"As hard as it is to believe that the dry desolate desert can yield endless varieties of flowers, it is equally hard to imagine that our loneliness is hiding unknown beauty. The movement from loneliness to solitude, however, is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play." - Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out
See that snow? We got a foot on Thursday. It's our first precipitation of the year, and the only really significant snowfall of the season. It's been sunny since late December, and I've been exhausted. If you know me, you know that I need - truly need - cloudy weather to center myself and be productive. Continual sunshine makes me feel scattered and frantic. I feel pressured to run errands, play outside, do all kinds of things - a midwestern reaction to sunshine that gets blown out of proportion now that I live in Denver, in a town that gets 300 days of sunshine a year (more like 350 - not that I'm counting or anything).
So the snow day was a reprieve for me. I was able to rest. We didn't go anywhere once the snow started flying, I made bread all afternoon and we had slow-cooked beef stew for dinner, and I got a lot of knitting done. Finally!
My state of exhaustion has been exacerbated lately because the Doodle has been in the habit of waking up for a couple hours every night, crying at the bottom of the stairs (she sleeps in the basement and we sleep upstairs), "Mama, come down!" in a piteous little voice. I spent part of Wednesday night on the couch and part of it in her bed, while she slept in my bed. No one slept well. She and I have both been crabby all week - according to My Hero, I've been worse than she has. I've had to say "I'm sorry" a lot, and she's been in Time Out a lot.
What does this have to do with Nouwen and Lent and giving up the Internet, you ask? Just this: even though I had so little sleep on Wednesday night, when we started our day on Thursday with gray, restful skies and the assurance that we wouldn't have to do much, our day was quiet, comparatively harmonious, and fulfilling for me. When I am rested - physically this week, but emotionally, mentally and spiritually as well - I am calmer and able to provide for those who ask something of me. Rest and stillness provide me with the solitude of the heart that Nouwen constantly refers to - not necessarily a physical isolation, but an inner resting place that gives me the resources I need to be productive and nurturing. Sure, I can operate without rest for a while, but when I do so, my resources are limited and I feel frantic, frenzied, jittery.
I find that for me, rest does not usually mean vegging out in front of the TV or taking a nap or reading trashy novels. I do all those things quite frequently (hooray for Battlestar Galactica!), but it's usually a verbal rest that I need. Spending all day with a two-year-old takes a lot of talking! Giving up the internet has cut down my word consumption too, and it's been such a blessing in that regard. If I need to rest, to center my soul and relax, I am drawn to the nonverbal - knitting, or cooking, or sketching. Things that involve my body and my mind, but not my vocabulary. Then I can come back to my book or my daughter or my computer and engage meaningfully.
Rest is closely linked with solitude and silence - I considered naming this post "Silence", but have been focusing on rest a lot more this week, probably because I've gotten so little. I have become very aware of how my restfulness affects my attitude and how I treat those around me. I've been convinced of my need to rest more often, in order to reach out from a place of fullness and peace. I'm also quite sure that this culture we live in (and which is promoted on the internet I've given up) abhors the silence and self-knowledge that accompanies rest, and does everything in its power to minimize and demonize our need for rest. Ever try to find a free, quiet, relaxing indoor place that isn't your own home? Hotel lobbies and libraries are all I can think of. How sad that we have to fight to rest. I will, though. Rest allows me to hear from God, to be healed of my wounds, and to fill my heart with solitude, so that I can serve my family and friends humbly and joyfully. It's worth the struggle.