Simcha Fisher: “Emotional Rest” is our duty and our salvation

A detail from a ‘St Dymphna’s Fire,’ by Jen Wojtowicz, whose work is available at etsy.com

As Christmas looms closer, every mum, priest, teacher, baker and choir director I know is one cookie away from a full blown nervous breakdown. There is just so much work to do! Some of it is self-inflicted and avoidable, but much of it is just stuff that has to be done. And it is exhausting.

Here’s an excellent article by Liz Schleicher at Catholic Sistas: Rest, Don’t Quit. It’s one of those rare essays that not only puts forward valuable ideas, it anticipates the reader’s objections and then answers them. I urge you to read the whole thing. It’s short and practical, well worth your time.

I was especially taken with this sentence: “If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.” Schleicher says,

In our increasingly extreme society, we imagine the opposite of working is quitting. We envision our lack of participation equates to sinful laziness and apathy, our families and finances falling apart.

But resting is completely necessary to our well-being, and to our ability to keep on working. Observing the sabbath is actually one of the commandments – one that busy, modern people of good will have a hard time taking seriously.

We often think of rest in terms of physical breaks – actually lying down, putting our feet up, breathing slowly, maybe cracking open a beer. While rest like this is vital, it’s at least as important to take a break from emotional drudgery and chaos. This year, I’ve been working on taking emotional breaks.

Boy, does that sound bogus! Catholics don’t have time for squishy, feel-good nonsense like that! We’re too busy with the salvation of our souls to worry about – ptui – “emotional rest,” right?

Well, let me tell you. When I’m emotionally exhausted, I’m intolerable. Completely intolerable. Even I don’t want to live with myself, so I can’t imagine how my family feels. It has come to my attention that God is actually pleased when I take care of mental health, because (a) God loves me, and (b) when I’m mentally healthier, it’s easier for me to care for other people, which is the best way to serve God.

So, here are some tactics I’ve developed for “resting” emotionally. The first two are going to sound a little squishy, but stay with me. This stuff works.

Get back to your stupid feelings later. Someone annoys or disappoints you, and you knew from experience that you’re going to be upset about it for a while, and then feel guilty for being upset because it wasn’t a big deal, and why can’t you just get over it, gosh.

How do you “rest” in this situation? You take a breather before you respond. Rather than emotionally unloading right away, and rather than scolding yourself for how you feel, you tell yourself, “Look, I am sad and mad about this, and I don’t know how long I will feel sad and mad. What I will do is go ahead and feel that feeling, but I will act neutral, just for an hour, because I can do that for an hour. Then I will revisit the situation and figure out what to do from there.”

Very often, things look different an hour later. Maybe in an hour, the person who hurt you will even realise their mistake, and will make amends. Maybe you’ll realise that peace is currently more important than justice. Maybe you’ll be ready to address the situation in a manner that is rational and productive, rather than harsh and eruptive. Or maybe you’ll go right back to being sad and mad, but at least you gave it a shot!

Coast for a time on other people’s behaviour. Another way of “resting” in the midst of emotional upset: Say you’re in a tough situation, but you’re the only one who’s freaking out. Are you the only one who understands what’s really happening? Or are you just some kind of emotional sissy, lagging so far behind that you don’t even know what you don’t know, and everyone is just politely averting their eyes as you load your emotional baggage into someone else’s cart?

Here’s how you can “rest” and take a load off: Make a conscious decision to mirror the behaviour and responses of people you admire. Feel whatever you’re gonna feel, and don’t castigate yourself for that; but take a spin in someone else’s emotional vehicle for a while, and see how it feels. Sometimes behaving in a certain way, even if it doesn’t feel natural, will engender an emotional response that you like better than your first impulse, and it will be easier to act the way you want to act.

These are basic behavioural responses that anyone can try, and they may or may not work for you. But here is a third tactic, something that we, as Christians, are privileged to have recourse to:

Take a “rest” by turning every tiny little thing over to God.  Good things, bad things, confusing things, all of it. Things you can say to Him:

“You see how she is? What am I supposed to do about that? You tell me.”
“Oh, how beautiful. Thank you.”
“Hey, did you catch that? I didn’t do too bad, eh? Thanks. I know that was mostly You. Fine, all You.”
“Are you kidding me? Here, you take this, because I don’t want it.”
“Well, I sure screwed that up. Please guide me. Remind me You are here.”
“INCOMING.”

These tactics can make any day more “restful” because you’re not carrying this stuff alone. If you try these tactics, you are giving yourself (or accepting from God) a vital emotional “rest” from getting to the bottom of everything, from coming to the definitive interpretation of everything, from figuring out how every event relates to every other event in your life.

More often than not, it is your attitude toward your problems, and not the problems themselves, that are truly overwhelming. By taking an emotional rest, you’re saying, in a sense, that these things are just not your problem, at least not right this second: They’re God’s problem. You’re dealing with them one minute, one hour, or one day at a time, and never trying to deal with them by yourself.

It may feel unnatural and useless at first, but the more you do it, the more aware you will be that there is someone alongside you, doing most of the heavy lifting. Like any new skill, offering things up takes practice, so don’t be discouraged.

No Catholic would consider it “laziness” to offer a problem (or a joy) up to God; but are we taking full advantage of what it really is: an opportunity to rest? As it it says in the Mass, “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation always and everywhere to give You praise.” Our duty, and our salvation, to praise God, to speak to Him, to lean on Him, to give our lives over to Him.

In other words, yes, it is an obligation to offer things up to God; but the reason God obligates us to do it is because He loves us, and wants to help us. He wants us, among other things, to get a little rest; and He’ll even help us do it.

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