A sleeping child is one of the most beautiful sights to behold. There is something about the relaxed expression and peace that touches us. Perhaps it is also because there is often a struggle to reach that victorious point of rest for tired parents. Children need to sleep, but all of us know, whether we have our own children or not, what a battle this can be to achieve.
The Bible has a lot to say about rest. This is not about sleep, but a rest that begins with trusting Jesus, and will be one day fully realised when he returns and sets all things right. We can catch the smallest glimpse of that heavenly rest in the face of the sleeping child or the memory of a good holiday. We also glimpse it in times of prayer or upon hearing God’s word, when we freshly appreciate the lavish grace of God in the gift of his Son, and how complete and free our salvation is.
Rest is both wholly ours in Christ now, and is also ‘not yet’. So, what kind of rest can we currently have? It is something physical, as we need sleep and holidays and time off, and yet, it is also more than that. We need to spend time in God’s word and in prayer amongst his people, reminding each other of God’s promises of life in Christ, of his presence with us and the eternal joy to come. There is rest in reorienting ourselves to God’s bigger picture, as the Psalmist writes, ‘yes, my soul, find rest in God’ (Psalm 62:5a).
There are plenty of articles on avoiding burn out and the importance of rest for parents or ministry workers. But it is also worth thinking about how we can start children on the right track, rather than trying to fix things when it all goes wrong. The more I think about this, I realise there is so much to consider! So here I am making just two suggestions about how we might start teaching our kids to rest well:
Learning to say ‘yes’ to rest
In a culture that offers us more than we could ever need both in possessions and opportunities, saying ‘no’ is a necessary life skill. It means we can say ‘yes’ to better things. Saying ‘no’ comes from a level of self-control that can master our desires and chooses to trust in God. This might look like saying ‘no’ to an activity that leaves no time for rest, reflection, time with friends and family.
So how can we help as leaders and parents? One way is by listening and respecting when children say no. If we listen when the choices are small and insignificant, we will be in the habit of listening when bigger choices are made. I’m not saying we should give young people more choice or responsibility than their age warrants. As adults, we are an external form of ‘self-control’ until they are old enough to have acquired the internal discipline to make wise decisions. We can talk with children about why we make certain choices as parents and leaders, explaining why we say no to some opportunities, and yes to others.
This is one of those times when it is so valuable to have others within the church family speaking into the lives of young people. A powerful example from my own life is the young Kids Church leader who explained to my 8-year-old why she chooses to attend church on Sunday, instead of playing representative sport. Saying no is only one skill among many, but it is a necessary one to turn away from workaholism and consumerism and ‘yes’ to better things.
Encouraging rest in daily Bible reading
One of the activities at Square 1, a camp for primary aged children run by Youthworks Ministry Support Team, is ‘Me & God time’, where the children spend half an hour alone with a Bible and God. Leaders remain close by and there are suggested readings with guided questions and activities.
After Square 1 we received the most wonderful and positive feedback about ‘Me & God time’. Parents and leaders are constantly amazed at how happily their children embrace the opportunity and how much they get out of it. One parent even shared how she had caught her 9-year-old son reading his Bible by torchlight under the sheets at night in the week after camp! He had heard the message ‘You can read the Bible for yourself’ and was taking it seriously.
If children can read, we can be encouraging them to read the Bible for themselves. As leaders and parents, we can guide them by setting an example, answering questions, and providing a kid-friendly translation (I like NIRV or ICB). You might think that this doesn’t have much to do with rest, but remember, ‘man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4, Deuteronomy 8:3). We open the door to lasting rest when we teach our children to read the Bible for themselves and develop a habit of doing so regularly with prayer and the support of older brothers and sisters in God’s family.
These are just a few ways to start thinking more about how we teach our young people about rest. Remember, we are setting an example whether we are intentional about it or not. So, what are you currently saying to the youth and children in your family and congregation about where to find real rest?