Minding the 'Rests'
J. R. Miller, 1899
"Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place—and get some rest." Mark 6:31
Some people think that rests in life—are wasted time. They suppose that every moment should have its work, its activity, its gain, its record of good done. There is a sense in which this is true. Time is made up of golden minutes—not one of which we should allow to be wasted! The Master said that for every idle word that men speak—they must give account. This can be no less true of idle minutes or hours. We are to be judged not only by the things we do—but by the things we leave undone. Neglect of a duty is a sin. To pass by one who needs cheer or help, not giving him what he needs, when it is in our power to minister to him—is to sin against him.
Very strong, therefore, is the pressure of obligation to fill every moment with faithful duty. No doubt there are rests that leave blanks in the records and thus become blemishes, marrings, and faults. There is a story of one who always carried seeds in his pocket and when he found a bare spot, planted some of them that the place might become beautiful. Just so, we should put into every fragment of time, some seed that will make the hour or minute a bearer of blessing to other lives. We cannot afford to let a moment go, unfilled.
But there are rests which add to the beauty and the completeness of every life; and there is no life which can be altogether complete without them.
It is indeed with life as with music. The rests on the staff in one sense are not part of the music. They call for no sweet notes. Yet they are as important in their place—as if they were notes to be struck or sung. It would spoil the harmony, if a careless player or singer were to disregard the rests and fill the spaces with notes of his own improvising. There are rests in life—which are quite as important in the melody of life, as any notes on the staff. To overlook them or to fill them up—is to mar the music. We should mind the rests.
It is not true that we are living worthily, only when we are doing something. God has strewn life with quiet resting places. 'Night' is one of them. Sleep is a divine ordinance—to miss it mars the music. The Sabbath is another of the rests on the staff which the great Master composer wrote in himself. "Six days you shall labor"—then comes the rest—the one no more positive a command than the other. To ignore this rest and crowd into its sacred space the sounds of labor—is not only to break a divine commandment, but is also to introduce discords into God's music. It takes the Sabbath quiet to complete the melody of the week. "Sunday," says Longfellow "is like a stile between the fields of toil, where we can kneel and pray, or sit and meditate."
There are other periods in every life in which rests are written. There is a time to work—and a time to rest. God never intended that we shall fill the days so full of toil, as not to leave any time for fellowships of home life, for interaction with friends, for pleasure and amusement. There is no true music in that living under incessant pressure which hurries on from duty to duty, from task to task, allowing not a moment of leisure, not a restful heart beat, from morning until night. Far sweeter and more beautiful—is the life that goes from task to task promptly, but never hurriedly. "Unhasting yet unresting," is one of the wisest of life's mottoes. No time should be wasted, and yet there never should be any hurrying.
No other life accomplishes in the end—so much as one that goes on with rhythmic movement, never loitering, never lagging—yet never in nervous haste. Hurry mars work of any kind. Music is spoiled as much by too great rapidity—as by indolent dragging. An old Bible teaching says, "In quietness and in confidence, shall be your strength." Paul, the most vigorous of the New Testament writers, exhorts his young friend to study to be quiet, or as it is in the stronger phrase of a revised version, to "be ambitious to be quiet." It was not idleness that Paul was urging upon Timothy—but the observance of the proper rests in life.
We have need of patience. We should learn to wait—as well as labor; to listen—as well as speak; to rest—as well as toil. There are moments and hours in life—when the supreme duty is to do nothing, to stand quiet and patient, waiting trustfully for God to work, or for the time to come when we can act. Immeasurable harm has been done ofttimes by impatience which could not stand and wait.
In all our life we need to cultivate a restful spirit. No duty is enjoined in the Scriptures more frequently, than the duty of peace. Worry is one of the things that are not worth while—it never brings any good; it never adds to the happiness; it never blesses. Worry must be left out of the ideal Christian life. Worry rushes on unquietly, and does not mind the rests. Peace, on the other hand, is an essential element in all beautiful, strong, and happy life. Peace carefully observes all the rests, and produces perfect music. It knows how to be quiet and still—as well as how to speak or sing.
Sometimes we are compelled to take rests in our busy life, even when we have no thought of doing so. We are in the midst of a rapid movement, hurrying on with great eagerness, when suddenly we find a rest written on the staff—and we must pause in our music. One of the most suggestive words in the Shepherd Psalm is the phrase, "He makes me to lie down in green pastures." Sometimes God has to make us lie down, for if he did not—we would never pause for a moment! We really need these rests to make the music full and rich—and God can get them into our hurried life in no way—but by compelling us to take them.
Nature teaches us the necessity for periods of inactivity. Winter arrests the growth of trees. The long months when there are no leaves and no fruits, seem to be lost. But we know that winter is no mistake, and that the time is not lost or wasted when the tree is resting. It is only gathering the forces for next year's growth and fruitage. Every life, too, has its winters, when everything seems to stop; but there is no loss in the quiet waiting.
If only we understood this—we would see that the rests which God writes into the bars of our life are necessary to make the music perfect. We think we have lost time when we have been sick for a season. No! the passive duty of the sick days, when we were shut away from the hurrying world; the duty of being quiet and patient and trustful—was quite as sacred and important as were the urgent duties of the days of health.
"How does the musician read the rest? See him beat the time unerring count and catch up the next note, as true and steady as if no breaking place had come between. Not without design, does God write the music of our lives. Be it ours to learn the tune, and not be dismayed at the rests. They are not to be slurred over, are not to be omitted, and are neither to destroy the melody nor to change the key-note. If we look up, God himself will beat the time for us." It is not ours to write the score; it is ours only to sing or play it—as God has written it. We have no right to change a note or a point, to insert a rest or to omit one. We must play it as it is given to us.
When in our life we come to rests which are written for us into the great Composer's score—we should consider them just as much part of the music, as are the notes in the other bars. We need not complain of loss of time in illness, in forced leisure, in frustrated efforts—nor fret that our voice had to be silent, our part missing in the music. There was no real loss in these breaks or pauses. We do our duty best, by not trying to do anything—when God bids us to lie still. We need not fret that we cannot be active for God—when clearly God does not want us to be active.
She was a submissive Christian, and had learned well the secret of peace and the meaning of the rests—who accounted for her peaceful quiet on her sick bed by saying, "I hear God saying to me—Lie here and cough." That was God's will for her then, instead of the bidding to active service which she used to hear and obey so gladly in the days of strength. The truest life is the one that takes the music as God writes it—without question, believing in his love and his wisdom, sure that he is right.