Having been back at work a week now, my mind turns to stress and relaxation.
The cruise we’ve just returned from in the South Pacific was wonderful. I had a “hot stone” massage on the first day which did wonders for all the built up tension in my neck and shoulders, I caught up with sleep, I got in some reading and meditation, and I’m left with warm memories of snorkelling with my eldest son for the first time amongst the tropical fish of Mystery Island and the Isle of Pines.
Yet, though I’ve been back only a week, I already feel my shoulders tensing up again. I enjoy my job, but there are inevitable pressures that come along with it. Having been reminded what relaxation feels like however, I’m keen to get back to a more disciplined mediation practice. But what does that look like?
Most writings on Christian mediation tend to focus on “insight meditation”, on developing greater awareness of God (and relationships to God). That’s all fine if insight is what you’re after, but what if you’re after healing and release from stress? What might a Christian approach to “relaxation meditation” look like?
Like always, I find discernment begins with the scriptures, with the teachings God has already revealed through many people in many ways.
Initially this may sound like a pointless exercise as “stress” and “relaxation” is never mentioned explicitly in the Old and New Testaments. And yet, as I’ve looked closer I’ve notice that there’s plenty of teaching about “stress” and “relaxation” … just not in those words. Consider, for instance, what the prophets, the apostles and the Messiah said about “rest” and “restlessness”:
Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
1 Kings 5:4
But now the LORD my God has given me rest on every side, and there is no adversary or disaster.
I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.”
Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.
So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”
Return to your rest, my soul, for the LORD has been good to you.
All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
1 John 3:19
This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence:
Note the holistic nature of this rest. It is rest of body, heart, mind and soul. It is often associated with restoration. And its absence is considered a curse. Rest is not self indulgence, indeed selfishness is the enemy of authentic rest. Rest is a blessing, something to be looked for – and found – in God.
But notice some of the other words associated with rest and restlessness – peace, quietness, turmoil, burdened – these also speak to stress and relaxation as we know it. Consider searching deeper into the scriptures:
Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart.
Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.
The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.
1 Peter 3:4
Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.
The fear of the LORD leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
1 Timothy 6:6
But godliness with contentment is great gain.
So, as I meditate, I will meditate on these words from the Word.