Giving Up the Shoulds and Coulds

We know it when we experience rest, but specific definitions of rest are
complicated. Rest could be sleeping, reading a book, planting a garden, or creating
a delicious dinner for friends. My pastor once told me that he finds it restful to put
on headphones, listen to the Cubs game, and cut the grass in the summer. Being a
pastor, he spends most of his time listening, counseling, engaging with people,
and when he’s not doing that, he’s reading or writing. It’s understandable that he
enjoys moving his body, even mowing the lawn, and silencing other voices with
headphones. On the other hand, a landscaper might find rest in reading a book.

Physically, we all need rest, and without it, our bodies complain. Going a bit deeper
into emotions and intellect, we crave a break from challenging work, difficult
relationships, worry, and anxiety.

But spiritual rest for our souls is under it all.

My favorite way to begin a day is to wake up early, warm up my body by slipping
my sweatshirt over my head, wake up my mind by making a cup of green tea, sit in
my comfy chair and open the Bible. I wish I could say that I greet every day in
such a deliberate, purposeful manner. There are days when I’ve jumped in the
shower, listened to the Bible while putting on makeup, run out of the house with
my trusty green tea in a Yeti, and pray in the car.

Is one of those days more spiritually restful than the other? My mind conjures
images of godly people up way before dawn, never rushing through their Bible,
writing profound thoughts, and communicating deeply with the Father. I fall well
short of that depiction. Can I be spiritually rested when scrambling through a day?

The short book based on Ephesians, Sit, Walk, Stand by Watchman Nee, points out
that God rested after he created the universe, but man was created on the sixth day
and had no part in creation. So, God’s day of rest was man’s first day of life. God
did everything necessary for us before we even took a breath. “The Christian’s
secret is his rest in Christ . . . We sit forever with Christ that we may walk
continuously before men” (p. 34). (Italics mine.)

Ephesians begins with these beautiful words, “Praise be to the God and Father of
our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every
spiritual blessing in Christ” (v. 3). It goes on to say that we were chosen, we are
seen as holy and blameless, we have been adopted as his sons and daughters,
redeemed, forgiven, and sealed by the Holy Spirit. This was all given to us “in
accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom
and understanding” (v. 8).

Perhaps God wants us to rest in what he has done for us instead of trying to check
the boxes of what we think we should do for him. When l give up the shoulds and
coulds—the ways I think I should approach God and the knowledge that I could
have a restful time with God every morning—I experience profound spiritual rest.
When we honestly rest in all that God has done for us, when we realize that he’s
done everything that matters for us and the best we can do is to humbly recognize that truth, then we are in a good place from which to walk through our days with

Spiritual rest is more a settled attitude, deep in our souls, than a spiritual discipline.
Spiritual disciplines assist us in relating to and humbling ourselves before God, and
I use many of them, but even those wonderful practices can become rote and
devolve into self-serving actions.

As a writer who has spent years teaching the beautiful truth that is found in the
Bible, I can easily move from soul-nourishing Bible reading to purposefully
scouring the text for a new angle or an interesting idea for an article. When that
happens, I am not depending on Christ but behaving like it’s all up to me.

If I have a lovely quiet morning, but make it all about what I need, I have not
rested in Him. But, even on my not-so-calm mornings, if I remember that God has
done it all for me, that I can’t come up with words that mean anything worth
reading without him, I can take a deep breath, and then another one, relax my rigid
shoulders, and face the day with a smile. I can rest.

Yesterday, a Sunday in December, I enjoyed a short devotion, my husband and I
went to church where I genuinely worshipped—not always the case—and spent my
afternoon flipping through magazines and finishing a novel while my husband
watched football. In the evening we drove to our grandsons’ energetically done but
chaotic Christmas program. It was a delightful day, and we didn’t once consult our
to-do lists, even though there is plenty to do.

It was physically, emotionally, and spiritually restful.


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Judy Allen
Latest posts by Judy Allen (see all)

5 thoughts on “Giving Up the Shoulds and Coulds

  1. Judy – how often I start my day with obligation instead of appreciation for the One “who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Grateful for this redirect on where we TRULY find rest for our souls. Thank-you!!!

    • Same here, Nichole. Too often I am consumed by what I have to or want to do and don’t bother to remember that God has done everything for me. When I do remember, it’s a restful relief!

  2. Judy, Such timely words for me! In January, I typically get stuck in the goals/intentions/dreams for the new year, and this includes my desires for Bible reading, prayer time, and meditation. I begin with so much energy and purpose. And success! And then real life enters and *ahem* disturbs my to-do list. I have learned to let go most of the time, but I needed the reminder today. Your words, “Perhaps God wants us to rest in what he has done for us instead of trying to check the boxes of what we think we should do for him” hit home. Thank you again for wisdom.

    • It seems too easy to rest in what God has done for us, doesn’t it? I often feel like I should contribute more, that I haven’t done enough, but that’s a self-evaluation based on cultural standards. God’s standards are simply to do what he asks. Period. How often I need to remember that! Thanks for taking the time to comment, Beth.

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