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Can’t Turn it Off: Rest and Resistance

July 8, 2014

**Though this post was published in July, I’m linking it up for the August #SpiritofthePoor blog round-up. As a disabled woman living with chronic illness, I’ve been thinking a lot about how rest factors in to my writing and activism for myself and others.**

Last week, I got all geared up to begin this new adventure with writing. I had plans, I tell you! Big plans. For once, I had a pile of fodder for this blog, that blog, my other blog, and for pitching to several outlets where I stand a slim chance of getting paid for writing. I was pumped. And then, a flare hit.

In case you’re new around here, I have spent the last thirty-four years battling Rheumatoid Arthritis (yes, kids get arthritis, too). The last couple of decades, my flares are worst in my hands, though I’ve had several surgeries on my lower extremities, including a total hip replacement. I’ve worked full-time, and part-time, and as a stay-at-home mom, all trying to find the right kind of work to suit my particular challenges. I’ve become convinced, over time, that somehow writing should be a part of that.

Now, here I am in all my gumption with a full brain and broken hands, and a looming sense that the world was passing me by. This is what it is to be chronically ill: unpredictably stricken and frequently thwarted. It’s one of the reasons I’ve hesitated to call myself a writer. Because of the inconsistent nature of my disease, I’m reliably unreliable.

In my everyday life, I often push through pain to get stuff done, but then I pay for it with more pain, more damage. I have a few cheats and tricks here and there that can make some tasks easier, but every day hurts. Almost every minute. Doctors telling you to “listen to the pain” doesn’t really work in my case because pain is the constant. That makes it hard to pull back and rest when I need to: the whole idea of “need to” is consistently subjugated to what I think I “have to” do to participate with my family or my community.


Tonight, I read this article on rest as an act of resistance by Rhesa Storms. She writes:

Resting may be the most countercultural and spiritual thing we can do as people who follow God.
It’s as if God knew we would have a hard time with rest. Living a crazy, busy life isn’t just a modern problem, living a crazy, busy life is a humanity problem.

From the very early dealings with his people, God desires to give them rest. That is the beauty of the fourth commandment: remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.

The word Sabbath means to stop. Full stop. Whatever you are doing, stop. Let your hands rest. Cease the constant consumption of ideas and information and products and simply be.

It is easy for us to get caught up in ourselves and begin to overestimate our own importance. So God gives us rest to set us free.

For weeks (he’d say years) I’ve been lecturing my husband on his work habits and the importance of Sabbath. I should hear myself talk. It’s hard to admit that rest is important when most of your struggles are invisible and can overwhelm you any minute: when one minute you’re hauling in groceries, and an hour later, you can’t effectively turn the steering wheel of your car. How do you stop doing when, at any time, you could be forced to stop doing? Even now, I’m typing notes for this post with swollen wrists and screaming fingers.

[Momentary internal interlude: Stop writing because this is ridiculous and you’ve caught on to your own hypocrisy here. But I have a point to make! Then get there already, lady.]

Could it be that this is a matter of trusting God? Perhaps. Sabbath usually involves relinquishing control over things we don’t really have full control over. I believe I trust Him with my success or failure here. If He leads me to this new avenue of expression, so be it. I can accept His timing on this writing gig. Truly. I know enough of Him to know that He does what He pleases the way He pleases because He always does good, even when the good hurts.

What I struggle to accept is the idea that the world ISN’T passing me by when I rest. That there isn’t some big empty scorecard or a shot clock that dwindles while I sit. I’m using sports metaphors here and they make me feel more inadequate because I don’t *do* sports. Based upon what I know from living here, not just in America, but in my own eroding bones, we value output. We value forward motion. We don’t value stop. We don’t value wait. I’ll be judged by those values. I’ve been judged by those values.

I’ve been told by people, “you’re so lazy.” “Get up and *do* something.” “All you did today was watch TV/play on the internet/talk on the phone.” “What have you even DONE today?” “It’s nice you get to lay around while the rest of us work our butts off.” I suppose to people who don’t have the luxury of forced rest, the sight of me sitting or laying down is cause for contempt or even anger. My slowness reminds them of their own hurried pace. It interrupts their agendas. Hey, I get that. It interrupts mine, and that is infinitely frustrating.

What I’m wondering though, is can I embrace the disruptive nature of my disease? As much as I enjoy being the up-front person or the woman with a soapbox, it’s always been difficult to shine a spotlight on the broken parts. I’d rather make you angry with a rant or make you laugh with a joke than invite one moment’s pity. And talking about arthritis this way, explaining how it messes things up for me and makes life hard, violates everything I’ve done in life to make all this look easy and fun. Everything I’ve done to be less of a burden on the world because the worst thing in the world is to be “needy,” or so the bootstrappers tell me. The sight of me “just laying there” is unfair, not because I’m laying there, but because they’re not. It’s unfair because we all feel pressed to live this way, as productive citizens on one big assembly line that never stops churning out who-knows-what. Laying here reminds you and me that life should be different. I shouldn’t hurt, and none of us should keep chasing after the wind.

I want to accept these limitations and frailties for myself, and see the good they can bring about in temporarily disrupting the selfishness in me and in the people in my community. It’s a risky thing to willingly become the [often unwelcome] speed bump in the lives of the people you love. But the idea that rest itself can be an act of resistance is an empowering thought. As someone who gets weary from fighting to participate in a race I cannot possibly win, it might be a nice change of pace to take the fight to bed with me. I’d like to think that as a disability rights activist, I would be more consistent in how I treat myself in this regard, but I’m not. In many ways, I’ve internalized ableist attitudes about my own worth, and that’s a whole load of crap I’ll have to keep working through, particularly if I want to set a better example for my children.

The shirt says it all.

The shirt says it all.

Perhaps I can wrap my head and hands around all that tomorrow. Tonight, the therapeutic ice packs and heating pad await.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 9, 2014 2:56 pm

    Becky, Good to read about your life and your reflections on what rest means for one with chronic physical problems. I have recently found myself in this position, and you articulated for me many of my issues and gave me some good thoughts to ponder. I appreciate you sharing.
    What I understand is this. Although I am physically limited to the point that I can’t spend too much time even at a computer, the urge to be productive is at work in me and so my attempt to do something along with dealing with my body results in full days of work, even though there is little evidence of productivity. And thes full days of “work” require that I rest from this work. When it looks to others that I am resting all the time, taking a day of rest is hard to justify, to myself and to others, yet that is what Sabbath means.
    So I appreciate very much your reflections, and your sharing them with us. Good work. Now rest, you deserve it. Newell

  2. August 11, 2014 5:03 am

    We do value output. For sure. I’ve been judged by those values as well. And have judged others by those values as well. It is genuinely countercultural to value rest — as an act, rather than a failure to act — and it’s incredibly powerful. Here’s to a life not spent chasing after the wind, and I’m glad you linked this up with #SpiritofthePoor.


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