My son’s second grade class invited parents to join their music lesson the day they had a guest from a symphony orchestra.
As part of a unit on reading sheet music, the students had been assigned to write several measures of rhythm to perform for us.
The music teacher welcomed everyone and gave brief explanation of concepts like “notes” and “rests.” Then she displayed the students’ new piece for us all to see. The class played their piece using rhythm sticks while the guest trombonist performed a well-known overture using the same time signature. The students were amazed to hear the combination make beautiful music.
While the overall sound was impressive, rhythm sticks occasionally hit when they were supposed to “rest.” I couldn’t help but shift in my seat a little and think, “That wasn’t supposed to happen.” But this was an elementary music class – not the symphony orchestra. These moments were to be expected.
But stick-hits in place of rests affected the excellence of the work. A piece of music is not just a collection of notes; it’s a collection of notes and rests. The rests are crucial. And so it is with an effective work life.
The concepts of “work and rest balance” and “Sabbath” make me cringe. I’m a worker, an achiever, a go-go-go-getter. Rest does not come naturally. Over the years, folks have handed me books on rest, but I’ve not settled down long enough to read them. I’ve set reminder alarms so I’ll stop to rest, but I silence them without missing a beat. I lack an off switch to shut the system down.
I hear the truth that we are called to do excellent work for God and we are called to a Sabbath, too, and I think, “I’ll nail the part about excellent work and when I’m done with that, I’ll tackle the part about Sabbath.”
But the rests – the Sabbaths – are just as much a part of the work as every note – every task, word, assignment, conversation, lesson, case, event, opportunity, project, duty, commitment, call, and deadline. It’s not the excellent work and the Sabbath. Sabbath rest is part of excellent work.
In the second graders’ piece, the rests were intended to be filled with silence or accompaniment. When the rests happened, we heard beautiful music. When the rests were skipped, the piece lost its way.
When I insist on working through rest, I’m messing with the excellent work. I’m adding my own improvisation, but improvisation works only with solos. It’s as though I’m telling God, “I’ve got this. I don’t need rest. I don’t need you. I can’t trust you to help me finish if I rest.”
Refusing to rest reflects a heart that believes I can’t afford to pause and recharge.
Refusing to rest reflects a heart that thinks it all depends on me.
Refusing to rest reflects a heart that acts as though there isn’t a Composer who authored this complete work – rests and all – nor an Accompanist who intends to partner with me in powerful symphony.
About the Author: Amy Leskowski launched the campus ministries at Western Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, was a team leader for eight years, and has been on staff for 15 years. She and her husband, Dennis, live with their three kids in Kalamazoo, Michigan.