Two people resting in a hammock in the forest

A Return to Rest

Jun 12, 2019

I can always tell when it’s time to retreat and rest. The signs are all too obvious: Impatience. Irritation. Easy offense and tears. I am not my best self when this happens. My emotional health is compromised, and I know it. Not to mention most everyone else knows it, too.

It all started in 2016. It was one year after my third round of cancer. And although I’d come a long way in my recovery, my mind and body felt fragile, sluggish, battered. I dove back into work and life quickly after cancer, anxious to move past the nightmare and get back some semblance of ordinary life. But by the following summer, I felt myself bumping up against my limits. I knew something needed to change.

Thus began my practice of an annual summer sabbatical. For one to two months I shut down my blog and social media accounts, set up an email out-of-office reply, and leave my computer turned off more than on.

Some warned it would be professional suicide. They were wrong. It’s been a lifeline.

So, starting next Monday, I will be offline until August. Not because I don’t care about you and the conversations we share here. But because I do. Before I go, however, I want you to consider something.

A couple weeks ago, I posted these words on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook:

I make no secret of my ongoing commitment to counseling and therapy. In fact, I’ve had the same therapist for more than a decade. Some seasons we’ve met weekly. Others, once or twice a year. ?

But, without apology, I tell you our time together has been a life-saver for me.

In response, I received hundreds of comments, texts, voicemails, and private messages. I heard from counselors and clients, neuropsychologists and patients, doctors and nurses and everyday individuals who have discovered the value of a counselor’s guidance.

But I also heard from men and women who have been hurt by those who don’t share our therapy-loving enthusiasm:

  • “Thank GOD a Christian woman sees the value in this! I have been shamed so much for seeing a counselor.”
  • Recently, a woman in Christian leadership told me a speaker/teacher should not be taken seriously is she is still in counseling and “not healed yet.”

Seriously, I wanted to reach through my computer screen and shake a few people by the shoulders. But then, at the end of the day, one courageous woman wrote and told me her story:

I wanted to thank you for your post today and affirm that you are so right to speak to the community of Christian[s] about mental and emotional health. Were it not for a great counselor and a dedicated doctor who got me on the right medication when I needed it, I truly believe I might not be here today. The counselor, trained to recognize when therapy alone isn’t working, nudged me to see my doctor again.

I didn’t want to die—I just didn’t want to live, and those are two very different things. The challenge of facing another day riddled with anxiety was crushing. Then I was depressed because I couldn’t pray the anxiety away and tormented that my faith was not enough.

Counseling let my family be my family again too—no husband, mother, sister or child can bear the burden of what a patient needs from a counselor. I felt someone understood and there was no condemnation or well-meaning-but-loaded comments from those trying to help. I found that sessions with an experienced Christian counselor strengthened my faith and I wish I had sought that type of help sooner. Thank you again for your unapologetic truthfulness. It may literally save someone’s life.

Friends, this is why I’m committed to emotional health. And this is why I’m urging you to do the same. Mental health is not optional for any of us. We have a communal responsibility to not only educate ourselves on the subject of mental health, but also to be committed to and invested in our own emotional health journey. And emotional health isn’t accidental; it must be intentional.

So do yourself and the rest of us a favor: commit to your own rest and emotional health. You don’t need a full-on sabbatical, necessarily. But allow space to breathe and think, retreat and recover. And come up with a solid plan that puts your emotional wellbeing on the calendar. No career or success is worth the compromise.

Don’t know how to get started? Here are a few ideas:

  • Journal. Even a few sentences helps you unpack what’s happening in your head.
  • Limit your devices. Or get rid of them altogether for a day or two.
  • Take a nap.
  • Engage in an extended, meaningful conversation with a friend or partner.
  • See a counselor.
  • Watch the sunrise or sunset without taking a picture of it.
  • Take a walk without music or podcasts.
  • Pray and meditate.
  • Set aside 15 minutes of quiet time every day where you don’t fill it with noise or activity. Just be.
  • Go to bed early.

QUESTION: What are the signs that indicate you need rest? And what one practice will you implement to make space for emotional health?

12 Comments

  1. Heidi Bair

    Thank you so much for this! I have been having to learn new ways to rest and take care of my emotional health since losing use of my legs one day at work a little over three months ago and finding out that the doctors think I have MS. I am needing to be very mindful at this point of everything I am doing and when I need to take a break. At this point the signs are very physical in nature, with pressure in my upper neck/base of my skull where they found the lesion on my spine, and if I don’t listen I’ve lost use of my entire body before. I have combined enough natural treatments that I’m finally making progress against this flare and have been out of a wheelchair for about five days now, but one of the big things that put me there in the first place was not resting when I needed it. I have found out the hard way the consequences of running my body into the ground, and now rest has to be a part of my daily lifestyle. And yes on counseling of some sort! No matter how it looks for each individual out there, we were created to be His Body for a reason – we were never meant to walk the path alone!

