Learning to Rest: Part 4

That night, after the prayer service, a group of my cohort friends and I decided to take a trip to the mini-mart. I, for one, was utterly famished and found myself practically salivating at the mere mention of chocolate chip cookies. So we crowded into one friend's car, cranked the U2 music as high as we could handle it, and headed down to the only establishment open close to midnight in that quiet little town where our retreat center was located.

We decided to each purchase something worth sharing with the rest of the group, and once we made it back to the retreat center, we laid claim to one of the main living areas, scooted several tables together, and then spread our booty of candy and chips along the tables to share.

I don't know that I have ever laughed or giggled that hard or that long in my life. We must have been sitting together for at least a good hour and a half, sharing and joking and telling stories. One friend had worked in a funeral home during one season of his life, and he regaled us -- completely straight-faced -- with stories about some of his most bizarre experiences. Soon people were quoting scenes from The Office. Then someone would pass around the bag of Sour Patch Kids or Doritos. Everything happening around that table of fellowship struck me as insanely silly and insanely good.

Periodically, I would catch myself giggling like a little girl, and I would be thrust back into the memory of that time of play Jesus and I had just shared during the prayer service earlier that night. That experience felt so connected to the purity of fun and laughter I was now sharing with my friends around that table. I felt so safe and so free. It felt like an invitation to more childlike play.

The next morning, I woke in my room about an hour before my alarm went off. I debated getting up or turning on the light to read in bed, but ultimately I decided to go back to sleep. As I cozied back under the covers, my mind returned to the healing experience I'd shared with Jesus the night before. I remembered how I had rested in his arms like an infant after we'd run and danced and played together. So in my bed right then, as I nestled deeper into my pillow and pulled the blankets closer, I pictured myself in Jesus's arms once again, allowing him to hold me as I fell back to sleep.

That last hour of sleep was the deepest I'd had the whole night. I woke feeling incredibly rested and warm and safe and loved. I am not sure I have ever experienced sleep that deep and restful in my entire life. All because I'd let Jesus hold me for that last hour of sleep.

This whole experience fell smack-dab in the middle of the week. Up to that point in the week, my hidden extrovert had come out of hiding and was living on full alert. Whereas I would normally have been heading to bed at a decent hour at a planned retreat, I was finding myself choosing to stay up until one-o-clock in the morning to talk and share and laugh with my friends. Whereas I would normally have used any scheduled free time for a nap, a solitary walk, or a chance to read and journal by myself, I found myself choosing instead to be with others, to go exploring with a group, to linger over the lunchtime meal because we were enthralled in a good conversation.

In other words, I hadn't connected much to my highly introverted nature up to that point in the week.

But that all changed after that healing prayer service, after that night of giggling hard with friends, after that last hour of deep, restful sleep the next morning. As I walked into the first morning session that next day, I found my body moving more slowly and engaging with others less quickly. There was a serenity and lightness to my heart -- a heart that was now captivated by play and laughter and freedom with Jesus -- but there was also an incredible feeling of exhaustion creeping over the rest of my being. I found my brain shutting down about halfway through the sessions. I took more time for myself during the free hours and went to bed much earlier. I felt stripped and in need of naps. I didn't have much to give anymore.

Slowly, I came to realize that I was experiencing something that felt like a deep soul slumber. Who knows how long that hardened piece of my heart that Jesus took from me that night had been in effect in my life, operating as though everything depended on its efforts and alertness, operating as though it was the only living savior around. But however long it was, I know it was a really, really long time. So much so that I don't think it had any concept of rest or play in its experience of my life at all.

These gifts of rest and play, then -- these gifts that then led to its continually deep soul slumber -- were completely new and completely, utterly needed.