The Advice: Rest

“I just need to push through this morning and then I can relax this afternoon.” – Caitlin Friesen, most days

“They won’t be able to do it without me.” – Caitlin Friesen, most days

“I need to keep my commitment otherwise I am not a good [employee, friend, wife, family member].” – Caitlin Friesen, most days

“Yes, my blood pressure is low and Yes, I am feeling terrible. But isn’t it vitally important that I drive to Target to pick up laundry detergent? We only have enough for three loads.” – Caitlin Friesen, just once (thankfully)

As much as I love her, sometimes Caitlin Friesen is dumb. Which is why being her can sometimes be difficult.

Through the past five years of varying appointments, procedures, and phone calls I am always given the same advice from my medical team: Rest. “Take it easy!” one doctor told me a few days before our week-long Vacation Bible School started. “Stay on the couch with your feet up,” said my ER nurse after I told her how much I was enjoying the autumn weather. My cardiologist told me I had to repeat back her instructions to “Rest. At. Home.” during our weekly phone call with my vitals update.

I just don’t rest well.

That doesn’t mean I can’t take a good, hour-long nap in the sunshine. Grandma taught me early on how wonderful it is to curl up on the sofa and take an afternoon siesta. I enjoy reading books and pick up a new selection from the Library every other week. Ben and I watch an episode of a new show most nights. (Who am I kidding? We watch The Office for the 28th round.) But even with those helpful habits, I have discovered it is not enough.

True rest for my body means more than sitting down somewhere. I have become a professional multitasker on the couch: I set an alarm so I only nap for the 20 minutes in-between events. I set my book down to respond to texts. I balance our budget while we watch Netflix. This is especially easy to do when you already know what is about to happen in the episode. Although I do look up from my laptop every round when Angela’s cat falls through the ceiling during the Fire Drill. “Save Bandit!”

[Opens a new tab to watch the opening of Season 5: Episode 13. Classic!]

Ok, let me stop proving how much I multitask as I write about how I need to stop multitasking.

I recently connected with an amazing therapist in my city. She is helping me navigate the complicated reality of chronic illness and working with me to create better habits. During our counseling sessions I explained how I was tired, had worsening symptoms, was worrying excessively. Being the gracious woman she is, she talked through and held those feelings with me. But she didn’t let me off the hook.

“What did your doctors tell you to do about your fatigue? Heart palpitations? Anxiety?” She did not ask, “Did they tell you what to do?” because she knew they had. And she already knew the answer. That I am supposed to rest.

I realized it was not just the professionals in my life who were giving me this advice. My husband checks in on me every morning from work to see how well I slept. My family and friends call before a meet-up to see if we should make other arrangements. My boss used to ask me to go home when it was clear I should not be working. And none of them are offended when I have to spend the day on the couch instead of Being Productive.

So why can’t I? Because I feel like there is so much more that I should be doing. I worry that because things can be done without me it means that I no longer have purpose or value. I feel like when I lay on the couch I am no longer an asset. I have bought the lie that if I push through now I can recover later. But my body is not able to recover like it used to. My body is in the long process of recovery and every time I “just suck it up and do it” I am actually interfering with my healing.

A few years ago I preached a sermon on rest. (I believe we do our best teaching with the subjects we have not mastered.) At the time I had no idea that my functionality was about to fall; that I was walking into a season where I wouldn’t have the energy and ability to work at the place and with the people I loved so dearly. In my Scripture studies I saw over and over that Jesus took intentional time to rest. If the God of the Universe needs to stop and rest, how much more do I?

And how much more do you. Whether you are a person struggling with chronic illness or a person with a healthy body and mind, we all need rest. And we need it now.

Today I give us all permission to stop and rest. If you are tired, sleep. If you can’t shake a thought, read. If you are anxious about your finances, watch tv…and resist the urge to bring a calculator. Stop believing that you are supposed to push through and recover later. Rest is a gift you can receive for yourself. Now.

It has been and will continue to be a struggle for me to rest. I am getting better at listening to my body and mind and responding to its need to lie down. I am finding ways to pass the time indoors and without a checklist of to-dos. I am realizing my friends are not offended when I call to cancel our plans. Because the most productive thing I can do with my time and energy is allow my body to heal.