Remaining Christ-Focused in Seasons of Rest
By HEATHER COFER
I was awakened from slumber by the sound of my alarm. 6:30 AM already? Opening my eyes, I took in the scene around me. A Caribbean-themed hotel room, four kiddos, and my husband … all still slumbering. I could see the silhouettes of swaying palm trees in the still-dim light. We’d arrived in Florida in the wee hours of the morning to enjoy the long-awaited Christmas gift we’d given to our kiddos — a trip to an exciting theme park. Although my mind was excited, my pregnant body was feeling less enthusiastic. I could already imagine the exhaustion that would claim me by the end of the week.
This wasn’t going to be a lie-around-and-sip-juice-by-the-pool sort of getaway. It was going to require much of me both physically and mentally as we adventured mile after mile with four children, a stroller, snacks, and trinkets in tow. There was most certainly temptation to grumble about it. But as I lay there, my mind went to other family trips when my expectations for rest and reprieve from all the “normal” aspects of motherhood had been sorely disappointed. I’d spent much of those trips fighting grumpiness and frustration, many days ending in tears. But I was determined that this vacation would be different.
“Lord, help me to have a heart of service toward my family. Help me to be outward-focused rather than inward-focused. Help me to love my children and have an attitude of joy.”
This grace-empowered decision at the outset of our trip made all the difference. Even soggy weather, sore feet, tired children, sticky messes, and long lines didn’t dampen my spirits as I remembered my commitment to allow love — instead of selfishness — to be my driving motive. When we returned home, my heart was full with much delight and little regret.
VACATIONING FROM SELFISHNESS
With summer in full swing, we often indulge in rest and relaxation after a stretch of long work days, stressful situations, the completion of a school year (for ourselves or our kids), or just the same mundane tasks day after day. As good as seasons of R&R, vacations, or the “jolly holidays” may be, they also present a prime opportunity for self-centered tendencies to rise up within us. Oftentimes we get an idea in our minds for what we want our seasons of rest to look like, and when those expectations aren’t met, we find ourselves discontent and disillusioned.
The root of the problem is that we believe our world should revolve around us. We might not say it this bluntly, but ultimately we believe that what is best for us … is best period. The reality is that because of sin, we’re all naturally wired this way. It’s only by the grace of God that we can adopt His mindset and live in a way that demonstrates His servant-hearted love to those around us.
In Mark 10, Jesus’ disciples are arguing about who is the greatest among them. Just as the emotional temperatures are rising, Jesus steps in and sets the record straight. He says to them, “…whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43–45 ESV).
Jesus is the ultimate example of servant-hearted love in action. Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, came to this earth to lay down His very life for us. And He calls us as His followers to live this way, too.
Philippians 2:3–5 says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility consider one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (NASB).
The Bible gives no caveats for selfish behavior or justifications when we’re on vacation. Does this mean rest, fun, and relaxation are wrong? No. We should receive and enjoy them with gratitude! But it does mean we should hold these gifts with an open hand, willing to lay them aside when necessary. It will be hard (sometimes very hard), but loving sacrifice to honor God and those around us will be rewarded beyond what we can measure as we choose eternally lasting “treasures in Heaven” above the fleeting holidays we experience in this world.
What are some practical steps we can take to cultivate a servant’s heart even as we enjoy rest and relaxation? Here are three things to remember as you make fun plans for this summer!
1. Remember that Jesus is Our True Rest
Jesus says in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (ESV).
Rest for the body and mind is good and healthy. But we must remember that the ultimate rest we need is found in Jesus. He gives us rest in our very souls, something physical rest can never accomplish. In Christ we find rest from worry, from striving, from self-seeking, from perfectionism, and from unmet expectations. When we rest first in Christ, we can receive everything from naps to busy vacations with far greater joy, knowing that God is the giver of these good gifts. And when we are asked to lay aside our own desires, and even needs, for the sake of loving others, we can do so with joy knowing that Jesus will take care of us as we serve others in His name.
2. Remember That We are Christians at All Times
1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (ESV).
There is never a circumstance when we as Christians are let off the hook from being Christians. Every facet of our lives should be lived to the glory of God. When we justify putting ourselves first in the name of “self-care,” or when we defend frustration when our expectations aren’t met, or when we excuse entitlement because we feel like we’re “all served out,” we are showing those around us that we don’t truly believe that being followers of Jesus changes everything.
Pray and ask God to help you remember to represent Him well in this world — even on vacation. That might be choosing to stay behind to care for the little kids so others can do an activity. It might mean taking the extra time to thank the lady cleaning the bathroom. It might mean exchanging vacation plans for “staycation” plans for the sake of being able to give to a need that suddenly
arises. Whatever it may entail, may the Lord grant us the ability to keep our eyes wide open to the opportunities all around us to live out His life in us.
3. Remember That Service Brings Joy
No one debates the reality that sacrificing in the moment can be difficult. But when our eyes are fixed on Jesus and the eternal joy that awaits us, it makes the momentary sacrifices worth every second.
Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus endured the Cross because of “the joy that was set before Him.” The Cross itself wasn’t joyful. It was the most excruciating event in all of history. Yet Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice because He knew there was joy on the other side, which made it all worth it. And He did it for us.
When we dwell on this mind-blowing sacrifice made on our behalf, the sacrifices we are called to make in His name seem incredibly minute in comparison. When we remember that our small sacrifices here and now are to point back to Jesus and His love toward us, we’ll delight in being used as an arrow that says, “Look how incredible my Savior is!” No act of service will seem too great when the gaze of our heart is firmly fixed on Jesus. Everything we do will become an outflow of our love and gratitude toward Him.
I’m so grateful we can trust that the Lord knows what we need, when we need it. He knows when it’s time for us to serve and pour out, and He knows when it’s time for us to “come away … and rest a while” (Mark 6:31 ESV). Whether we’re wiping ice cream off a child’s chin during vacation or sipping lemonade on our back porch, He will give us the grace to live every moment for His glory as we stay close to Him.