I’m kind of into lifting weights. There’s something about getting under the bar and pushing it or pulling it around that makes me feel awesome. Top of the world. Strong.
But what I hate about lifting is the resting.
If you’ve spent any time doing weight training you know about the disappointment of rest. After every set you have to stand there for anywhere from 60 seconds to five minutes resting. And you just stand there. In the squat rack or on the bench checking your timer over and over to see when you can do another set. You know you can’t crank off set after set right in a row but that waiting period is kind of the worst.
And then there’s rest days. Whole days when you just wait for the next day because you can go and lift again. Rest days are kind of the worst – because even when you’re sore you just want to get back in there and throw some weight around.
It’s funny, because the way I feel about rest periods when lifting is not so different from how I feel about rest periods in ministry. I’m not one of those people that refuses to rest – I’m actually pretty good about honoring the Sabbath in my life, about taking a few days away when my heart is exhausted. Years ago I had a mentor that really pushed me on the rest piece, so it’s something I’ve always done pretty well at.
But I don’t really like it, if I’m honest. I wish my frail human body and brain was capable of working all the time. Producing all the time. But I’m just not.
So here are a few things that I know to be true about rest especially as I’ve learned from lifting:
1. Growth happens in the rest period.
Spend ten seconds googling the biology of building muscle and you’ll immediately find a forum of big boys telling you it’s not about the lift as much as it is about the rest.
The goal in lifting is to create trauma for the muscles. You want those tiny tears in the muscles that cause soreness. But it’s only in the repair of those tears that muscle grows. And the tissue can’t repair if you don’t rest.
The big boys at the gym, the ones with biceps bigger than my head, might work a muscle group once a week. They’ll spend a whole day just working their chest and shoulders and won’t revisit that area for a week – because growth happens in the rest period.
It’s been the same way in my life. I find that I grow spiritually more in my ‘rest periods’ than I do in my hard work periods. This usually looks like seasons for me. Often when I feel God is speaking new things to me and putting me in new places, there’s a lot of activity happening (like lifting) and it is exciting. But when I look back at the seasons where I felt God was silent, where I felt very alone and everything seemed too still – that’s when I was actually growing a lot. Because growth happens in the rest period. I love how the human body so often is a physical allegory of what God does in us spiritually. And just as that physical muscle tissue is repairing in the times of stillness, I believe the Holy Spirit works quietly in our hearts, repairing us, building new, stronger connections during those times of stillness.
2. Inspiration happens in the rest period.
Do you know what I do when I’m resting between sets? I look around the gym. I take in my environment. I watch people pushing weight that is ten times what I imagine I will ever be able to do. I watch their form. I learn from them. I get motivated to push out my next set because I see what I could be if I don’t quit.
When we have our nose in our work all the time, it’s hard to find inspiration. We need periods of rest so we can look up and look around and see what other people are doing. We need to see people who are further along. It helps us see what we could be, and it gives us an idea of how we can get there.
The Broadway musical “Hamilton” has blown up in the last couple years. I am obsessed (obsessed!) with the soundtrack. I’m also a little bit obsessed with the musical’s writer, Lin-Manuel Miranda. I consider the man to be a creative genius (seriously who reads a biography of Alexander Hamilton and writes a hip-hop based Broadway musical off his life?!)
I love following Lin on Twitter, and one day he said this, which was a wake up call for me:
Coming up with new ideas doesn’t happen if we are constantly looking at ourselves in the mirror, checking our own form, just so proud of the weight we are lifting. We need to take space, breathe, look up, look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now (told you I was obsessed).
3. What you do in the resting period matters.
Another thing the big boys say is that you need to stay focused in that time you’re resting. They say you need to not check Facebook or be texting while you rest between sets. Instead, you need to ‘keep your head in the game’ – you need to sit there and think about what your body just did and what it’s about to do. Most importantly, you need to sit still and not move weight around during that time.
Yep, that translates too. On those days off, you need to unplug and let yourself think about rest. You need to reflect on what has been accomplished, and yeah, reflect on what’s coming next.
But don’t move that weight around today. Let yourself dream. Let yourself visualize things. Let yourself consider how in your last set you succeeded or maybe you failed. But now is the time for resting.
And don’t you cheat those days off and keep working, or you simply won’t grow.
(Also, if you care, this is the lifting program I’m using currently. I am awesome and super strong. For a girl. )