Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reflections on the Art of Rest

Cappuccino and conversation - a great way to rest

Something I never expected to learn on a 9-month trip around the world is how to rest. I expected to be undoubtedly faced with the realization that I need rest, but at a loss for how to get it. As I've met individuals whose lives revolve around serving those who have experienced intense trauma, though, I have found that they are all budding experts in the fine art of rest.

The reason for this being that they don't have any other choice. It's usually rest or burn out. A mentor at my internship this summer once asked me "Do you want to last 4 years or 40 years in this field, Emily?" Of course I answered that I desired the latter. She quickly explained that if this was my goal, I needed to start taking care of myself now - not after my first burn out.


When you are young, hopeful, and - frankly - naive, you think that more effort always equals bigger impact. For the first few years of working in aftercare, the outcomes may support this idea. What's more, it feels wrong to indulge in rest when there is always one more person to be rescued. However, based on the wisdom from those who have done this work for longer than a decade, the long-term outcomes are detrimental. Bitterness, burnout, backlash... all are possible symptoms of ignoring the discipline of self-care.

In the field of aftercare, the world needs expert voices to communicate truth and hope, not a disillusioned despair resulting from a lack of rest. Some of the symptoms of this resulting burnout are detachment, blunted emotions, and lack of motivation. None of these are positive additions for someone in a helping profession. Lack of self-care can destroy the very attributes that made a person fit for a career in aftercare to begin with.

I understood this before beginning my journey, but my thoughts about rest were not even close to accurate. Here are some of the beliefs I had about rest that were completely off the mark:

  1. I can "catch up" on rest and sleep. In other words, as long as I take one day a month or so to sleep in and relax, I will be fine.
  2. Rest only refers to sleep or brainless activities like watching T.V. shows.
  3. If I don't feel tired (or if my tiredness can be remedied with caffeine), I don't need to rest.
  4. When I'm resting, I should feel guilty that I'm not putting enough effort into more important endeavors and people might be disappointed in me for this.
  5. I can never get enough rest to feel refreshed, so there is no need to even try.

I am so grateful that wise people called me out on some of these ridiculous beliefs and modeled proper rest for me. Gary Haugen, president of IJM, said to the interns this summer, "Joy is the oxygen of obedience." Just like a muscle needs a constant supply of oxygen to do its work, so do our souls need joy.

Right away, this challenges my first belief. When exercising, we don't take one deep breath and then let our muscles do the work based on reserves. Our bodies need steady oxygen, which is why breathing is involuntary. In the same way, we need a steady supply of rest in order to fuel this work. At IJM, they call this "rhythms" of rest. The organization practices spiritual stillness daily, weekly, quarterly, and yearly. While a day each month to rest is good, the daily practice is just as necessary.

I've also learned that rest is not a passive activity. In the end, it is the joy that fuels my work, so restful activities should also be joyful ones. This doesn't always mean something brainless like watching T.V. or sleeping. Sometimes - like yesterday, for example - it does, but many times the most restful thing for me is going for a run, skyping a friend, or visiting a historical site in order to admire the beauty. It is different for everyone, but laughter almost always does the trick. One woman I met with said that she has to watch a funny movie or show after every encounter with a victim. I'm still working to find what works best for me, but I know that it takes intentionality. Sometimes these activities won't feel restful at first, but if I know they bring me joy, I have to make them a priority.

As for the last three, my hosts so far have been incredible in helping me to break down these false beliefs. When I've stayed with people who also participate in this work, they always encourage me to get lots of sleep, take time to myself, and pay attention to any weariness that creeps in. They have given me the freedom to see rest as a part of my work, not a detraction. Further, they have encouraged me to continue resting until I truly feel ready to participate in the work. This has meant getting much more sleep than I would ever get in college, but I'm quickly seeing how vital this rest is - especially with the constant cross-cultural transitions I am experiencing.

My boyfriend, Ryan, and I in Venice
My recent mini break with one of my favorite people in the world was the perfect dose of rest for me. I didn't realize how weary I had begun to feel until I took the time to actually feel it. I am now even more motivated to make rest a daily habit, rather than waiting for the next extended break. I encourage anyone in the field of aftercare to make rest a discipline - a priority. There are many other ways to practice self-care, but rest is a vital one. Please do not neglect it. Your work is too important to end prematurely.




1 comment:

Cristhina D said...

Love this! thank you for encouraging us to take our rest and learn more about it :)