Rest is often a good excuse for the lazy and an inconvenience for the work-obsessed. Most of us fall into either of these two categories throughout the semester, either struggling to start or struggling to stop, avoiding duty in the name of rest or avoiding rest in the name of duty. Thus, we muddle our way through the months, feeling more tired with every passing day and wondering how it is that regardless of whether we’ve chosen to push homework into the periphery or slave away faithfully every night, we finish each week worn out.
Is rest even possible here? If it is, what would it look like?
I believe two passages hold the answers to these questions.
The first is Exodus 20:8-10: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work.”
Here, God describes rest as a holy pause – a space devoid of work – where His people follow His own example, stopping to rest after a week of labor. This kind of rest – the intentional, focused decision to pause work in recognition of the work God has completed – is built into the rhythm of the week. Every seventh day we remember that our rest is not grounded upon what we are doing but upon what He has done. Every Sabbath we practice this act of acceptance, laying aside our own work and trusting in His.
But there is another kind of rest, different from the full-stop of the Sabbath. This second kind is described by Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come unto Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Here, rest is not only commanded, but personified. Rest is who Jesus is. And this rest not only knows how to stop but also how to begin again. This is a rest that moves, a rest that works, that stands up under the yoke, dragging the plow behind.
This is precisely the reason why restful work is at all possible: it is not a solo work, a work forced out in isolation, pressed into every moment of the day, full, either of fearful desperation or of haughty independence. Instead, it is a work done together with Rest Himself, a dependent work, each step taken next to Jesus and each burden resting across His shoulders as well as our own.
But what exactly do we do under the easy yoke? Christ uses the verb “learn.” Learn is a beautiful word. It signifies growth but does not suggest hurry. At its best, “learn” speaks of humble growth, a growing-up-together, a maturing. This is what Jesus intends to be the result of the rest He shares with us. He does not expect us to hand him a list of objectives we have met or tasks we have completed. He does not expect us to shoulder the yoke alone and plow a straight furrow across the field as He sits on the sidelines judging our efforts. He only expects us to be where He is, doing what He is doing, learning from Him.
I hope you’ll join me in seeking both kinds of rest this semester. Let us be willing to stop and willing to learn, knowing that Jesus walks beside us through every difficulty, teaching us to find the way of rest in every place.