I get really excited when our car reaches the top of a hill.
That’s weird, you say. You’re not wrong.
Hear me out: Our electric car recharges itself, so long as no one’s foot is on the accelerator. That means if I ease into a stop sign, I get a few seconds of charge. But if I race down a hill — 20, 30 seconds of uninterrupted coasting — I get a ton of charge. Not like a throw-away-the-charging-cable amount of charge, but enough that it might negate whatever energy it takes to climb the next, albeit smaller, hill.
Now, long-time readers of this series will know — as will anyone who read the preceding paragraph — that I’m not an engineer, a mechanic or a guy with much of a grasp of physics. What goes up must come down, and somehow my car recharges itself.
But what I do know is this: If my foot is even slightly on the accelerator, the car uses, rather than gains, energy. It doesn’t matter if I’m going downhill, uphill or sideways. A chance to gain energy is wasted if I don’t take my foot off the pedal.
You see where I’m going with this.
There are two things (at least!) required for our own practice of rest. And rest is a holy thing — don’t forget the Sabbath, God’s own invitation to rest — so it’s something worth taking the time to sink into.
We have to fully and completely take our foot off the pedal. How often do I “rest” while also gaming out upcoming articles, potential interviews and the inevitable list of household chores! I bet you do something similar. I get it — we all have those ah-ha moments in unlooked for places; we all find our mind chewing over tasks long after we’ve logged off for the day.
That’s okay. But it’s also not rest. Not completely, at least.
I think about my electric car. The recharge happens successfully when two interconnected conditions are met: There is no pressure at all exerted on the pedal; and, the car is in an environment — going down a hill, for example — where the recharge can be optimized.
Think of it this way: Are you really getting good rest when you successfully disconnect from your personal and professional responsibilities but find yourself surrounded by honking horns, barking dogs and crying children? Do you get your best rest when you find yourself alone in the woods or quietly staring out the window while also rehashing that last email you sent?
Of course you can find rest in noisy places; of course we find that our responsibilities and our daydreams intermix in moments of quiet and contemplation. But I think we do our best — we really drink in the sabbath — when we can completely cease our mental acceleration and place ourselves in an environment that nourishes our inner calm. Contemplation interwoven with action.
That looks different for each of us. An electric car needs a hill to maximize the recharge — what do you need? Perhaps more importantly, what keeps you from fully and completely lifting your foot off the pedal?
Remember this: An electric car still needs to be plugged in to an external power source to fully recharge. It’s not done solely on the open road — that’s (so far) impossible.
And so too with us. Our practice of rest is a dance, stolen moments here and there and longer, deeper experiences that fully and radically recharge our souls. But we must still take our foot off the pedal, surrender that temptation to keep barreling onward at all times, and discover those little, hidden, unlooked for places where God desires to delight in us.
Eric A. Clayton is the award-winning author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, U.S. Catholic, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, IgnatianSpirituality.com and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, the World of Myth Magazine and more. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat, Sebastian.