Westmont Magazine Learning to Rest
A few months ago, Judy and I were sharing prayer concerns, and she asked me to pray for a family from the Midwest we didn’t know — friends of a friend. Their son had taken his life just weeks before he was to graduate from high school. It came as a complete surprise. He was a brilliant student, a superb athlete, and extremely successful at everything he tried. Yet only a few months before being launched into a promising college career, he called it quits. The question is, why?
My wife came up with the answer, while I was still shaking my head in disbelief (not unusual in our family). “I think he was looking for some rest, Stan,” she said. “All his life he seemed to be in pursuit of perfection. Socially, academically, athletically, he seemed to be on a quest for success. Indeed, from the outside, it appears he had found it. Only it wasn’t enough. The one thing he couldn’t find was rest. Rest from the chase. Rest from the endless pursuit. Stan, I think he needed a Sabbath.”
The minute Judy said this, I knew two things. First, that I had my next chapel talk. And second, that she was right. Not about this student, necessarily. But about me. About us. In this culture, in these days. We don’t act as if we believe in a Sabbath, for one thing. But we don’t believe in having less of anything. We think more is better. More money. More work. More play. More time doing whatever we think will ensure the good life. It never works, and we wonder why.
Every once in awhile, I’ll get the question, “Dr. Gaede, where do you think we’re failing as an institution?” For quite a few years now, I’ve had an immediate response. “We’re failing to provide the resources necessary to sustain a high quality liberal arts college. We’re people-rich and resource-poor, doing a lot with little, but impeded in our quest by what we’re lacking.” That’s a good answer. Compared to most colleges of our stature and ranking, we’ve got a modest endowment. And that means we have to work harder and smarter to excel.
But lately I’ve begun to wonder. I’m wondering if “working harder and smarter” might mean something different than we think it means. The Bible assumes we need a Sabbath of some kind. We need rest. Jesus, who criticizes the Pharisees for their overly legalistic approach, doesn’t do away with the Sabbath. He explains it. We were not made for the Sabbath, he says; the Sabbath was made for us. In other words, a day of rest is good for us. Timing, rules, setting — those aren’t the point. We’re the point. And the point is, time set aside for rest and worship is exactly what his creatures need. Like prayer, it’s not something to fit in now and then. It’s one of those “first things” that you do in order to flourish, in order to live the good life. Working harder and smarter requires rest.
Westmont students are some of the best around. Quite frankly, I love them. They are bright, eager, accomplished, and heading for success. With applications surging, we have become increasingly selective. Next year’s entering class will have SATs averaging 1260 and GPAs around 3.8. They have learned to make the grade, in other words. But have they learned the rest of the story? And will we teach it to them, by our lives as well as our words? If not, then my answer about our “institutional failing” is wrong. Dead wrong. Our problem then won’t be lacking resources, but failing to take advantage of the only Resource that matters.
David declared, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I have everything I need.” Can we? If not, then I suspect we won’t have the rest of the story, either. That’s the part about green meadows, peaceful streams, and renewed strength. And a life that honors the Creator. May it be so. For me. For us. And for our students, for the rest of their lives.