I usually glance up and down the trail before I do it, because it looks, I don’t know, kinda weird (ya think?). But it’s rare that I take a mountain trail without at least once sticking my nose into the crevice of the bark of a pine tree in search of its unique fragrance. It doesn’t smell like pine – that comes from the needles and the sap. The bark fragrance smells to me like vanilla. Others describe it as cinnamon, or fresh-baked cookies. Ever since an outdoorsy friend told me about it (thanks, Paul), it’s become a regular a part of my hikes. Yeah, it’s strange. But it’s worth it (and if you don’t believe me, here’s a link to an NPR article that vouches for me – with a picture that looks as crazy as mine).
If I hadn’t learned how to rest, I never would have discovered the vanilla fragrance of pine bark. And my life would have been poorer for it.
On a snowy mountain Sabbath Hike this afternoon (the pics are from that hike), I spent time thanking the Lord for the benefits of over 6 years of regular, intentional, contemplative, Christ-centered rest. Included on that list was a host of experiences that I would have missed if I had never embraced this gift. I didn’t see many of these benefits coming, because like the fragrance of bark, I didn’t even know they existed. I had no idea what I was missing.
When I rest, I notice the fingerprints of God in my world. I take time to connect the dots of my life, to tie together the often-frazzled strings that drift in the wake of my hectic schedule. I slow down long enough to feel the breeze on the back of my neck, and to hear the music that God built into His creation. I walk with Him, enjoy Him, think big thoughts of Him, bring the tough questions to Him.
None of this happens when I’m on the hamster wheel. You know what that wheel is like. Lots of running, lots of energy expended, but little sense of progress. Plenty of sweat, but only occasional (and usually temporary) satisfaction.
I’m so glad that Jesus invites us to step off the hamster wheel. After His disciples returned all excited about the great impact they had made when He sent them out two by two, Jesus didn’t send them back out right away to “seize the moment,” to leverage the earlier successes, to take things to the next level. No, He told them to “come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31).
“Come with me … by yourselves … to a quiet place … and get some rest.” These are the words of Jesus.
Do we dare to claim them as our own? For a long time, I didn’t. They were for the far-distant past, or the far-distant future. They were a nice theory, something I was supposed to look forward to, some day.
Now, I look forward to them next week. And every week after that one. Because I’ve recognized that He created us for a healthy cycle of work and rest. I finally learned that rest is a gift, not an obligation, and that good things happen when I embrace it.
So go ahead. Go with Him to a quiet place. Get some rest. Connect the dots. Think big thoughts.
And while you’re at it, stick your nose into the bark of a tree. You never know what you’ll find.
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