It’s the kids’ bedtime and I can feel my intention for meaningful rest slipping away. I’m too weary to choose well. By the time the kids are kissed and prayed over, the dishes are done, and the dishwasher’s humming starts, I’m done too. Done. I reach for the cheap entertainment of Netflix as easily as I reach for the dark chocolate I hide in the refrigerator door. I press power and feel a deep sigh. I lose myself in someone else’s story, someone else’s creativity.
I’m an introvert and rejuvenate with quiet. Quiet fuels my ministry, my creativity, my relationships. Every evening I need a reboot button for tomorrow’s ministry so I have enough energy to fight well, to love well. I need today to be untangled so I can start fresh tomorrow. But as I sink into the couch after a day of homeschooling and ministry, I reach for the easy button, the remote.
During commercials I feel the ragged edges of my own story needing to be attended to. The worry I’m avoiding. The conversation that’s nagging. The task I pretend I can keep pushing off indefinitely. I can feel them tugging at the edges of my thoughts but push them back under the water of my conscious. They keep bobbing back up through the evening. Soon my free hours are gone. I’ve watched more than intended, always more. It’s a mild drug, but a drug all the same.
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and this is the perfect time to say “yes” to more of God and take a clear look at our present addictions. Where am I choosing death instead of life? What other lovers am I expecting to give me peace, joy, and provision? I come to repentance with Hosea 2, especially verse 14, “I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.”
I come to this Lent hungry for less hustle, more wide open spaces…for the wilderness with one Voice. I am a child of God with spiritual amnesia. I forget the bread back at my Abba’s table. This Lent I want to keep turning, keep re-turning to the table throughout the day, especially in the evening. This year I sense it is the easy decision toward the black box that is robbing me of the bread of Presence.
Now don’t get me wrong. Andrew and I bond over cheering for our favorites as they their saute their way to Top Chef. I fold laundry to Madam Secretary on Monday afternoons. But that black box can become a black hole. When I take a walk at twilight I see blue flashing lights from every front window. I know I’m not alone. So often I find that I’ve sacrificed my evenings to escapism…instead of true refreshment. Even worse: some nights I fall asleep exhausted from running after bad guys on Blue Bloods. Ever wake up exhausted and realize your subconscious has been working overtime through your dreams? It’s time for us to reclaim rest.
This week, as I’ve wrestled with a desire to reclaim my evenings, I’ve heard this simple phrase: “Set a tray again.”
Set a tray. Years ago, I learned this practical trick for preparing for rest. It’s time to pick it up again.
Why a tray?
First, I’m a simple person, a visual person. A bulleted list is not a strong enough magnet: take a bath, read a book, make a cup of tea. Lists can get lost. I need something concrete, something alluring, something to build a sense of expectation.
Second, setting a tray is just plain pragmatism. I know myself well. I need something that doesn’t require any work once I push past tired into exhaustion. By bedtime, entering into rest has to be just as simple as picking up a remote.
This is how it works. After I make my bed in the morning, I set out an empty tray. Right now it’s a simple rattan tray, a souvenir from a trip to Myanmar in seminary. Throughout the day, as I glance toward the bed, I fill it with small invitations.
Two types of things land on my tray: things that promise healthy self-care and others that draw me toward His Presence. Epsom salts with lavender to remind me to take a bath. A new candle. A painted mug from Romania WITH a Kava Kava tea bag tucked inside. A quiet book (check out the giveaway at the bottom for my absolute favorite quiet book of the moment!) Another day it might be a cooking magazine, favorite music, the butane lighter for the gas fireplace, a mug ready for hot milk with a dash of vanilla.
The first category are reminders to be present. When I connect deeply to the senses, I shut down the day’s busyness, the whir of anxious thoughts, and choose to be HERE NOW. Then, once I’ve chosen concrete presence, I can begin to look around for His Presence. As Denise Levertov penned in her poem, Flickering Mind, “Lord, not You, it is I who am absent.” I can’t skip out on my humanity, the truth of a life rooted in the senses, in order to connect with God, I must say Yes to being a creature.
I’ve also placed on the tray a journal, a Bible, a pen. It’s easy to forget, Rest is not something we do separate from God. Rest is a gift.
- “Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:2
Rest at its truest is a gift meant to reclaim us. In rest, we collect pieces of ourselves we’ve scattered and bring them all into the Presence of God. In our quiet evening hours we can practice a light version of the Ignatian Examen, a type of reclaiming. We listen to our day, to the shadows and the light.
- Can you put a finger on that anxiety, when it showed up during the day? Can you remember when you started striving? What was going on around you when you felt that anger, that fear, that grief? That surge of energy? That desire? That hunger for heaven?
- OR When did you forget that you were not in control? When did you agree with the darkness, the lie you keep swallowing? When did you run over the people around you, treat them cheaply? When did you fall into your pet sin patterns?
- OR When did you look around and remember that God was present? Where did you sense His invitation? When did you sense the edges of joy? Were there any words He spoke to your heart that you don’t want to forget?
In a reclaimed evening we allow God’s Presence to untangle the knotted nest of the day. We list the day’s gratitudes. We grapple with the day’s chaos. Then, we open up our hands to receive His invitation to true rest.
#ReclaimRest Want to share your tray? I’ll post my tray variations on Instagram/Facebook throughout Lent as a type of accountability. Want to share your tray? Use the same hashtag, #ReclaimRest or link to me on Facebook. No tray? Just share your practice of how you are reclaiming your rest.
Christie Purifoy has written the type of quiet book that is perfect for your evening hours. In her book she shares the first year of becoming the owner of a beautiful farmhouse and how the pursuit of “home” has wound its way through her pursuit of a rooted life.
Enter the giveaway! For each of these 4 actions you get another entry into the giveaway! Comment under this blogpost to tell me you’ve done one or all of the following:
- Subscribe to A Thirst for God on the homepage under the CONNECT box. Once a week, receive a practical way to become more present and more authentically pursue the with-God life.
- Visit Christie’s blog christiepurifoy.com and read her latest offering. She is a wonderful friend for the Journey and her beautiful writing is a gift.
- Follow me on Instagram: @mtrsummer and see the antics of an Anglican family of five struggling to find beauty among the chaos.
- Friend me on Facebook: Summer Gross
Linking with the always thoughtful Jennifer Dukes Lee at