The Time God Sidelined Me To Teach Me About Rest

Jana Carlson

Jana Carlson

It blindsided me.

The day before a speaking engagement in December 2013, I passed out. No warning. Wham! On the floor. 

We scheduled an appointment with my doctor (whom I couldn’t see until after the holidays).

All I Want For Christmas…

And then I chipped my two front teeth. Yes, at Christmastime, I chipped my two front teeth. (Feel free to insert the legendary song here.)

Nerves were exposed. We had to call my dentist in from his vacation to do emergency dental work. Over the course of the next year, I would have 2 root canal procedures done, as well as another major dental surgery.

A Perfect Storm

Before the much-anticipated doctor appointment arrived, I passed out again, this time hitting my head very hard on our marble countertop. I had a concussion.

I had bronchitis, chipped teeth, severe fatigue, a concussion, intermittent vertigo, infections, and various other seemingly minor health issues.

I felt like I was just done. I didn’t want to move. Breathing was work.

Prescription = Rest

Finally I saw my doctor. I was sent for testing, but I was also put on bed rest.

There were days when it was a huge victory to get dressed in the morning and make my way to the recliner before 10:00 AM.

Keep in mind: I am a wife and mother of 3 children. In that particular season, I was leading a women’s ministry, assisting the head of all women’s ministry in our church, volunteering at school, managing our household, cooking all our meals, and working part time. Rest didn’t fit well into my lifestyle.

My month and a half on bed rest was a dark, dark season for me.

My Responsibility

I like productivity. I love making something happen, having an impact, making a difference in the lives of those around me. I want my life, my days, my moments to matter. Not for my own glory, but for God’s. He is everything to me. He is what I live for. He brings me joy, gives me breath, sustains me, comforts me, provides for me, encourages me, counsels me, loves me unconditionally, makes me laugh, delights in me and brings me delightful surprises of my own. He makes life worth living. And I want everyone around me to enjoy that, too.

I have a tendency to feel that I haven’t done enough. It’s not that I feel I need to earn God’s favor. It’s that I want to do as much as possible for Him. For His glory. For those I love and care about.

Truth: It’s largely pride. It’s a sense of thinking everything is up to me. It’s up to me to bring God glory. It’s up to me to change lives.

Ha! What an outrageous lie! And yet, this is how I often find myself living… driven by this sense of impossible responsibility.


God had been trying to teach me about rest for years. At times, I thought I was taking time to rest, but I was fooling myself. It wasn’t real rest.

Rest is as much a condition of our hearts as it is a cessation of activity.

And I was rest-resistant.

So, by His grace and in His mercy, God gave me no choice. He put me on bed rest.

And I didn’t rest for most of that time in the recliner. I fought Him. I resisted His will with every fiber of my being. I tried so hard to find ways of being useful from that chair. I sought to control things from my seat, pridefully hoping to prevent inconvenience to my friends and family.

Conviction & Surrender

On one of my darkest days, I got real and raw and ugly with God. I wept and poured out my heart to Him and told Him how much I hated being useless. And what good was it doing Him to have me stuck in that chair?

Our Father is so patient with us. He gently convicted me of my pride and my rebellious heart.

Do Nothing For God

And then He asked me, “Are you willing to obey Me?”

“Yes!” I replied, as eager as Peter ever was.

And He asked, “Are you willing to do whatever I ask you to do?”

“Yes!” I replied, thinking now was going to be my big chance to do something for God!

And He said, “I want you to do nothing.”

… … … awkward silence … … …

Why would He want me to do nothing? I didn’t want to do nothing!

Faithful Stillness

Faithfulness to God is not necessarily action, accomplishment, impact, or influence. It’s not always a tangible, visible thing for others to gawk at.

1 Samuel 15:22 reminds us that “to obey is better than sacrifice.” If God asks me to do nothing, doing nothing is better than doing something (no matter how admirable that something might be).

Invited To Rest

Jon Bloom wisely wrote, “Jesus often calls us to rest in the areas of life where our flesh wants to work, and to work in the areas of life where our flesh wants to rest.”

