says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Interestingly, this invitation was written for people who had been taught to try hard at being good and doing right.  They were the ones who were working themselves to the bone trying to fulfill their God-given responsibilities but, from an eternal perspective, were gaining nothing. Jesus wanted them to see great gain for their labors, but knew that such gain could only come from trusting in Him, which would require a breaking away from their routines and learned demands.  That gain would only come from learning how to move from the place of resting in His strength and learning how to let it fuel our work.

God instituted a whole day of rest for us in Genesis, as a model for how we should live. Sadly, I think most people either work straight through or waste that appointed day, that day given as a gift for pausing, breathing, loving, reevaluating priorities and preparing for the week ahead (not the season ahead) by remembering what truly matters and dismissing that which does not.  I wonder how much great work is sacrificed for lesser work, because we have not allowed ourselves to stop and breathe long enough to see if it is time to let some things go in order to make room for something new, something better.

I share this story with you because I know God wants our work to count for something.  He doesn’t want our labors to be in vain.  And I see so many people running themselves ragged to accomplish things that don’t yield much more than a temporary sense of satisfaction at the end of a long, hard day.  This amounts to slavery, in the end.  I know because I lived it, and because God was good enough to pull me out of it.

Now I have seen firsthand the incredible purposes of God in a life which yields itself – even if forcibly – to His appointed gift of rest.  You don’t have to wait until you collide with something, like I did.  You can start with taking a day off, and trusting God to do more in your 6 days than you could do yourself in 7.  You could start with a quarterly retreat, or a committed block of time each day to be still and direct your heart and mind toward Heaven, where God is pouring out refreshment and longing to lead you into greater effectiveness with less burden.

He is calling you and I to live lives that are marked by rest.  Such lives are guaranteed to reap a harvest much greater than we could know by way of the incessant striving we are caught up in now.  Is your soul reeling from the pace of your life?  As we gear up for another school year in my house, I am starting with a time of rest, and intend to plan for rest throughout the year.  I hope you will take the time and be intentional to do the same.  Because I believe the results will speak loudly of God’s goodness and of His miraculous ability to bring more from less, and thus lead us to be more trusting and dependent on Him.

May your new season be blessed as you allow Him to grant you the capacity to stop.

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