The Art of Rest by Adam Mabry – A Review
Did Rest Get Trendy Or Did We Just Get Crazy-Busy?
There’s obviously something amiss in our Christian culture when books on burn-out or rest seem to be about as common as, I dunno, church-plants using those pull-up banner-stand things. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a complaint in either case. For one, don’t knock the stands – they do the job – and in terms of rest, the sad reality is that by all accounts we’re in great need of some fine-tuned resources to help us out in this area.
When you think about it, it’s unsurprising that writing on rest often comes from a personal angle. We learn – and write – from experience. And sadly, what’s going to convince you of the importance of rest more than crashing and burning? That comes out in Christopher Ash and David Murray’s recent books, and it’s also the case with The Art of Rest, a new, punchy paperback from Massachusetts-based pastor, Adam Mabry. Hopefully these ‘pre-emptive’ resources can do the rest of us the world of good, before we find out the hard way.
Mabry’s opening chapter is titled, “I Don’t Do Rest”; he shares that his wife’s reaction to him announcing he was writing a book on rest was to laugh in his face. The problem he highlights is that many of us aren’t so good at doing rest, but we’re pretty hot at doing ‘do’. In fact we’re suckers for do. We see busyness and think it means we’re achieving something, getting somewhere. It makes us feel important. We idolise being productive and being ‘high-capacity leaders’, but we forget that, ultimately, “God has wired us to require rest.”
The ‘art of rest’ refers to Mabry’s conviction that rest is less about rule and more about rhythm. We might be diligent at taking a day-off or marking the Sabbath, but we still need to consider whether we’re truly resting – and the reason. As he says, the why of rest is just as important as the how. To skip the ‘why’ is to attempt to grow a tree on top of some pavement; you need to bust-up the concrete and get under the surface before you can grow anything of significance. It’s a powerful image, and throughout the book Mabry seeks to get under the surface of why we’re so prone not to rest, and therefore why we need it so much.
Reasons To Rest
So why rest? In four easy-to-read chapters, Mabry serves up a range of different motivations:
- Rest is for remembering. It’s for remembering God, ourselves, and true story of the world: “regularly stopping to rest in God allows us to remember that the meaning of our lives isn’t to wander around inside ourselves and choose what aspects of our desires we’ll wear as an identity badge.”
- Rest is resistance; building on the work of Walter Brueggemann, Mabry suggests rest is resistance against a world that defines itself by work and career: “[rest] is open rebellion against the systems of this world that demand we do in order to be.” Here Mabry is brilliant at exposing the default mode of our culture – and even our church culture: “in order for you to be the most you-ey you you can be, you just need to look within.” Yes, that’s a lot of ‘you’s but that’s exactly the point. Part of the problem here is that we become complicit in the tendency towards self-justification, self-actualisation, because, after all, “the most powerful god of the West [is] the one in the mirror.” In contrast:
“[T]he truth is that you only come into contact with your truest self when you come closer to Christ. You won’t find you by clambering about in your own subconscious, but by bringing your whole self to him.”
- Rest restores relationships. Our restlessness often leaves a trail of damage: “dead marriages, distant children, and fair-weather friendships all lie in the wake of the Western wanderer and their quest to quiet the inner voice and find the end-point of the pursuit of happiness.” Instead, rest brings with it “relational room,” the oxygen to allow relationships to live and grow.
- Rest brings reward. Mabry shows that rest is a God-given means for our Father in heaven to bless us – through reflection, through memory, through security, through endurance, and through anticipation.
Keeping Sabbath Special
Obviously you can’t write a book on rest without engaging with the fourth commandment to keep the Sabbath. Mabry acknowledges that how we apply this command as Christians is a topic that can easily divide churches and lead to endless discussion and debate, e.g. how does Jesus fulfil the Old Testament law? Is every command still binding, as it reads? These are important questions, but Mabry’s own take is that this command doesn’t apply directly to us today, having been fulfilled in Christ (Hebrews 3-4; Colossians 2:16-17). Yet he makes the valid point – which is backed-up in some of the endorsements – that even if you disagree with him on this, you’d still be in agreement with 96% of the rest of the book. The wisdom and importance and significance of resting remains, even if that doesn’t involve a prescribed Sabbath day. In fact Mabry also challenges those who argue that keeping a Sabbath is legalistic: “simply ask how not observing Sabbath rest is going for you. It’s not rest that threatens to oppress you, but your refusal to rest.”
Rest in Practice
The final chapter gives some practical suggestions for rest: namely, sleeping, reading, praying, reflecting, avocating (new one for me!), recreating, eating and singing, as well as considering the categories of daily, weekly and yearly rest. I felt Ash’s Zeal Without Burnout and Murray’s ReSet probably were more expansive in this area.
My critique of The Art of Rest would be that occasionally the book’s structure and flow seemed a bit muddled. The first chapter is set-up as a bit of a Bible overview of rest, but we quickly got into ‘lies that Satan uses to convince us not to rest’. These were helpful in themselves, and maybe it’s just me, but it felt like we were racing to application before I’d really got going.
Despite that the four central chapters were excellent and really thought-provoking and compelling. In particular, the strength of Mabry’s contribution to the ‘rest canon’ is his ability to expose some of the ways in which we buy into a culture of ‘do’. He writes in such a way that you really want to grab a handle on your life and live restfully, in line with how God made us. If you’re ever tempted to think of yourself as ‘busy’, ‘too busy’, or you actually find yourself enjoying being busy, then The Art of Rest would be well worth picking up.
You can pick up a copy of The Art of Rest from the publisher here.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, but I hope this is still a fair review.