Welcoming Rest

Have you ever taken a vacation and returned more tired than when you left? Have you ever gone to a retreat scheduled so full it felt more like an attack? Do you struggle to integrate restful practices into your daily rhythm? Caffeine culture, 24-hour gyms, second jobs, ceaseless global conflict, invisible inner battles, and apps engineered to keep us addicted all leave us unbelievably unrested.

There’s a miracle recorded in the Bible where Jesus feeds thousands of people with very little. The following are the verses that surround that story (Mark 6:30-34, 53-56):

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. 

When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed. 

Jesus and the disciples huddle up to share about what they’ve been teaching and doing and are immediately met with distraction. The crowd’s chaos deters them even from eating, so Jesus invites his close friends to a quiet place to rest. Interestingly, in their hunger he invites them to rest, not to eat. 

So, they all pile into a boat and cross the lake in search of solitude. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus and the disciples are constantly crossing the lake. You’d think after all that practice, they could get better at leaving discreetly. Instead, there were many who saw them leave, so they ran on foot to beat them to the other side. I live near a lake with a 3-mile path encircling it (much smaller than the lake in this story), and I can barely imagine a group of runners sprinting to meet me on the other side. These people are persistent. 

When Jesus and the disciples finally arrive, they are “greeted” by a large crowd. “Jesus, my daughter is sick, can you heal her? I’m blind. I’m bleeding. We’re hungry. We’re hurting. Help us! Heal us! Teach us! Feed us!” They leave in search of rest and solitude and arrive at a wave of pleas. For most, this moment would be a last straw but not for Jesus.

Jesus has compassion on the desperate crowd. He sits with them. He feeds them with the bread of life and teaches them with words of life. The disciples receive the food they need, and perhaps the rest they need, too, just not in the way they imagined. They receive rest from what gave them life. Sometimes rest looks like retreating alone to a quiet place; other times it comes through welcoming what gives us life. 

What gives you life? Notice this question is very different from, “What makes you happy?” What makes you happy is a question about individualized quick gratification. What gives you life? is rooted in long-term transformation in the context of community. The things that give us life lead to life. We rest for ourselves and for others. The disciples rest so that when they return to the other side of the lake, they have the energy to teach, heal, and love. 

The ancestors of our faith believed rest was so important that their framework for each day began with it, “And there was evening and morning on the first day” (not the other way around). When Jesus is confronted by religious leaders who want to stone a misbehaved woman, he bends down, writes in the sand, and rests with her. In another story about the disciples crossing the lake, this time in the middle of a terrifying storm, Jesus is napping. In our passage today, he sees his friends famished, tired, hungry, and so he invites them to rest. 

Two former parishioners who’d been lifelong friends were at their favorite bakery catching up over almond pastries and burnt coffee. Frank turned to his pal and asked, “Bill, we missed church last Sunday because we were out of town. What was the sermon about?” Bill smiled, took a sip, and looked up to say, “Three times a day, my spouse prepares a meal for us. I couldn’t tell you one of the meals we’ve had this week, but I know I wouldn’t be alive without them.” We might not notice our need for rest moment to moment, but in looking back we know we wouldn’t be alive without it. 

Today we’re invited to rest on the other side of the lake. We don’t know what the journey will look like or what awaits on the unknown shore, and that’s okay. There’s room in the boat for our uncertainty, our doubts, our honesty, and our exhaustion. The invitation is, “Come all who are weary” not “Come all who have everything figured out.” We only need to show up. 

Accepting the invitation to rest ultimately unlocks another: to participate in the restoration of all creation by walking in the way of love, compassion, hospitality, and justice. Where are the quiet voices I can amplify? Who are the outcasts I can draw in? When have I unfairly elevated my needs above another’s? Who in my orbit is hungry, hurting, sick, and tired? Who can I be just a little kinder to? 

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus, the one who had no place to lay his head, gives a place to lay yours. The good news is that you were not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for you. The good news is that Jesus could have been the prince of anything and chose to be the prince of peace. The good news is that a divine spark whispers from within, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.” 


Jeremy Bork is the Director of Programming and Communications at Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center, an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America, and a Spiritual Director in training through the Center for Prophetic Imagination. This blog post was adapted from a sermon he preached in 2014. 



  1. John M Widen WITH Hollis H Widen says:

    Dear Jeremy, thank you for your message today. It came at a good time. I have really been uplifted and encouraged. I appreciate you and all of the amazing staff that bring so many positive experiences to our lives, including rest and relaxation. Holly Widen

  2. Karen Johnson says:

    A refreshing, insightful reminder of our need to be mindful, self-care to be caring for others. Thankyou! Karen Johnson

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