Imagine music with no rests. Continuous noise. Think elevator music on repeat—but even worse than that—no rests even within the music itself. Unceasing, constant sound. No pauses, no sustaining of notes, no breathing space. Music created with no rests would be hard on the ears, generate anxiety in the heart, and leave the listener overwhelmed and wanting to switch off and step away from the ‘music’ altogether.
Why do we live cacophonous lives with no rests?
We hurry from one thing to the next, filling our time pleasing people, preparing projects, persistently performing, perfecting, and pressured. Why?
What is it that we’re searching for in our non-stop pacey lives? Why do we push ourselves to the limit? What is it we’re trying to achieve or prove? What gaping hole in your heart are you trying to fill with frenzied music-making?
Somewhere along the line choosing rest became synonymous with the feeble, frail and weak. Needing a rest meant you couldn’t keep up. You weren’t efficient and on task. Resting meant you didn’t value the work you were doing—or why would you stop?
In music, a rest indicates the absence of sound, a chance to breathe.
Did you know that before music notation, monks inserted pauses midway through singing verses. he phrases they were singing were getting muddled as the reverberation of the previous line lingered. They needed a rest. This rest orchestrated the monks so that a synchronised, harmonious sound could be created; providing them unity to sing and breathe as one.
French composer Claude Debussy said that music isn’t found in the notes, but in the spaces between them. Without rests in music, the listener loses any opportunity for relief as the music ebbs and flows. Without moments of silence in music there is no space to find the meaning.
And yet, if you’re anything like me, you struggle to insert the rests needed in your own life composition.
Resting in a COVID-19 world
2020 has kept us all on our toes. Throwing curve balls left, right, and centre. We have had to scramble to adjust, adapt and keep up with the ever-moving goalposts of what ministry looks like, how to work remotely while simultaneously home-schooling the kids, entertaining the pre-schooler and delivering food parcels to the needy neighbour.
Despite lockdowns, many have been left with very few pauses or rests. Jesus speaks into this dissonance of life and says:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
Jesus sees our striving to be sufficient: the self-imposed burdens, the heavy ladens others inflict and he speaks right into our interminable lives and calls us to rest. We were never meant to take on the job of providing our security or self-worth yet somewhere along the line we started believing it was our responsibility to satiate our hearts and provide our significance.
We began to toil. We began to worry. And only five chapters earlier Jesus told us that the flowers don’t toil and we are far more valuable. Same word. Same message: lay your burden down and stop. Stop worrying. Stop striving. Stop filling your own hearts.
Jesus sees us juggling and struggling and knows there is one thing needed and he calls it: time-out. The Greek for ‘rest’ here is anapauo. Ana—again, back + pauo – to cease/stop or give rest. Jesus wants us to cease again. To stop again. To rest again. So that he can refresh us again.
Just like rests in music don’t only come at the end of a piece but throughout, Jesus wants us to learn to come to him and experience this repetitive resting that we all need. Rest again.
Like the monks, he wants us to learn to sing in unison with him. To breathe with him. To unite with him. Jesus understands that without resting our lives will become a tangled inharmonious mess. To live a melodious life we need to be at one with Jesus.
And to be at one with Jesus we need to learn to step away from the busyness and distractions that would have us finding our security, significance and self-worth anywhere other than in him. Instead, we must return to him and rest again.
When we live lives without the rest Jesus offers we find ourselves overwhelmed and anxious, trapped in the elevator with no way out. The burden of the to-do’s increases in tune with our blood pressure and we’re left wanting to quit the music altogether. We believe the lie that we can continue on the hamster-wheel of life in our own sufficiency and strength. Without resting again, we start to believe we don’t even need Jesus at all.
Rests within a piece of music forces to listener to reflect, to move from passive listening to active listening, and become a participant in the piece. In the resting, the remainder of the music makes sense. In pausing with Jesus, we find meaning for the other activities occurring in life. It is when we stop and sit with Jesus that we can listen to his voice above all the commotion and be reminded of our peace and purpose once again.
We’re reminded that we’re not sufficient and we were never supposed to be so put that yoke down! We need to rest again – not only from the inexorable pace we find ourselves in, but from the notion that we have to do all the things and save all the people, ourselves included.
Glorifying God in rest
Busyness in and of itself is not a bad thing. You only need to listen to some of the more famous classical pieces of music to discover prestissimo (music played as quickly as possible, typically over 200bpm). This music can inspire and quicken your spirit. But you cannot play all the music at that pace. There is a reason for going at full speed and that’s what you need to keep in check to ensure the music you’re creating glorifies God.
Is your busyness:
- Distracting you from dealing with deeper issues of the heart?
- Providing you with a sense of significance or self-worth?
- Fuelling the error that the busier you are the more important you are?
- A means to ‘earn’ God’s approval or love?
If so, then it’s time for a rest.
John Ruskin, an English art critic of the Victorian era, said.
“There is no music in a rest, but there is the making of music in it.”
If we want to live lives that are full, productive, and glorifying to God then we need to learn to “rest again” so that in those moments the next phrase of our life can be written hand-in-hand with the composer and conductor of the universe.
It’s in this cyclical resting and resting again that we’re reminded of the need to continually return to Jesus where we check our motives and heart in our busyness. Resting is not a one-time thing. You rest. And you rest again. And again.
Anapauo is not just stopping to rest, it is also a refreshing. Jesus wants us to rest again so that we can be refreshed and equipped to continue making music with our lives. As Ruskin observes:
“[The rests] are not to be slurred over nor to be omitted, nor to destroy the melody, nor to change the keynote. If we look up, God himself will beat the time for us. With the eye on him, we shall strike the next note full and clear.”
So if you’ve been feeling like your life is creating white noise rather than a beautiful melody can I suggest that you’ve removed one too many rests in your score?
Don’t quit making music altogether, take your song sheet back to the composer and allow him to show you where the rests need to be reinserted.
You don’t need to strive for the rest. Jesus says he’ll give it to you. Just come back. Again.
Originally from the UK, Emily and her husband Dan moved to New Zealand three years ago to pastor Birkenhead Community Church. She is a passionate preacher, teacher and writer, who loves to exhort the church in any way she can. Her weekly devotionals can be found on social media @promiseseeker or facebook.com/promiseseeker. You can email her directly at email@example.com