A walk on a cool, winter afternoon can be bracing. The crisp, cool wind blowing along the street pierces straight to the bone. The extremities of your face stiffen as the chill reaches them. Green needles wave on pine branches as the wind passes through them. A single sentence passes into my mind, on this 15th day of March, “Now is the winter of our discontent.” When will it be made into a glorious summer? I ask.
Most of America is experiencing a late winter this March. It snowed here in the south, in North Carolina, this week. But is winter a time of discontent? Should it be?
All of life is filled with seasons that constantly constrain and teach us. I wake up each morning, rested and filled with the energy needed to take on the day. By mid-afternoon, I am at my finest, tackling tasks and accomplishing goals with reckless abandon. By evening, I begin to slow, ready to enjoy the fruits of my daily labors. When night comes, I am ready to crawl back into the warmth of bed and the covering of my blankets to rest up for the next day. It is a cycle of work and rest, work and rest.
The seasons of the year are similar. When spring arrives, I am filled with the energy needed to take on the year ahead, with all of its projects and assignments and responsibilities. By summer, I am at my finest, taking on whatever life has to throw at me. By autumn, I begin to slow, ready to enjoy the fruits of my annual labors. When winter comes, I am ready to crawl back into the warmth of office and home to await the return of the spring. It is a cycle of work and rest, work and rest.
Life follows the same pattern. When childhood comes, I am filled with the energy and curiosity to take on life. By adulthood, I am at my finest, equipped with all of the knowledge and skills needed to succeed. By the time I pass the midpoint of life, I begin to slow, ready to enjoy the fruits of my life’s labors. When the end comes, I am ready to return to my King and await the eternal life He has prepared for me. It, too, is work and rest.
Seasons of learning come to us and our children in like form. There are times when we are full of energy and curiosity to learn any new thing that comes our way. There are times when we have the confidence to learn because we understand its role in life. There are times when we want to slow down and enjoy the fruits of our learning. There are even times when we want to crawl into the warmth of hibernation and rest.
In just the same way our bodies tell us when to wake up and work and when to crawl into bed and rest, and in just the same way the weather patterns tell us to get up and go or stay home, grab a mug of tea, and sit before the fire, our minds tell us we need to slow down the pace and contemplate what we’ve learned. The mind’s message, though, is easy to drown out, easy to ignore, easy to forget.
We aren’t allowed to rest our minds. Minds don’t need rest the way bodies do. If we aren’t told this explicitly, then we are allowed to believe it implicitly. What is the purpose of rest, leisure, and contemplation? Do you rest up to recover for the next cycle of work? Or do you work in order to make time for rest and leisure? It is an interesting question, and it very likely isn’t an either-or. God rested on the seventh day, after His labors. But the seventh day for God was the first (full) day for Adam. God rested after His work. Adam rested before it. Adam was given time to contemplate (and that contemplation led him to see the need for a helper—as well as to name the animals) before his work of tending the garden began.
Our bodies, the seasons, and our minds have to remind us to rest, to take leisure, to contemplate, because we would ignore them otherwise. We should, however, be working for the sake of leisure. Our children, too, should be learning for the sake of leisure. We need to provide for them times of intense and rigorous study, times of sensory overload for their insatiably curious minds. Then we need to give them what is rightfully theirs: time for rest and leisure to contemplate all they’ve learned. They too need evenings and nights, autumns and winters, and not just for their tired little bodies but also for their curious minds, ever desirous to know and to learn.
This natural cycle of life is a natural cycle of learning. Embrace those times when your body, your life, and your environment are telling you to slow down and rest. Embrace those times when your children and students and environment are telling you to slow down and rest. Some books can’t be raced through. Some ideas can’t be checked off. Some truths can’t be left untended.