Home/Darling Neurotic, Meet Your New Best Friend: The Radical Practice of Rest

My husband and I have been under the weather this week. We’re dealing with some kind of virus, and he’s facing seasonal allergies on top of that. We’ve been keeping up with our most important responsibilities by sleeping or resting every free moment. And slowly, we’re starting to feel better.

This week of fatigue has had me feeling anxious; I worry about not getting enough work done each day, not moving faster toward my big goals. And there’s always this nagging, hypochondriac worry that maybe this bug is something serious.

In moments like these, I call my dear friend Brooke and ask for help and prayers. She will usually quote Anne Lamott in a soothing voice:Darling neurotic…”

This always makes me smile, and helps me to dissipate the anxiety that haunts me whenever I don’t feel well. If I’m honest with myself, though, this anxiety also comes up whenever I feel like I’m falling behind on my work.

Behind what, exactly? I don’t know. I do know that I face a deep-seated fear that I’m not measuring up.

When this fear accosts me, it’s hard to give myself permission to rest, or to tell myself, “Oops, no big deal!” when I’ve made a silly mistake (such as forgetting daylight savings time and being late to meet a dear friend). It’s tough to be kind, to allow myself to rest when I am tired. It takes faith to believe that, in taking time to do nothing, I may actually be doing something of tremendous value for myself and others.

That is, until I remember my friend Miguel*, and what it’s like to see him rest.

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When I lived in L’Arche, I loved to help Miguel get ready in the morning. I did his routine so many times that I had it down to a kind of dance. On any given day, I knew how long it would take him to finish his oatmeal in the morning, and what shirt choice would please him most. (Miguel receives assistance with tasks that most of us take for granted. He receives help with such dignity that it doesn’t seem difficult for him.)

I can call it back to me in an instant, the way it felt to tap the door and walk into Miguel’s room on a bright summer morning. I can feel the warmth of sunlight streaming through the blinds, the sense that I’m entering sacred space. The room smells of powder and lotion and hardwood; it’s a sanctuary of quiet.

When we’d start Miguel’s morning routine at 6:30am, he’d almost always be awake. He’d have a sheet pulled up to his chin as he threaded the cotton between his fingers. He’d look over at me as I entered the room, and I’d see a secret smile on his face.

If I chanced to push his door open without knocking, I’d see his gaze focused on the window across from his bed. He always looked happy, and rapt, as though he could see something beautiful that was hidden from my eyes. It seemed that Miguel was praying in his own way: prayer without words, a spirit opened up to receive God’s gladness.

In L’Arche, I was introduced to the idea that we can rest in service to one another, that we can, in fact, rest for one another. This comes clear for me when I think of Miguel lying in bed, waiting to be assisted in his routine. His rest has taught me that peace isn’t dependent upon our abilities, or how much we get done in a day. Thanks to him, I see that one can cultivate joy even at times when one can do nothing but rest.

Miguel’s life shows me that anxiety is a choice, that I can choose to experience peace instead. Though I have the ability to do many things for myself, I still need to learn to pray each day in the way that Miguel does: without words, with an open spirit.

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Much as I treasured those mornings together, I also loved saying goodnight to Miguel at the end of evening routine. As I tucked him in, I’d ask in Spanish, “Would you like a kiss?” He’d always nod, and turn his cheek toward me. As I left, I’d say the short Spanish blessing another assistant had taught me, which translates to, “[May you] sleep with the angels [attending you].”

My room at L’Arche was directly above Miguel’s, which meant that I could hear almost every noise that came from his room. Sometimes, this meant that I needed to respond to urgent calls of “Bathroom!” that no one else could hear, but usually, it meant that I got to listen to a lullaby of purrs each night.

You’d think this would have made falling asleep difficult, but actually, it helped me to relax. I’d drift to sleep thinking that the blessing I gave to Miguel had boomeranged back, somehow.

And so I choose to dedicate this time of rest to Miguel, that I might offer respite to a man who has given so much to me.

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Who might you rest for this week? Tell me in the comments!

I love to hear your insights.

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Recommended Reading

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*Names have been changed.

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  1. Dorothy Copps March 12, 2012 at 10:02 PM - Reply

    You have such a nice soothing rhythm to your writing. Thanks for sharing your treasures of thought and practice.

    I loved that you called the morning routine a dance.

    • Caroline McGraw March 12, 2012 at 10:58 PM - Reply

      What a sweet compliment, Dorothy! Thank you. And yes, I always thought of the routine as a dance … even when unexpected hiccups turned it from ballet to post-modern … ! 😉

  2. Greg Lease March 12, 2012 at 10:03 PM - Reply

    Hi Caroline,

    It seems to me that so often getting sick, or injured, and really having to take time to rest and recuperate and heal is God’s way of saying, “Slow down. You are trying to do to much and not taking enough time to be the gift that I have made you to be for the world.”

    It’s so easy to get caught in the trap of “measuring” ourselves. . . usually without even knowing what we are measuring against! Remember, how we look at the world is all invented by our minds; we each create our own reality by the way we look, the way we think, the conditions and limitations we place upon ourselves. And, thankfully, we can choose to let go of those things and find peace, freedom and grace to be where we are in the times of enforced rest and “unproductiveness,” when we surrender to how things are in the moment.

    Just some observations from my “trips around the mountain” around which you’ve been hiking this last week.

    Greg

    • Caroline McGraw March 12, 2012 at 11:00 PM - Reply

      Wow, Greg, what a great comment! I appreciate your observations, especially the line, “You are trying to do to much and not taking enough time to be the gift that I have made you to be for the world.” Hits me right in my core.

  3. susan shannon March 12, 2012 at 11:06 PM - Reply

    Your post was a divine reminder for me. I always push myself too hard. Sidelined with a running injury the last two weeks, it sometimes seems more excrutiating to not run that to do the activity that gives me clarity. But my body is telling me it needs to heal. I need to listen.
    Thank you Caroline.
    Best,
    Susan

    • Caroline McGraw March 13, 2012 at 12:41 AM - Reply

      Oh Susan, I’m so glad the post came at the right time for you – and I appreciate how tough it can be to heed your body’s wisdom! Blessings to you as you rest & heal.

  4. Doreen Fulton March 13, 2012 at 3:49 AM - Reply

    Caroline, I appreciate your wisdom and authenticity. Thanks for giving yourself and your readers the rest you need to continue you on.

    I’m tired now, so I will be going to bed soon. I leave you with the following song by Shaina Noll ♥ You can relax now ♥

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1T004EH8Cc
    It’s magical. Enjoy every moment!

    Doreen

    P.S. I look forward to listening to your interview with Sandra Pearson on your experience.

    • Caroline McGraw March 13, 2012 at 2:56 PM - Reply

      How thoughtful of you – thank you, Doreen! Much appreciated. Hope you had a great night’s sleep!

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