Jesus invites us to rest in Matthew 11:28-30:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Receiving the rest Jesus offers requires humility. We must be willing to submit to His “yoke”. It requires trust… We must trust Him completely, “hand him back the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil — ceasing the evil work of trying to be like God… we must cease considering ourselves our own (1 Corinthians 6:19–20)” (Jon Bloom, again).

Rest Is A Good Thing, A God Thing

During my “forced sabbatical”, it became clear to me that my resistance to rest was an expression of pride. As I repented, my heart grew to long for the kind of rest Jesus calls us to.

Our Father designed and created us to rest. He commanded and invited us to rest (Exodus 34:21, Hebrews 4:1-11). He set the example when even He rested (Genesis 2:3, Mark 6:31).

Rest is an act of faith and obedience. It keeps things in perspective, reminds us that we don’t hold the world together, that we are finite beings. Rest keeps us humble. But it’s also a gift, an encouragement, a time of refreshment to our weary minds and bodies. It’s a God-ordained part of the life of a faithful follower of Christ.

The Road To Recovery

After months of testing (resulting in a diagnosis of severe adrenal fatigue, anemia, and concussion) and medication (so much that, for a while, it felt like a full-time job to keep it straight), I began to heal. In total, it took me two whole years to start to feel relatively “normal”. It was over a year before I could exercise. Our family had to reevaluate our schedule, how we eat, what activities we engage in, our social lives, our hospitality, our ministries, etc. I had to completely alter my lifestyle.

Today, I am still on some medication, and probably will be forever (unless God miraculously heals my body). But I’ve learned to manage my weak, broken physical body largely by obeying God’s command to rest.

God wants my heart more than He wants my frantic productivity. The rewards of rest are so much better than the result of rebellion. The frailty of my body keep me reliant on the strength of the One Who gives me each breath, and that is what gives Him glory.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)

I can truly say that I’m grateful God “benched” me. Learning more about the breadth, length, height and depth of the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:14-19), by His grace alone, has been the most precious gift. The rest that’s found in the surrender to His will is a rest unlike any other.

In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. (Isaiah 30:15)

8 Responses

  1. Hi Jana, I’m pretty sure you wrote this post (in part) for me! I’m in the middle of a scary health crisis that looks like numb/tingling limbs, cramping legs and other frustrating symptoms…all things that look like MS. But could also be my body’s way of responding to a season of high stress. I don’t know how long I will feel this way, or when I will get an MRI, or what the results will show (or not show). My biggest fear is not being able to be an active and busy mom. But I am not in control or the author of my story! Surrender and rest in His love and His best plan are my only hope. Thank you so much for reminding me that so many have gone before me on scary health rides (I am not alone!) and that a season of rest (whatever that looks like with five kids!) is in fact okay. 🙂 Love you friend!

    1. Oh, Jacki… I’m so sorry to hear this. And I can so relate to your biggest fear. I will be praying for you for sure! And you’re right… you’re not the Author of your story. Whatever God’s writing – even if it’s hard – it’s the best story for you and for His glory. The only way I’ve found to grow in my trust in Him is to know Him more, so I encourage you to keep pursuing a deeper relationship with Him, learning His heart, so you can surrender to Him completely. It’s an ongoing thing, but well worth fighting for! Love you, too, friend!

  2. We women do tend to put so much on ourselves.
    Ouchy but thankful you were able to rest.
    Thanks for sharing this with us and glad to have found you over at Grace Girls!

  3. What an amazing story–I can’t imagine that Perfect Storm hitting! God is so good . . . I’m glad He called you to rest in that season and showed you how. I had a time like that too, I called it my “year of quitting.”
    I love that you point out the pride that underlies so much of our activity–it’s a hard mirror to hold up and accept!
    Thanks for such great words of wisdom and transparency.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Amanda, and taking the time to leave a comment. I’d be interested in hearing what you gleaned from your “Year of Quitting”. Have you written about it somewhere?

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