Ruth Haley Barton has devoted a good portion of her work and life to the idea of rest and spiritual transformation. Co-founder and president of the Transforming Center, Ruth is a spiritual director, retreat leader, and author of numerous books on spiritual transformation, including Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, Invitation to Silence and Solitude, and Longing for More (all IVP). She knows the power of rest.
But it wasn't always that way. For years, Ruth was a performance-driven, type-A personality who rarely took a break. Until one woman's evaluation of her turned her life upside down and put her on a path that gave her a much sought-after peace and reprieve. It's been a bumpy journey, she admits, but ultimately, she realizes that the discipline of rest is exactly what God desired for her—and for all of us.
TCW: We hear a lot about having a balance between work and rest. But rest as a spiritual discipline?
Yes! Rest helps us honor the limits of our existence as human beings. Many of us want to pretend that we're not human, that we don't have any limits, that somehow we're Superwoman. We do have limits.
The spiritual journey takes stamina. Standing in the presence of the living God, dealing with the questions of our lives, allowing God to challenge us, and following his calling when that calling involves risk—all of those things take stamina.
When we're exhausted we simply can't engage the spiritual journey fully. Elijah is a good example. Elijah was depleted, depressed, and ready to quit (1 Kings 19). He told God he wanted to die and then promptly fell asleep. An angel came to guide Elijah into eating and drinking and resting some more. "Otherwise," the angel said, "the journey (into God's presence) will be too much for you."1