During a casual survey of news and social media recently, I came across a video entitled “These people aren’t letting a little thing like a baby slow them down!” Immediately I felt a tension in my soul. As I watched I could see what the creators and producers were attempting to convey. I was met with stories of multiple moms and dads who pursued their career and creative dreams after having children. Some opened their own businesses or worked from home as graphic designers or creating DIY projects that quickly became the next “must have” item.
There was a sense of empowerment, particularly for moms, communicating, “You can do this! You don’t have to give up every other part of you when you become a mother!” Great. Love it. BUT the other theme that pervaded this video was a sense of how QUICKLY after giving birth each mother got back to her “normal” routine, with a “faster is better” mentality being applauded and elevated. One woman even proudly proclaimed that she was back on her computer connecting with clients within hours after having her baby. Now, for many of us who juggle careers and families, this extreme may not be the case, but the message that we often face is that rest equals laziness. “Don’t let a baby slow you down , in fact don’t let anything slow you down because slowing down means you’re not contributing or producing or earning anything and then you are not enough, you have lost your value.”
Our North American culture heavily values busyness and productivity, to the degree that we often have feelings of guilt and shame around rest, relaxation, or slowing down. In particular, like the example above, we elevate and applaud moms who get out of the house faster and get back to their every day life more quickly after having a baby. If a new mother takes a season of rest that we deem too long, we start to wonder, is she being over protective? Is she struggling with an inability to take the next step? Is she letting her newborn dictate her life? Is she losing herself in this new role as mother? Eastern cultures in particular look upon this practice of getting mothers out the door with their newborns as quickly as possible as strange and possibly even foolish. There are multiple cultures that dedicate the first 30-40 days after birth as a time of rest and recovery for mother and a bonding time for the family with baby. The mother typically does not even leave her home in that time and is cared for by her friends and extended family. This is not strange or lazy or overly dependent, it is a ritual and it is a season. Eventually the time does come when she begins to feel a bit like herself again, when she feels more capable. And lets be honest parents- that first time you leave the house with your first baby, its scary whether its day 3 or day 30 and its takes doing it to feel capable. But what if we could give ourselves permission to rest without shame, for however long it fits for us? Without fear of falling short or even missing out? To own that rest is in fact a significant part of life and it makes us better parents, spouses, employees, leaders, contributors, and humans.
What do I actually mean when I say, “rest?” I believe the specifics look different for each person and for each season of life, but it would be characterized by a time away from the typical tasks and responsibilities of life and a turning towards refreshment, renewal, recovery, connection, or maybe solitude or spiritual growth. There are times when we need to lean into rest to embrace it, to let it wash over us without shame. During times of grieving, during times of change in our lives- a move, a marriage, a birth, a job change, a loss, during times of healing, after times of intense chaos or even celebration. This room for rest allows reflection, transformation, ownership, decision making and HEALING, both physical and emotional. Rest is built into our bodies and into creation. We cannot continue non stop without sleep or we will collapse. The sun sets each night and rises each morning and there is refreshment, new mercies if you will. The opportunity presents itself to begin again, maybe with a little more wisdom and a little more wholeness. When we miss these opportunities or we ignore them because we feel like we SHOULD be doing more and doing it faster and better, our bodies, our hearts, and our loved ones feel the impact. Eventually, we will be crushed under the weight of it all.
Instead of embracing a life that is lived under the tyranny of SHOULD, I believe there’s another option. We can begin by asking ourselves where our value comes from. If our value is from what we can produce and accomplish than no wonder we better get going, but if our worth and value is in our personhood and not our production then we have the freedom to produce and the freedom to rest. This is not about abandoning hard work or perseverance, this is about distinguishing the differences between the seasons when we lean into work and when we lean into rest.
Now, I want to also address that rest is a privilege for many. Whether its due to poor maternity and parental leave policies, single parenthood, job expectations, the pressure of bills or families, extended periods of rest just might not be realistic for some people. My hope would be that the general ethos of our culture would begin to shift so that there is room for rest for all people, but that is not easily accomplished. And so if you find yourself overwhelmed and literally unable to carve out extended times of rest, maybe you slip away for a moment and step outside and breathe deeply, or you ask for help, or maybe even in the midst of the chaos you start to remind yourself that even though you are under the pressure to “do” 24/7, your worth comes from your innate value as a human being and not from what you are producing.
I wonder if we can take steps to not only create and embrace room for rest in our lives, but to begin to do so with less shame? The hustle and the busyness is always going to continue; the world keeps spinning and we get to decide whether we simply get swept up in the chaos or whether we decide when to step in and when to step out and who we want to be in the midst of it all.
- Kathryn Morelli