One day, in late June, I decided to start taking a walk every day. I bought a pedometer, promised myself 10,000 steps and started discovering paths. I walked my neighborhood. I walked trails near soccer parks all over Northern Virginia. I walked in Charlottesville. By the end of August, I’d walked 475 miles. I even climbed a mountain. September came, and I started to run. My body grew stronger. I got faster (but not by much). Slowly, I began to ask myself why. Why was I spending so much time covering long distances, mostly by myself?
Because every walk was a sabbath. And I was desperately in need of a sabbath.
I am the mother of a large family, a woman whose husband travels, a writer who is compelled by the industry to engage in social media. All day, every day, I am besieged by people who draw from me. Recently someone asked me how I found the time to log that kind of mileage in a summer. I replied that a younger me would have said it was a very selfish summer. The wiser me says it was long overdue self-care.
Motherhood is a 24/7 “job.” At a time when all the other mothers from the 1989 playgroup with my firstborn are now settling into empty nests, I am still doing four loads of laundry a day, homeschooling six children who remain at home and scurrying from soccer to ballet and back again. This parenting gig is a marathon, and I’ve discovered I literally need running shoes to go the distance.
In a world where email and text messaging make one perpetually available at all hours and on all days, it’s not just mothers who are struggling to find moments of rest, never mind the whole day of rest every week as our Creator intended. The old cliche about the mom who can’t even go the bathroom without her children following her? Notice how many people take their smartphones into the place where once phones rarely went.
It’s not just mothers who are on 24/7 anymore. There is a universal expectation that text messages and emails will be received as soon as they are sent. Responses are expected shortly thereafter. Recently, my husband set his email to auto-respond and let people know that he was “stepping away” from his desk for the day. Undaunted, they tried to engage anyway; his text alerts began to chime at an alarming rate. There was no stepping away.
We are hard-wired for constant interaction, and somehow our bodies have overridden the default “rest mode.” After several years of existing this way, despite my attempts to intentionally limit digital input (and output) and avoid the overscheduling of my children, I found myself feeling exhausted and, oddly, alone. I was completely out of touch with myself.
Without a sabbath, a woman feels herself slowly going a bit mad. The clamoring around her reaches a deafening crescendo, and the highways (both physical and virtual) demand increasingly impossible velocity and distance. Panic presses in, and she becomes aware, as Ghandi observed, that “there is more to life than increasing speed. “
I don’t run (or walk or hike) for speed. I run to slow down. I run to rest.
I have found that the only way to a really rest is to get up an hour earlier, lace my shoes, set my phone to airplane mode and allow only the sounds of carefully chosen music or a well-produced audiobook to invade my brain space. Then the rhythm of my feet and the feel of the outdoors — whether sticky and humid or crisp and cool — awaken me to the sense of being created, both body and soul. To move, particularly outdoors, is to appreciate that we are souls living in bodies. So often, we underappreciate the corporeal. The combination of activity and free-flowing conversation with oneself rejuvenates and restores equilibrium. An awareness of one’s body, even if the awareness includes the burning of one’s legs and the pounding of one’s heart, brings thoughts into sharper focus. Sometimes, I am sure that oxygen deprivation has wiped out my short-term memory, and I have very little recollection of what I thought along the way, despite the clarity in the moment.
But I know I had a meaningful conversation with myself. And I know that God was the only other being who heard it. So, that explains to me why I return at peace, feeling stronger, more disciplined, and more capable of meeting the challenges of the day. I have rested in the run.