I’ve been jotting down some thoughts on how to heal from tragedy, trauma, loss and I certainly don’t feel like I’m fully healed but I’m in a much healthier place than I was eighteen months ago. You could say I’m not where I want to be, but I’m definitely not where I used to be either. As I flesh out these thoughts further I’ll share them on the blog. Perhaps I’ll even create a healing plan or handbook from my experience for those of you who are trying to heal through your own tragedy—divorce, job loss, death of a loved one, or anything else.
I’m confident one of the most instrumental components to a healing plan is rest. I know this seems obvious but you’d be surprised how few sufferers of tragedy and trauma actually practice rest. Over the last eighteen months I’ve struggled with resting. You could say losing Amanda has caused my soul to be restless and it’s been a journey for me to find that rest again.
Though I’m not good at resting I’ve certainly been thinking a lot about it lately. Perhaps is because I’m currently feeling the need for rest in my life more than I ever have. Again, when Amanda passed I had trouble resting. Not only did I suffer from nightmares and sleepless nights immediately following her death (I explain a lot more about this in Nothing is Wasted: A story of hope, forgiveness, and finding purpose in your pain which is currently set to release November 7th), but I also couldn’t sit still during the day. Anytime I would try to I would get pummeled by my thoughts and emotions.
I’ve always been high octane, move at the speed of “yes,” Mach Six with my hair on fire, crush it and crash. Amanda was always very balanced. She always got nine hours of sleep every night—and I mean every night. She would usually take a thirty minute to hour nap during the day. She consistently kept me in check on taking a day to Sabbath (we’ll get into that in a second), and because of it, her demeanor hardly fluctuated. With Amanda, you knew what you were getting. She didn’t ride emotional highs and lows. She hardly seemed cranky, frustrated, exhausted, or irritated. Her most consistent prayer to God was that He would make her steadfast and immovable. She was the most emotionally healthy person I’ve ever known. Now, looking back on it, I would contribute this to her consistent practice of rest.
She was vigilant in making sure we practiced a weekly Sabbath as a family. Anytime we deviated from this practice it created strain in our household—mainly because of me trying to do too much. For those of you who are not familiar with the term Sabbath, it is the practice of working 6 days and taking one complete day off to unplug, rest, and retreat. In Genesis 1 and 2 we’re told that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. He certainly didn’t have to rest. He’s all-sufficient and all-sustaining and doesn’t need rest. But He modeled rest for us. I’ve heard it said before that if we all consistently practiced a Sabbath day, we would never need vacation. You ever found yourself in that place where you’re ready to quit. You find yourself saying, “I really need a vacation.” I would issue to you this is a result of not practicing the discipline of a regular Sabbath.
Don’t get me wrong. I love vacations. Amanda’s sister, Amber, her husband, Gavin, and I are going on vacation next week—just the 3 of us with no kids and I can’t wait! I definitely need a vacation right now, but I recognize I need one because I have yet to find my weekly rhythm of Sabbath since Amanda passed.
One Friday morning in January after Amanda passed I tried to begin Sabbathing again. I woke up that Friday (Fridays were always our Sabbath day) and told myself, “Ok. I’m going to Sabbath today.” The problem is, Amanda had been such an integral part of my Sabbath in our previous life. Every Friday we would drop Weston off with Amanda’s grandmother for the day and not pick him up until Saturday morning (as an aside, parents, this is one of the healthiest things you can do for your marriage and for your kids—carve out consistent time together as a couple without your kids . . . not doing this is living under the illusion that the world and your kids always need you. You will consistently feel burned out if you try to take on that Messiah complex). Then Amanda and I would spend the day with our phones off, brunching, laying around the house reading, often with a fire in the fireplace and candle aroma filling the living room. We’d set Pandora radio to our favorite relaxing music station and just enjoy each other’s company in peace. No work. No building. No achieving. No pressing. No striving. No trying to push the ball forward. Just simply resting. Inevitably that time together would lead to the most beautiful times of intimacy and connection. In the evening we’d go to one of our favorite restaurants, or try a new one, whatever we were in the mood for, and of course cap the night off with dessert . . . and most of the time “dessert.” Sabbaths were the most beautiful of days in each season of life. They always felt like a little escape from the stresses of church planting and parenting.
Anyways, that January morning I got up and started about the “usual” Sabbath routine. I dropped Weston off, went back to the house where we were staying, put a fire on, lit a candle, grabbed a book and slumped into an armchair to read. And then it hit me. From out of nowhere, a torrent of tears. For the next three hours I sat in that chair by the fire and wept, uncontrollably. It wouldn’t stop, from a deeper place than I knew I possessed, pain squeezed itself out and it was ugly.
