I learned something this week about the meaning of “rest” from Henri Nouwen’s book The Way of the Heart.
In his chapter on prayer Nouwen explains that the literal translation of the words “pray always” is “come to rest”. This rest has little to do with the absence of conflict or pain. Quoting Nouwen, “it is a rest in God in the midst of a very intense daily struggle.”
Nouwen offers from himself and the writings of Desert Fathers of early church history a different paradgim. Abba Anthony writes to a fellow monk “it belongs to the great work of a man to expect temptations to his last breath.” I can literally be resting in God but experience simultaneous disruption and struggle, two uninvited bedfellows. Why?
Stillness in the presence of God and a choice to get serious about prayer does not guarantee a more hassle free life. In fact, because of the choice to be still with God, pressure from the enemy of our souls intensifies.
Jesus warned his disciples that they would have tribulation in the world, but at the same time provided courage by overcoming the world Himself. Then, they listened to Him pray for them as He asked the Father to keep them from the evil one. (John 16,17).
Mother Theodora, one of the Desert Mothers, makes this very clear, “as soon as you intend to live in peace and rest in the Lord the spiritual battle may only increase;” almost a guarantee. It is the effort of the evil one to prevent us from praying and resting in God.
While elementary, it is an extremely instructive reminder. Intense struggle that accompanies rest may be confirming you are right on track pursuing God. I am encouraged.