Did you know that finding rest may look different for men and women? Even after all the research I’ve done, this was a new one for me. And yet in today’s world, where anxiety and stress are at unprecedented levels, understanding this truth is vital for us “weary and burdened” people to whom Jesus promises “rest for our souls.” (It is also a crucial truth for those mental-health professionals who are trying to help others find rest today!)
A few weeks back I was speaking as part of a Summer Series in Ocean City, NJ—a combination of Christian speakers and recording artists taking the stage near the beach on Sundays. I’ve been there several times, and love being able to offer encouragement to both local residents and folks on vacation. This time, I was asked to speak on “finding rest,” based on my devotional for women.
But guess what: It’s not only women who go to the beach! It would have been so easy to just give the “usual” talk with a few tweaks to include men, assuming that since everyone needs rest, everyone needs to find rest in the same way. And yet as I dove back into the research about what science and scripture says on the topic, something jumped out at me. Something that makes a great deal of difference in helping all of us find the rest Jesus promises.
First, rest doesn’t necessarily mean “taking time off”
Before I get to the differences, here’s the main point that applies to everybody. When Jesus promises rest, he doesn’t use the language of “take time off” or “just slow down.” Downtime is valuable (after all, God decreed a Sabbath and Jesus sought out quiet time!), but his words offer a model that applies even when we can’t take time away.
In Matthew 11:28-30, He says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
That’s startling language! A yoke is designed to help a burden beast plow the field in the heat of the day. Jesus doesn’t say, “Take the yoke off your shoulders and go back to the barn to find rest.” No, he is saying that we can be about the work of the day and still find rest for our souls. We can be busy, but we don’t have to be weary and stressed. We can have much on our shoulders, but we don’t have to be burdened.
So how might this apply differently to women and men?
Women are weary and burdened and wish they could rest—but don’t
According to the studies, much of the stress felt by women comes from the sheer pace of life—both physical and emotional. There’s a lot on our plates! In my devotional Find Rest, I am speaking to women like me, living in a do-it-all world. All too often, our minds, hearts and bodies are overwhelmed by the day-in and day-out juggling of expectations and obligations. And just when we don’t think we can handle one more thing, we get asked to be the Room Mom at school. And we actually consider it—because we are secretly filled up by the proof that we are in demand. After all, who doesn’t want to feel loved and valuable?!
The thing is: we need to realize that we are loved and valuable even if our calendar is empty. Even if no one wants anything from us. Even if our phone is silent and we don’t have little or big people clamoring for our attention—we are special, we are loved, we have value, simply because we are a child of God. That realization will help us put all the clamor in the right perspective, and not feel that impulse to take on one more thing. Because we no longer have a secret sense of satisfaction that comes from being oh-so-busy.
Men are burdened and weary—and don’t feel they can rest
Although there are exceptions, it appears that men have a very different impulse. They often don’t have a problem saying “no” to busy-ness—because a worry about feeling loved and in demand is not the source of their inner burden. Instead, for most men (when I informally polled the audience at that event, it was about 80%), their burden comes from a worry about providing for their family and trying to “do good” at being a husband, father, protector, and provider. All too often, men are subconsciously wondering whether they are enough, and have a deep fear of failing their wife and kids. If we want to get theological, this goes all the way back to Genesis 3 when God told Adam that in a fallen world, he (and men in general) would always feel like he was toiling the ground by the sweat of his brow, yet the thorns and thistles would always be rising up against him. He would feel like he was never really getting ahead.
In other words: a man may never feel that he can rest.
The thing is: God promises rest to all of us. Men, you can recognize that although there is indeed a biblical calling to provide (1 Timothy 5:8), it does not mean that you have to take every extra deal that is offered or return every midnight text from the boss, fearing that if you don’t you might get fired and not be able to provide for your family. (Hence God’s command to do no work on the Sabbath and the promise that if you trust Him with it, you won’t die of hunger.)
Jesus’s burden is designed to feel “easy” and is not designed to weigh you down. Yes, do what you can do—but also trust God with your family’s security. Especially because “providing” for your family may mean something more important than money. For example, leaving work early twice a week to coach your daughter’s softball team. You may be taking a step back from the corporate rat race—and the chances of a promotion for the next few years—but you are providing something priceless: your presence and your closeness in the life of your children.
Bottom line: Finding true rest for our souls
Well-meaning friends, social media, and any magazine cover may tell you the answer to finding rest is as simple as a vacation, a spa day, an afternoon spent on the lake, or a nap. While enjoyable (YES, PLEASE TO ALL OF THE ABOVE!), this relief is short-lived. What we need is to function from a place of peace and trust in such a way that we are not constantly sabotaging ourselves and constantly being depleted. There are many practicalities for how we do it, but that choice to trust is the heart of truly finding rest—for men and for women alike.
Would you like to see an event like the one Shaunti mentions at your church, ministry, or business? Shaunti can come speak to your group and provide “Aha moments” that make a big difference in the lives of men, women, marriages, and families. Reach out to Nicole Owens to discuss topic ideas or plans for your event.
This article was also published at Patheos.
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