Fear at the door, Rest inside
A few years ago I heard the word “rest”. I realized how horrible I was at it. I wasn’t even sure what it was. Is it extra sleep? Is it not working on Sundays? Shortly after I heard this word, my life started changing. For one reason or another, one by one, the things I occupied myself with were stripped away until I found myself with nothing to hold onto. Two years ago I was in a panic — wondering how we were going to make ends meet. Everything in me said to get on email, get on the phone, to make the next thing happen, like i’d always done. Anyone who knows me knows I’m someone who can make whatever happen, happen, if I want to. If I don’t know how I’ll buy a book and learn. Anything i’ve ever wanted I’ve found a way to get. Then I heard the word again- “rest”. What?! Now? No. My family is depending on me. My reputation is as stake. I don’t have time for rest. I’ll rest when things are ok.
“No. That’s not what rest is.”
Rest is not something you do. Rest is something you put it on. It’s something you *are* while you do what you’re doing. Rest is a posture.
I decided to do the exact opposite thing my insides were telling me to do. I went to the back yard, sat on a chair, and watched. I didn’t know what I was watching for. I listened. I didn’t know what I was listening for. Every time a thought or an idea came to my head, I wrote it down and then resumed sitting. It was horrible! Like ignoring an itch for hours. I knew that if it was this hard for me to physically sit still, it was important for me to learn to do so. If my body couldn’t sit still it meant that my mind and my heart couldn’t either. So i decided to discipline myself to sit like that at least once per week. Eventually I did it more often. Meanwhile my professional life continued to fall apart and the temptation to “do something” about it become that much more difficult to ignore. i heard so many voices — some from friends and family, most from my own head — “you’re lazy” — “you’re being irresponsible” — “what are you doing??!!” — “it’s up to you to provide for your family” — “get up and make something happen, NOW!”. Simultaneously I heard another voice — “rest”.
“How long do I wait?”
This was the entire summer of 2014. In August I got the call from Heather about Olivia’s condition. I thought the urge to get up and do something was strong before. This was an entirely new level. But again I heard the voice say “rest”. So we didn’t look up Trisomy 18. We didn’t look for different doctors who would say something we wanted to hear. I continued to sit and stare at the fence, to quiet my body and eventually, sometimes, my mind and my heart as well. I can’t even describe the amount of Fear that was there. But I also can’t describe the difference between this time and other times in my life. It was like, in the past Fear walked in the door and I was afraid. Now it was like Fear stood in the doorway and waited to be invited in. More and more and more Fear gathered at the door, but it didn’t come in. It only waited. I could see it there. It was terrifying. But I wasn’t able to invite it in. Rest was occupying the space instead.
The moments in the hospital on January 7th 2015 — I thought Heather might die. I expected to hold our lifeless baby that morning. I knew I’d speak at Olivia’s funeral and not know what to say. It was like a nightmare. But I remember it. I was there. If she would have lived only an hour, I would have been there for that hour. Because Fear was at the door, but Rest was inside. My posture was rest, quiet, and trust. It wasn’t about making things happen. It was about watching, listening, and being there and nowhere else. I wasn’t going to miss it, as horrible as it could have been.
The first few months of Olivia’s life Fear kept congregating at the door. We thought we saw her last breath so many times. We were so sleep deprived — I passed out one day just walking across the room. At this point, I felt pretty incapable of getting up and making something happen. The doctors were clear that there was nothing we could do. Hospice was at our house every few days. I wasn’t tempted to get up and do something about Olivia. Now I was tempted to get up and work. To make sure the bills got paid. To make sure my career didn’t disappear any more than it already had. But underneath it was a stronger need — to run — to get the hell out of this situation. Work is always a good place for a man to avoid the realities of his life. It was pretty obvious that work was not to be my focus — that whatever time we had left with Olivia was to be cherished — every minute of it. But I still felt the temptation to run, more than ever. “Rest.” I continued to hold the posture. To sit. To stare at the fence. To listen quietly. I wasn’t going to miss it.
I was there the whole time. All 14 months of her life. Yes, I gave in at times and lost my posture. But I can say that the 30yr-old Nathan (5yrs ago) would have occupied himself the entire time, trying to make things happen, running like crazy *away* from the pain. No. I’d practiced for this all year. I knew how to allow the itch, the pain, to be there but not to move. I knew how to allow the voices in my head and the voices from others be there without being influenced by them. I knew how to go deeper within my self, to the place where a still and quite voice whispered the word “rest” over and over. I’d practiced the posture — the time had come to use it. I was there the whole time. I didn’t miss my daughter’s life.
This March when I got the call that Olivia had stopped breathing, I was on a bike ride with our other 3 kids. Time stopped. Jude asked if Olivia was ok and I was able to look at him and say “Yes. Even if she does die, all of us are ok.” We rode our bikes so fast. And Fear was now filling the doorway and crowded around the house and the windows and as far as the eye could see. We rode our bikes. I didn’t feel much, but the tears streaming down my face told me, today is the day. It’s finished. We kept riding.
I don’t remember getting off my bike. I’m guessing I’d never run so fast. But I’ll never forget the feeling of walking through the back porch door and seeing Heather and Olivia there. The most sinking unreal amount of pain I’ve ever felt was mixed with an equal amount of peace, beauty, and a sense of victory. After a lot of crying the only words I could say to Heather were “we did it”. We won. Olivia won. Heather won. I won. Our family won. Our community won. Yes, Olivia died, but that was never the battle we were fighting. We chose to fight Fear instead.
I don’t think I’ve experienced the rest of that day, or the next few days, or the funeral or the burial yet. I think I’m still back processing the day Olivia was born. It’s weird. I’ve never grieved like this before, but I think the Self has a way of pacing how much pain it allows in at once. I’m realizing now that we’ll be experiencing the pain and the beauty of Olivia’s life and death for a long time. I don’t know if/when we’ll ever feel normal or even functional again. But I do remember one thing about the morning after Olivia died, vividly. I remember going for a run and the feeling of Rest overwhelming me. Not happiness or excitement. I was very sad. But so much Rest. And I remember noticing how little Fear I sensed. Like it wasn’t even at the door anymore. Like the battle had ended and Fear had lost and it just turned and went home. There was no temptation to run or to make anything happen. Olivia was dead but I felt an amazing amount of rest. And trust. And quiet. And strength.
Since that day 2 months ago, Fear has returned to my door. I’ve struggled more than ever to rest. This battle is never-ending. But once you win one battle, every battle after that is different. Now you know you can win. You know what it feels like to say “we did it”, and you know you can do it again. I have a feeling the next year is going to be more difficult to rest than the previous two years were. That’s a really overwhelming thought. But I have a wife and three living kids and one sleeping daughter who need a father who knows how to rest. That’s what I will choose to do.
Fear at the door, Rest inside.