As I am writing this, I am back on my break. You know, the one where the kids are at school and the house is peaceful and quiet. My family and I had a blessed Christmas and New Year, but I have to admit (with some feelings of guilt) that I consider the breaks from school neither restful nor what the name implies — a break. It is constant kid interaction. I still remember from childhood the excitement of the last day of school and the feeling of freedom when I walked out the door. The opposing perspectives of kids and adults is unbelievable.

Speaking of being together nonstop, last summer my family took a trailer/RV camping trip to Arizona with both sets of grandparents. We all met at my parents’ house and were leaving a few days later. Everyone was a bit nervous about our first attempt at a trip like this, especially with three energetic kids. During these few days before the actual camping, my kids’ behavior was awful. All I could think was, “If it’s this difficult at Grandma’s house, how are we going to handle 10 days in the dirt?” In desperation, I posted on a parenting group on Facebook asking for camping advice. Our family friend, who is a marriage and family counselor, saw my message and came to my parents’ house to help us out. What a gift! She gave wonderful advice and tips, but what sticks in my brain the most is when we asked how we could make this a restful vacation. She said, “This isn’t a vacation, this is an adventure. You are taking your kids on an adventure.” Sigh. It took the wind out of our sails. We planned this trip in order to take a break and get some needed rest, and now you’re telling us that it won’t be restful? Even though we didn’t want to hear it, her words turned out to be extremely helpful advice for that camping trip as well as for every day of life.

Whenever I am tempted to blame my lack of rest on my kids or other circumstances, I remind myself of a time when I had no kids, no job, no major obligations, and still found myself restless. I had gone from college, to three part-time jobs and planning our wedding, to moving across the country and immediately starting a full-time job while my husband attended seminary. So when he received his first call as a pastor, I was ready for a break. I was burned out. We were moving back to my home state of California, closer to both sides of our family, and I took time to settle in and do things like make cards and play tennis. The surprising result of this time of “rest” is that I still felt worn out. What I gained from it was not a break but actually a realization that my stress, frustration, and bad moods were not caused by school or work. I realized that that is who I am! What a sad day to have to face that reality. I had to take responsibility for my negativity rather than blaming it on every other external cause. Now, ten years later when I could very easily blame my restlessness on my children or other stresses, I think back to that time when I had nothing to blame but myself.

The famous quote from Augustine says, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Rest, like grace, always comes as a surprise. I try to manufacture it for myself, but that rarely works. I cannot seem to escape the nagging feelings of guilt and worry. If only I could be more like Donna and Tom from Parks and Recreation.

Of course it is great when we get enough sleep, exercise, eat healthy food, and generally take care of our bodies. But true rest for our souls feels more elusive. At times when I am at the end of my rope and someone suggests I take a break, I snap back, “I don’t need a break, I need things to be better!” Escaping is not resting. The problem still exists when the break ends.

Jesus 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” (Matt. 11:28-29). Jesus does not say, “Treat yo self.” He also does not tell us to take a break. He says to come to him because he has the power to make things better.

During the Christmas season we sang the words,

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.

Notice the line right before “Let us find our rest in Thee.” Why is it that we find rest, true rest for our souls, in Jesus? He releases us from fears and sins—those things that make it impossible for us to treat ourselves to the rest we need. Jesus treats us to rest by lifting those burdens.

Kids or no kids, job or no job, we all have restless hearts. I pray, whether we are on a break or in our regular routines, that Jesus gives us true rest in him.

Photo Credit for Featured Photo: Mom Lindsay Hartsock photographed her daughter Jillian, 13, dressed as a ‘tired mom’ for Halloween. (The Hartsocks’ Photography)