What if we actually learned to rest?

Can I tell you a secret?

I was ecstatic when the kids went back to school last week after Christmas break.

This is, of course, not a shocker to you at all. But do you know why I was glad? It wasn't because my routine-craving kids were back to the routine. Or that I could sit still longer than 3 minutes without some sort of emotional or social crisis erupting among my four girls. Or even that I could go back to cooking for just myself during the day instead of having to produce food for an army every 2.3 hours.

Nope. It was getting back to work. Because I love what I do! Coaching parents, getting to launch my newest book, connecting with ministries that offer special needs parenting support. It's a great job!

Which also didn't happen, unfortunately. The flu cut my blissful return to work off at the pass.

The kids were settled into their routine and I was settled in to my thickest blanket on the couch, wishing I could knock myself out until it was over and I felt like a human again. It was this miserable stretch of 8 days that forced me to face something I've not experienced much of in the past decade: rest.

What is a mom of special needs kids (who is totally unaccustomed to free time!) to do with herself while forced to lay and wait for germs to die? This predicament left me brainstorming a list of favorite things, just in case I found myself in that situation again. . . a list I share with you, my fellow special needs parent (who probably also has forgotten how to cope with rest and free time, since the last time you experienced any, the year began with the number 19).

Some Favorite Things for Accidental Free Time:

  1. read fiction that has nothing to do with anything useful
  2. look out the window at the birds
  3. notice patterns of light on the ground made by trees above
  4. make a card for a friend
  5. file your nails so they are all the same length (instead of the usual wild-woman nails we often sport as moms)
  6. listen to Sara Bareillas's Brave or Chasing the Sun
  7. take a catnap in a patch of sunshine on the couch
  8. listen to silence
  9. stretch
  10. curl up with a cup of tea or cocoa
  11. read that book that has nothing to do with anything useful. . . in a hot bath
  12. walk outside without having to get anywhere in particular
  13. dig your toes into the plush rug in your family room
  14. read Scripture until something intrigues you or captures your heart (instead of for 15 minutes or because it's part of the daily plan)
  15. pet the cat
  16. savor details from a visit to a favorite place
  17. look through old photos
  18. listen to the sound of your own breathing

This whole list revolves around one principle: restorative time that serves no purpose, helps no others, accomplishes nothing but to simply let our minds and hearts breathe.

How often does even our recreation find a way to be useful as parents with the kinds of kids we raise? That's a lot of pressure for a human! To have to glean measurable value from time spent giving our body and soul a sabbath. To read or refresh somehow, but only if we can legitimize it with thoughts like "this will help my child," or "this will help a friend," or even "this could help someone, somewhere, someday" . . . because isn't it selfish to just let love and rest into our own hearts for a moment? To just "waste" time with God on our own because he loves us and we're exhausted?

Maybe it's time to rethink that. To consider something that fell off our radar as caregivers long ago:

What might life be like if we let ourselves actually rest?


P.S. If the idea of rest is more foreign than learning an alien language, may I recommend two resources? Jolene Philo's new resource, The Caregiver Notebook, that provides space and structure for us where we need it most so we can let go and relax when there's an opportunity. And my new book, Get Your Joy Back, written to help us as parents to let go of resentments and internal stress so we CAN relax when we find ourselves with accidental free time. :)