How To Rest Without Feeling Guilty
I am known among my friends as someone who is highly productive. I grew up in a family where we were reminded to not “just sit there” but to keep our hands busy and help others out. This has made resting unsettling for me, as it seems to be the same as “doing nothing”, which doesn’t make sense when there’s always something to be done.
Aside from family cultures that value constant productivity, another thing that makes it hard for us to rest is social media. We see our friends posting about their exciting hobbies and impressive milestones (a promotion, a life partner, a baby), and we start to wonder what we’ve been doing with our own lives. Before we know it, we are caught in the comparison trap.
Then there’s our issue with control. Many of us find it hard to rest because we struggle to give up control. We may feel we are more experienced and can do a better job. Instead of delegating responsibilities to others, we take on more than we can carry.
And with guilt cropping up whenever we feel our day has not been productive enough (“I could have done more”, “I got distracted again”) and worrying about tomorrow (“I better finish everything now or things will pile up later”)—how are we ever supposed to take a worry-free break?
Reflecting on God’s idea of rest led me to think about Jesus and how He lived on earth. Our Saviour knew the limitations of the human body. He was focused on His mission, and He knew Who was truly in control. That’s why He knew how to rest.
And so here are 3 points I’ve come up with for learning how to rest:
1. Focus on your life mission and gifts so you don’t say “yes” to everything
When Jesus was on earth, He didn’t feel compelled to heal all the sick and preach the Gospel to all. Instead, He focused on equipping His disciples and performing just enough signs and wonders to confirm the truth of the Gospel. He knew where to draw the line and trusted God to carry on His mission through the disciples, as empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).
Learning from Jesus’s example to find my God-given mission has freed me from the temptation of trying to do everything.
I recently discovered my spiritual gifts and unique life mission through a course I took (“The Significant Woman” by Cru). My gifts of encouragement, mentoring, teaching, and writing helped me realise my life mission—to mentor young adults and help them find their life purpose in Christ.
When this became clear to me, I began to focus on all writing- and mentoring-related work and learned to turn down other things. Understanding how God had created me to serve Him gave me the confidence to say no without guilt and say yes with a hearty conviction. As a result, I had time to meaningfully do Kingdom work and time to rest as well.
If you have yet to discover your spiritual gifts and life mission, I strongly encourage you to do so with a mentor or with your small group for accountability and encouragement.
2. Find activities that help you recharge spiritually and physically
Jesus knew the best way to truly rest and not burn out was to connect with and surrender to God regularly (Luke 5:16). He intentionally looked for quiet places to pray and spend time with His Heavenly Father, and He encouraged the disciples to do the same (Mark 6:31).
I am recharged whenever I reflect on God’s goodness in my life and see His creation up close. I love meeting with close friends for deep conversation and prayer over a meal, taking a walk in nature, learning a new worship song, or writing poetry about God’s creation. As a planner, I excitedly schedule these times in my calendar well in advance; otherwise, they wouldn’t happen!
Rest is not simply doing nothing. It is intentionally prioritising what will help our souls and bodies feel recharged.
3. Exchange your unending self-criticism for His finished work on the cross
In my growing up years, I bore a critical spirit. I had high expectations of myself, partly due to the rhetoric ingrained in me that there was always “room for improvement” and I could do better. And (something my basketball coach always said), if I didn’t work hard today, somebody else would.
I inadvertently applied these thoughts to my faith as well, seeing myself (and others) as constantly unworthy in God’s eyes, making God out as someone impossible to please.
It took a Father Heart Conference to correct my perspective and understand what it means to be His beloved child (John 1:12; 1 John 3:1)—that He is pleased with me (Zephaniah 3:17) and has only the best in store for me (1 Corinthians 2:9), all of which are established by Christ’s work on the cross.
There is often that tendency for us to measure ourselves against others (or even against our own “higher” standards), and to feel guilty on days when we don’t measure up when it comes to work or even serving in church.
To guard ourselves against that never-ending comparison trap, we must remember that the most important work in history has been finished (John 19:30, Hebrews 9:12). We don’t have to prove our worth through our work when God has made us worthy (Romans 8:28-39). We can rest in His finished work and serve out of His reassuring abundance.
This also means praying for wisdom to know when to press on and finish the work for the day, and when to draw the line and entrust Him with our unfinished to-do lists. In both situations, when we recognise that Jesus is our Master (Colossians 3:23), that’s when our to-do list and other people’s opinions relinquish their hold on us.
Dear brothers and sisters, if you are struggling to rest without feeling guilty, I leave you with this promise in Isaiah 26:3—“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” Set your mind on God today, and trust Him fully, that you may truly experience rest and peace, knowing that He cares for you.
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