Rest Is Hard Work

“Try to relax,” the doctor urged as he probed me in a decidedly uncomfortable spot.

Was he serious? The only thing more oxymoronic than relaxing in discomfort is equating “relax” with “try.” Relaxation is supposed to be the total absence of effort. Logic dictates it should be easy.

Logic, however, was never a match for the urges of the flesh. If you’re anything like me, worrying is easy; thinking negative thoughts is easy; stressing out is easy–and truly relaxing is a struggle worthy of comparison to swimming upstream against a fast-moving river. Physically ceasing to work, even lying down, isn’t enough unless the pulse slows, the muscles go limp, and the adrenalin suspends production.

The reason many of our bodies refuse to cooperate is that we’ve taught our brains to consider high-adrenalin thoughts normal. Simply “turning these off” doesn’t work because it’s virtually impossible to think about nothing. Unless we deliberately put restful thoughts into our heads, our minds–and by extension our physical systems–will have nothing to fall back on except the familiar high-stress mode. (Note the parable in Matthew 12:43-45 about the man who was freed from an evil in his life but let a vacuum remain in its place–a vacuum which was quickly filled by even worse evils.)

But doing anything “deliberately” is hard work–especially when we aren’t accustomed to it. Even with thought habits that are making us miserable, familiarity can feel more comfortable than the effort of learning a new habit bit by bit, struggle by struggle, failure by failure. The only way to keep from giving up is to be convinced that the goal is worthwhile. 

And what is the goal? “The prize for which God has called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus” (see Philippians 3:13-14). A dozen or so memorized Bible verses relating to that prize (try 2 Corinthians 4:17, Philippians 1:6, and Revelation 21:4 for starters) are good opening ammunition toward defeating the negative-thought habit; if repeating them to yourself doesn’t seem to make a dent in your discouragement, try reading them out loud–and good and loud–three times a day. The more elements of your body are involved in a habit, the deeper it sinks in. 

The process is neither quick nor painless. But the choice is between the pain that keeps us trapped in misery–and the pain that leads us on to better things.

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  1. Excellent thoughts. I am not very active in blogs.
    My wife and I try to help each other with our negative thoughts. One remark I am now working hard to omit from my speech is “I forgot.”

  2. Great post! I love your idea of memorizing Bible verses and repeating them out loud 3x during the day so that they sink in. I follow a slightly similar method when studying the Bible. John MacArthur suggests reading the same chapter (or chapters) for 30 days before you go on to the next chapter. Talk about sinking in!

    • That’s a good bit of my problem, I think: I’m so afraid of “missing something” that I cram in too much too fast, and most of it remains in the shallow end at best. I do have some especially meaningful favorite verses, though; “Seek first the Kingdom” and “Be still” are high on the list.

  3. I never thought of it that way–but you’re right. The only way to try to relax is to put positive, relaxing thoughts into our minds. I guess that’s why I always feel relaxed–and yet energized–when I pray and cast all my burdens on Him. Great posting.

    • No better feeling than being simultaneously relaxed and energized. One thing most depressed people have in common is that they can spend hours in bed (asleep or otherwise) and still remain perpetually tired; physical sleep never seems to reach its deepest level, but achieves quantity at the expense of quality.

  4. I agree that positive thoughts and prayers are the best solution to worrying.

  5. Good post! When we immerse ourselves completely in God’s word, it soothes and heals. Over time, reading and speaking aloud God’s Word, and writing it down, transform our thinking. I try to remember that God promised us the “mind of Christ” so we can know all things (that we need to know.) When negativity rears its ugly head, it is important to “cast down” those thoughts that separate us, that turn us away from the positive promises of the Almighty! It takes time but it does work! Thanks for your post!

    • “It takes time” is a hard fact to live with, no question. We tend to grumble because spiritual healing isn’t quick and easy. Maybe, as with a bottle of prescription medicine, the whole dose at once would be more than we could cope with!

  6. I have found great joy in memorizing verses and chapters that help me overcome doubt and discouragement. I have many written on brightly-colored 3×5 cards, and I say several aloud each morning. It helps me remember who I am in Christ.

  7. I can identify! It’s very hard to relax in our fast-paced world. One of my all-time favorite sayings is: “Give your troubles to God. He’s up all night anyway.” I have to keep reminding myself of that!

    • Troubles do have a way of demanding your attention when you’ve nothing else to do but rest (or try to), don’t they? There are weeks when I get seriously depressed on Sundays!

  8. Linda

     /  April 23, 2011

    I commend you for leading our thoughts right back to Christ! I love your focus on the “put on” (eph 4:22+) commands of biblical change. So often we believers are working so hard to “put off” sinfulness that we neglect the “put on” of righteousness. Thank you for renewing our minds with His sure Word!

  9. cathy leestma

     /  April 29, 2011

    I’ve never been successful at solving challenges in life by worrying about them. It’s the stepping into the situation and trusting God and his word that helps me propel forward. I often find that the project I procrastinated about was so much simpler than I made it out to be once I put my bottom the in chair and got to it.

    • Actually, Cathy, probably one-third of my worries are about fear of stepping into a challenge and then finding I chose the wrong one; another third are about world issues I can personally do nothing about; and the remaining third are the sort of obsessive-compulsive things where the only thing I could do about it would be to take an unreasonable amount of trouble (drive back home to verify I turned off the water, see the doctor for every twinge of pain) that would relieve the worry for a few hours at most. It all comes down to “I don’t trust God with control of my life,” and particularly, I think, to “I don’t trust God to keep me from making a mistake that would ruin my life.”


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