“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28
“The Word Itself calleth thee to return: and there is the place of rest imperturbable, where love is not forsaken, if itself forsaketh not.” – St. Augustine
I stood still in the forest of Potter County over New Years, surrounded by falling snow and light wind. A good dose of silence does the soul wonders. I took it all in, the rare blessing of solitude, where the snow, wind, trees, and sky speak much softer than men’s voices. In this serene environment, I thought more about rest and peace.
What does it mean to be at peace? What does it mean to rest? What does it mean to wait, to listen? What does it mean to simply be? Circumstantial peace is no peace at all. Circumstantial rest is no rest at all. Waiting only for the sake of listening and receiving is still activity. Trying to “be” is still an act of “doing” if “being” is only one’s duty and obligation, and if in “being” one is seeking an outcome. All of these cannot be based on experience or emotion, on expectation or outcome. Peace, rest, waiting, listening, and being must be entirely disconnected from personal motives and ambitions, external circumstances and conditions, expectations and answers, obligations and duties. We come simply because he is, and simply because we are. Because he is entirely worthy, and because we wholly delight and take pleasure in him just for who he is, not for what he gives to us or does for us. Is this enough for us? Simply that he desires us and wants to be with us? Oh that we would have a spec of the same longing for him that he has for us, and we would be rid of all the burdens and weights that keep us from approaching him in purity of heart.
Rest is a choice — an act of trust and faith. Rest does not simply “happen” — it is entered into with a heart of belief, that it is possible and present for God’s children because he promised it is so. Paradoxically, rest — as a state of peace — is achieved through war, is received through battle. We wage war on our minds — against the deceit of anxiety, worry, and fear. We battle our flesh — against apathy and passivity, and second-best fulfillment and sensual satisfaction that ultimately leaves us emptier than before.
Rest is an act of returning, an act of homecoming. We come to him in our darkness, our unbelief and uncertainty, our doubt and distance. We come to him in our wandering and restlessness. God does not distance and has not distanced himself from us. God is always near, ever present. We are the ones who distance ourselves from him; we are the ones who are constantly straying and wandering away. God is calling us back to his nearness, his presence, his goodness. It’s as if he’s calling us back to what we already have, to where and who we already are. If we’d only remain — on our end, in our hearts — where we truly belong, we’d find ourselves in this state of rest and peace that we so long for.
St. Augustine speaks profoundly of this “returning” or “turning” to the God of peace and rest who first came to us:
“See there He is, where truth is loved. He within the very heart, yet hath the heart strayed from Him. Go back into your heart, ye transgressors, and cleave fast to Him that made you. Stand with Him, and ye shall stand fast. Rest in Him, and ye shall be at rest. Whither go ye in rough ways? Whither go ye? The good that you love is from Him…Ye seek a blessed life in the land of death; it is not there…But our true Life came down hither, and bore our death, and slew him, out of the abundance of His own life; and He thundered, calling aloud to us to return hence to Him into that secret place, whence He came forth to us…and thence like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, rejoicing as a giant to run his course. For He lingered not, but ran, calling aloud by words, deeds, death, life, descent, ascension; crying aloud to us to return unto Him. And He departed from our eyes, that we might return into our heart, and there find Him. For He departed, and lo, He is here. He would not be long with us, yet left us not; for He departed thither, whence He never parted, because this world was made by Him. And in this world He was, and into this world He came to save sinners, unto whom my soul confesseth, and He healeth it, for it hath sinned against Him…Descend, that ye may ascend, and ascend to God.”