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Quitting the Paint Factory and entering the Garden

December 23rd, 2004 · 4 Comments

Just a Gwai Lo’s post A Complex Pinot Noir of Nervous Laughter Displaced by Expressions of Disbelief and Condenscension inspired me last night to try to plan for extra rest. Richard not only quoted in his blog the reaction the writer Mark Slouka received at a dinner party when he mentioned that he liked to sleep for eight to nine hours a night but he also added his own preference for rest. Exhausted, I had felt convicted of my own transgressions even before I read Richard’s post. I tuned out and turned in, burrowing beneath blankets before midnight, a rare occasion for me. I hoped to rise with energy and with time to exercise and blog before my maternal duties presented themselves, parading down the hall in their pajamas.

Yet this morning I woke early, too early, pain radiating from my left foot. I couldn’t sleep. I got out of bed. I swallowed two extra-strength Tylenol. I stumbled downstairs, listened to the news and read blog posts, procrastinating in my anger and frustration, until I settled on the sofa, foot elevated and iced. I was mad.

In the quiet, I figured I should read the source of my inspiration. So I clicked on Richard’s link and discovered Mark Slouka’s piece in Harpers, sending it to the printers. Somehow the article titled Quitting the Paint Factory On the virtues of idleness seemed particularly appropriate to this mom who had hoped for a productive morning rather than one spent slouching on the sofa. Slouka described how we worship work, creating our own religion of sorts where we are enslaved to rituals of busyness.

Point the beam anywhere, and there’s the God of Work, busily trampling out the vintage. Blizzards are bemoaned because they keep us from getting to work. Hobbies are seen as either ridiculous or self-indulgent because they interfere with work. Longer school days are all the rage (even as our children grow demonstrably stupider), not because they make educational or psychological or any other kind of sense but because keeping kids in school longer makes it easier for us to work. Meanwhile, the time grows short, the margin narrows; the white spaces on our calendars have been inked in for months. We’re angry about this, upset about that, but who has the time to do anything anymore? There are those reports to re­port on, memos to remember, emails to deflect or delete. They bury us like snow.


It is this willingness to hand over our lives that fascinates and appalls me. There’s such a lovely perversity to it; it’s so wonderfully counterintuitive, so very Christian: You must empty your pockets, turn them inside out, and spill out your wife and your son, the pets you hardly knew, and the days you sim­ply missed altogether watching the sunlight fade on the bricks across the way. You must hand over the rainy afternoons, the light on the grass, the moments of play and of simply being. You must give it up, all of it, and by your example teach your children to do the same, and then – because even this is not enough – you must train yourself to believe that this outsourcing of your life is both natural and good. But even so, your soul will not be saved.

Even though I am not employed, despite my lack of official employment contract, it is too easy for me to hand over the rainy afternoons and light on the grass. Busy hands are good. Busy eyes are better. It is hard for me to sit and relax. I feel guilty. For our honeymoon, Ted and I took two weeks vacation in Florida. After a few days though, I felt I might go crazy. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to rest and relax, even as a bride at the beach with my beloved.

Thirteen years later, I’m not sure how much I have learned. I have loosened here and there. But I felt frustrated this morning to be lying on a sofa instead of running around the block. Perhaps the only way I will rest is if I have to stop.

Reading what Slouka wrote describing our culture of consumption and constant busyness, I thought about rest. The author used idleness and I confess I have a hard time with that word. Idleness brings to mind laziness or lack of industriousness. But I believe that rest conveys the same concept he was seeking to promote.

I’ve wondered what it meant that God needed to rest. If we humans are made in His image, whatever that may mean, and He needed to rest one day after six days of creation, then what does that indicate about human needs? Growing up and going to church on Sunday, that day didn’t seem to be a day of rest. It seemed as busy as any other day, filled with duties and expectations. I wonder whether we as a culture, and as Christians, have lost what it means to rest.

Rest is something I need to learn. I need to absorb it, relish it, cherish it, so my children will live, learn and delight in it too. I need to take the time to do it and to slow down the pace to pursue it. I need to learn to rejoice in the sunlight and in the rain, in the way shadows fall across the lawn or the sun sings in the sky its nightly lullaby. I need to appreciate the shapes of the stars, the color of maple leaves in autumn, the feel of spring breezes on my face and the taste of the ocean. I want to tickle my children, to hear them laugh many times every day, to hug and kiss them, to hold them and caress them, run my fingers through their hair. I want to read frivolous books for fun. I want to lie on the couch because I choose to rest. I want to love my husband for the man he is, to dance with him and play with him, to be together even if we only breathe together. I want to think quiet thoughts, listening to whatever words the Divine might want to whisper to my emptied mind.

In the last section of his essay, Mark Slouka described thoughts he had while sitting on a secluded bench in a London garden. I thought that this location also was appropriate for this piece. I believe that when we learn to rest, we will begin to be like Adam and Eve, set in a simpler time, delighting in creation and creator. As we rest, we learn what it is like to live in a Garden. As we rest, we learn what it is like to be loved.

Note: I wrote this on Monday the 20th but didn’t publish it until tonight, the 23rd…I needed to sleep!….my foot is recuperating as I am learning how to rest and how to relish rest…

Tags: journal

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Katherine // Dec 24, 2004 at 6:58 am

    Great post. Thank you.

  • 2 Kai Jones // Dec 27, 2004 at 11:36 am

    I am one of those…those people who bring the average back up to 8. I rarely get fewer than nine hours sleep on a regular basis. On weeknights I’m usually in bed by 9:30 pm and the alarm goes off at 6:50 am. Sunday morning I awoke after 11 hours of sleep and felt fabulous all day–energetic, happy, and strong.

    I’ve tried getting by on 8 hours (or even less sleep). I’m cranky and I make more mistakes; I get sick more often; I feel like a failure all the time, stressed and without coping skills.

    I know I give up a certain amount of productive time–housekeeping time, or hobby time, or time with friends or my husband–so that I am sure to get enough sleep; but the person I am without the sleep is no prize, either to be or to spend time with.

  • 3 bonnie // Dec 27, 2004 at 9:07 pm

    My dream schedule is: to bed by 10 and up by 6. I need less sleep now than when I was a young mother.

  • 4 Chris Ryland // Dec 30, 2004 at 8:26 am

    Keep up your wondering about work vs. true leisure.

    Read Josef Pieper’s “Leisure, the basis of culture”–a short book whose truths are eternal and deep.

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