    Reply
  2. Darlene Lyons

    Thank You, Thank You, Thank You Michelle for your very important words of encouragement for us all. Our society is so ‘proud’ of themselves that we think we can handle life by ourselves–how wrong we are!!!! There is nothing wrong with seeing a Christian Counselor–but when we say that word ‘counselor’ people around us look ‘down on us.’ Their thoughts are but you are a Christian you should not need counseling.’
    How WRONG they are !!! So grateful for your choice to take a ‘break’ from your online comments–you are ONE smart lady.

    For me when the enemy comes with his temptations to distract me I am quickly reminded by the Holy Spirit to get more into His Word. I must know/learn myself and take care of myself before I can of use to anyone else.

    Reply
  3. Sandy Burch

    As so often happens with your words of grace and encouragement, you are right on time for me, Michele. Thank you.
    I have been without a counselor for 6 months now (because she retired and I couldn’t find anyone at the time). I was thinking this evening that I really need to find someone else bc I NEED to talk! Your post confirmed that God-nudge. Thank you so much.
    I will miss you but totally get your summer sabbatical. May you rest deeply and find renewed grace and greater blessings. Enjoy! ♥️?♥️

    Reply
  4. Linda Hoenigsberg

    I realized I needed rest this week when everything seemed bleak, when the future seemed too daunting and I lost my hope for the life I wanted in retirement, when I began to place blame outside of myself. I cried out to God and told him I needed help because i couldn’t seem to snap out of it. He rescued me for the thousandth time and now I feel more optimistic. But I also know I need more rest.

    Reply
  5. Bruce R. Cross

    Helpful tool = check out Dr.Leaf’s
    blog and podcast for rich content along these lines

    Reply
  6. Alicia

    So how do you go about finding a Christian counselor that would be a good match? What makes a good counselor?

    Thanks again for not only your gentle wisdom, but also for the reader who shared her story.

    Reply
    • Nicole Stephens

      I asked for recommendations from Pastors, Christian friends. I didn’t want my Dr. to refer me to ‘anyone’.
      I needed someone that could help me as an emotional brick wall had collapsed after years of pressing on. I needed someone that could pray with me and would incorporate God’s promises too!

      Reply
  7. Penelope

    Thank you so very much for this holy and timely reminder! I’ve been blessed to mother my family for over thirty years now and frankly? Some things just get *harder* as the kids get older — requiring so much better from us … I love my family so deeply but, phew, yesterday morning I was awash with teras at the breakfast table. My teens and I are doing our regular summer reset and refresh, and just in time!! Bless you for all yiu do and share with us here!

    Reply
  8. Susan Drawbaugh

    Michelle, this struck such a familiar note! You are head on with this. I found myself crying, shouting, and beyond recognition of my natural easygoing self the past few months. My adult kids individually said, ‘Mom, you’re not yourself! You need to get help!’ I knew it, and I did — ASAP. I went back to see my amazing therapist, who I hadn’t seen in about a year, and I had my antidepressant meds changed. I’ve thought of going off them, but even though I do everything to be my best self — get good sleep, eat healthy, listen to amazing positive podcasts, practice spirituality, exercise, have great communication with good friends, and keep busy creating for my illustration business none of it put me in a healthy emotional state of being for long. Once I succumbed to changing the meds and talking with my counselor I got back to my (mostly) calm self. It’s horrible to feel out of emotional control, and your advice is gold.

    Have a wonderful sabbatical for the summer!! I admire you for your choice, and would LOVE to financially be able to turn off everything and just “be”! ❤️

    Reply
  9. Nicole Stephens

    Summer break sounds fantastic! May you be refreshed and renewed as you ‘unplug’ but remained “plugged in” to Christ.

    I get so easily frustrated, louder in my voice and I want to shout and scream when completely stressed. Getting out of bed becomes an effort.

    Yet, getting up on the first alarm, eating breakfast in peace and remembering to really breathe deeply, while it doesn’t solve all the dilemmas it actually grants me a quiet peace in my mind and heart.

    Talking to a professional Christian psychologist has helped me to gain a perspective I didn’t have and has really given me something to think about.

    It gets the thoughts out of your head and into the light!

    Reply
  10. Michele

    Beautiful as always. Wise words from a woman filled with wisdom. Your reader who wrote “no husband, mother, sister or child can bear the burden of what a patient needs from a counselor,” is also wise. Very true. Very powerful.

    Reply
  11. Melissa Mashburn

    yes, yes, yesssssssssssssssssssssss — thank you for being obedient to His still small voice, but for also being an advocate for health and wholeness. I’ve been in ministry, married to a Pastor for 19 years and have been in a counselors office pretty much all 19 of those years. Ministry is tough. Life is tough. Things come and they go, but the truth of the matter is that we don’t have all the answers and we could all use some good, solid, biblical counseling to help us wade through the storms of life.

    Reply

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