Rest for the Soul

I love the 23rd Psalm. When I read it I picture myself drinking deeply from still waters and munching contentedly on delightful treats. Somehow in the first few words I find physical refreshment. My muscles begin to relax and tension starts to slip away. 

Though I experience a prompt relief in body, I admit my response to verse 3, “He restores my soul,” isn’t quite as immediate. As one who, along with the responsibilities of work, family, church and life, helps to provide emotional and practical support for a loved one living with a mental health disorder, the thought of a refreshed soul sounds like an unattainable luxury. 

My soul is weary from worry and haggard from heartache. It is weighed down with impossible decisions and discouraged from setbacks. Yes, my body needs nourishment and sleep and I know, basically, how to do that. But where and when and how does soul-restoration happen? 

The first clue comes in the verse before this one, in words about still waters and meadows. The physical needs of food and water and rest come first. It is hard to rest your spirit when your body is bone tired and hungry. When our hearts are weary, the first, most refreshing help to our souls may be to take a nap or go for a walk.

Our second insight reminds us whose job it is to bring health to our souls. “HE restores my soul.” If ever there was a “let go and let God” moment, this is it. We entrust our frayed souls with all the fears and insecurities to the One who beckons: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls..” (Matthew‬ ‭11:28,29‬ ‭NET) 

A third point is to accept the trade Jesus offers. He invites us to swap our heavy burden for His light yoke. I remember years ago traveling with a heavy computer bag through a large crowded foreign urban city. After struggling for a number of blocks and lagging farther and farther behind my colleagues, one of the young men dropped back and offered to swap briefcases. He’d not brought his laptop that day, so his load was so very easy for me to carry. What a relief and what a great exchange. Jesus says, “Give me that baggage; it’s mine to haul. Instead, you carry my peace and joy.”

“You will find rest for your souls,” Jesus promises. Rest from fretting if your decisions are right. Rest from trying to figure out what you should do to help someone else. Rest from grieving the “should have beens” and “if onlys.” Under His yoke we find a haven, a respite, a sanctuary for our troubled, tired, trodden souls.

Lastly, I think of Newton’s law of motion that says, “A body at rest will stay at rest until some external force is applied.” Once Jesus gives rest to our souls, we need to resist the forces that come to “steal, kill and destroy” that peace. We let His peace stand like a sentry guard outside our hearts and minds so our souls stay restored. 

A restored soul has strength and fortitude and joy. A restored soul is able to give again, laugh again, hope again. A restored soul finds rest under the light yoke of a gentle shepherd.

Carol Dowsett is a career missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators and a professional communications consultant, having worked for nearly 25 years in global communication leadership roles. She has served with agencies such as Wycliffe International, SIL International, Forum of Bible Agencies International, Bible League International, Christar, and the Well Community. She is a frequent teacher of Reflective Bible Studies and has been a lay leader of women's discipleship and prayer ministries in various churches. An advocate to the Church for mental health awareness, she has served as a support group leader with Mental Health Grace Alliance. With her family, she lived in Nairobi, Kenya for three years and now makes her home near Dallas, Texas. Married for 45 years, she and Jim have four adult children and six grandchildren.

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