My oldest son is a long-distance runner for the high school track team. He had a great season his freshman year and was looking forward to achieving more personal records this year. However, it did not turn out to be the year of record-breaking he had hoped it would be. A month before the season started this spring, he developed a foot injury that derailed his pre-season training. Then, a few weeks into the season, he was hit with a nasty virus, which left my normally hyperactive teen, stuck in bed for over a week. Since then, he has struggled to get his energy back.

The other day he was sharing his frustration and disappointment with the season and made a comment that really stuck out to me:

“Mom, if I knew it would help, I would go run 10 miles a day on the weekends to make up for the time I lost being sick. But my coaches told me I would be worse off than I am now. They said I need to take a break to allow my muscles to heal from the damage I gave them from the workouts during the week. I am learning how to be okay resting on the weekends and just give the best I can during the week, even if it’s not where I want to be.”

Hearing this from my son made me stop and think about how often I look at my to-do list and keep pushing through to do it all. Even when I can tell I am exhausted, I push through, causing my attitude to deteriorate and my productivity to wane. 

Because let’s face it, we are all marathon runners in the race called life. We are called to run the race set before us and that race happens to be a distance race, full of ups and downs along the way. There is no quick sprint to the end. Like marathon runners, it is good for us to work and move forward in the jobs and responsibilities we have in our lives, but there also needs to be a rhythm of rest that helps prevent us from burnout and fatigue. Like my son and his desire to be the best track athlete he can be, it can be hard to find peace in the stillness of rest even when we know we need it.

Exodus 31:17 tells us that the Lord worked for six days, but on the seventh day, He rested and was refreshed. I have known for a long time that the Lord had commanded a Sabbath rest. That the Lord, in his infinite wisdom knew that if He didn’t command us to take a break we probably wouldn’t. But I had never noticed that the outcome of His rest was that He was refreshed.

How do we become refreshed from our rest? If all my son did was lay in bed all weekend, but neglected to drink water and eat quality food, his body wouldn’t be healed and refreshed for the coming week’s running. It takes more than just sitting. He also has to pay attention to what he is putting inside his body to help the healing process.

So it is with our souls. We should be still and give our bodies a break, but we should also be filling our minds and souls with food (fuel) that rejuvenates and heals. 

The word refresh gives us a clue into what our Sabbath rest should look like. The Hebrew word for “refresh” has its roots in the verb “to breathe” or “to be breathed upon.” In fact, it is very similar to the word breathed found in Genesis 2:7, where God breathed his breath into Adam and he became a living being. 

When I picture God kneeling over Adam and breathing on him, I am reminded of the times I have stood out in God’s creation, feeling a gentle breeze come along. I would close my eyes and breathe deeply, and feel my lungs eagerly receiving the fresh air, my heart slowing down and my body relaxing in peace. I could feel life being restored to my weary bones. Just as God breathed his life into Adam, God can still breathe his refreshing life into us when we are still long enough to receive it.

The Sabbath rest that God is calling us to, is to rest in His arms and receive his breath of life and healing. Sabbath rest is a time to catch the life-giving breath of God that is meant to restore and refresh us. It is a time to remember that God is the one who sustains us, strengthens us, and loves us. It is a time for us to truly be still and remind ourselves that He is God and we are not.

But this calling is so hard. There is work to do, families to care for, houses to clean and ministry to be done. Which leaves us wondering how it will all get done if we take a break. As the to-do list looms, will we have the faith and trust in God to say, “I will be still and know you are God”?  

When we sit at the feet of God in Sabbath rest, we are trusting Him to work in the daily tasks rather than relying on ourselves to get it all done. We are relinquishing the burden of having to do it all, and instead allowing God to carry it during our time of rest. In return for giving Him control, He gives us his life-giving, restorative breath.

In Luke 5:16, between performing incredible miracles, we read that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Jesus had an intentional rhythm of stepping back from the constant needs of the crowds and connecting with His Father. In doing this, He gave us a beautiful example of dependence on God and the importance of spending time resting in Him. Even though there were always more people to heal, and more people to minister to, Jesus shows us the importance of allowing his work to be fueled by God. His ministry did not fall apart when He withdrew to pray, nor did the people he was caring for. Instead, Jesus was refreshed and filled in the presence of God, and able to effectively carry out His mission.

Sabbath rest can look different depending on the person or the day. Sometimes it is sitting in silence and breathing deeply. It can be journaling, or spending time singing worship songs. It can be spending extended time meditating on God’s word. It can be allowing ourselves to be still in the presence of God and receive his breath of life and refreshment. The key is to be intentional about cultivating a consistent rhythm of rest. 

It would be silly to always wait for our cars to completely run out of fuel and stall on the side of the road before we think about refilling the tank. Without literal “low-fuel” lights to alert us when we are growing weary, it’s all the more important to step back and spend time resting with God. Having a regular rhythm of Sabbath rest (even when we are not busy or stressed) helps prevent burnout before it happens. When we work from a place of rest with our Heavenly Father, we are better equipped to run the race set before us.

I’m thankful that my son listened to the advice of his coaches and learned the value of rest. He learned the value of hydration, quality food, and sleep. In his rest, I watched him pray. I watched him read his Bible. And this past Wednesday, despite illness and injuries, I watched him break his personal record by almost twenty seconds. His faithfulness and intentionality to rest reminded me that I need to value the rest that God has called me to. I know that a regular time set aside for rest will help me run the race better than if I had just pushed through on my own. 

So my friends, if you are feeling weary and heavy-laden today, if you are limping along in the marathon of life, take some time this week for true Sabbath rest. As you rest, grab your calendar, prayerfully evaluate your schedule, and ask yourself, “When can I refresh and fill my mind and soul with God’s life-giving breath?” Then, pen in times for Sabbath rest with your Heavenly Father. Even if it’s just 15 minutes at first, you can start small and work your way up! 

The to-do list will still be there, and there will still be demands on your time and energy, but having those regular appointments with God for rest will give you the strength and endurance you need to run the race set before you. And because God never grows tired or weary, you can trust Him to be at work in the details while you rest. He is faithful, strong, and capable of doing more than we can ask or imagine. All you need to do is breathe deeply, be refreshed, and rest in Him!