The entire rest of that day I was restless. I couldn’t sit still. Needless to say, by the end of the day I was emotionally wrought and worn out. Jesus once said, "Come to me all you who are weary and weighted down and you’ll find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28) That day I discovered something about myself: I had always run to Amanda for my rest and now I had to relearn what it meant to run to Jesus for it
I saw a counselor in March of that year and he helped me develop a rest plan. Here’s what he came up with: “Davey, for the next 9 months, you run as fast and as hard as you can. Pour yourself into ministry. Serve people. Preach your guts out. Love on your little boy. Write. Travel. Exhaust yourself. Oh, and play a lot of golf.” I couldn’t believe he was telling me this. He wanted me to wear myself out? “And anytime you need to take a day off,” he continued, "just take it. No questions asked. And after nine months, I have a feeling you’ll be craving rest again. At that point, we’ll chat, and help you titrate back into a healthier lifestyle.”
This is perhaps the best advice I could have received.
For me, finding purpose in my pain, running hard, staying busy, driving when I felt depressed rather than wallowing in my sorrow was the healthiest thing I could do.
Because it was right about January 2016 (nine months later) that I began to feel the need for rest. I began craving solitude again—which was a huge indicator to me healing was happening in my heart. Prior to this January I was terrified to be alone. Now I needed to be alone. This has been ripe soil for the Lord to begin healing more parts of my heart, and teach me about rest in Him again.
I love how Psalm 23 says,
“He makes me lie down in green pastures. He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:2)
In our society we certainly don’t practice "lying down in green pastures." Maybe it's the pressure to produce. Maybe it’s the noise of Netflix and Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat and emails. Whatever the reasons, we’re always trying to squeeze a little bit more productivity out of our day. One more meeting, one more to-do list, one more errand, one more appointment, one more email, one more cup of coffee to fuel us as we go about our plodding. Sometimes I wonder if the reason illness knocks us off our feet for a couple days every once in a while is because the “Good Shepherd” is making us lie down in green pastures, in order to restore our soul.
What’s amazing is that God’s economy, though counter-intuitive, is highly productive—if we practice a day of rest. By carving out a Sabbath, what we’re saying to God is this: “I’m going to work hard for six days, steward well what you’ve put in my hand, and trust you with the rest.” It’s us admitting that God is God, we’re not, and He can produce more in six days that we can in all seven. Interestingly enough, for the past several years, Chick-Fil-A has maintained more gross sales per store than any other fast food chain, and they are only open six days. They do better in six days than McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell do in seven.
There must be something to this Sabbath. People often say, "I don’t have time to take a Sabbath and rest." I say, “I don’t have time not to." It hurts my productivity to skip it. In both Exodus and Deuteronomy God takes more time talking about he Sabbath than he does any other commandment. If God is taking time to talk about it, it must be important. The Bible calls those who don’t work wicked and lazy - but it calls those who don’t rest disobedient. But more important than warnings against not taking a Sabbath, the Bible outlines so many blessings that follow when we do rest.
I got the opportunity to speak at the driver’s chapel service at the Brickyard 400 in Indy last July. During the race my father-in-law and brother-in-law and I sat in Casey Mears' pit suite. We watched pit stop after pit stop and gawked at the efficiency in which these pit crews worked. One of the controllers in the booth told me over his microphone and into my headphones that the race isn’t won on the track, it’s won in the pit.
What an incredible metaphor for life. You can’t put the pedal to the medal and go 220 mph all the time without eventually crashing or running out of gas, neither of which is useful to the Kingdom. Sure there are “pedal to the medal” seasons, but you can’t neglect the pit stop.
God speaks in the space of life. He moves in the margin.
The race isn’t won on the track, it’s won in the pit. What’s fascinating about pit stops is the efficiency in which the car gets filled up. I think there is something about this we can learn when it comes to the Sabbath.
Your Sabbath isn’t necessarily about quantity of time, it’s about quality of time.
Absolutely I would argue that you should take an entire day off. I think that’s explicit in scripture. But what’s more important is what you do with that day. Is your Sabbath working to fill you back up as you stop working? Here are a couple things I’ve learned about myself in what fills my tank and what doesn’t:
I’m constantly surrounded by and pouring out to people as I pastor, travel and speak. My Sabbath has to be getting away from people, completely—including Weston. Amanda used to be the only person I could be around on a Sabbath. She would fill me up. Everyone else, no matter how good of friends they are, deplete me in some way. This may change one day, but today, this remains the case.
I love to read. Reading fills me up. My favorite reads on my Sabbath are either inspiring biographies or fiction novels. I read my leadership books and non-fictions during the week so I need to get lost in a good story on my Sabbath.
I love golf. In fact my counselor nearly forced me to get a golf membership to a local country club. He told me it’s well worth the investment into myself to make sure I finish well this race of pastoring and parenting. Sometimes I’ll golf with some other guys, but honestly, I enjoy going out by myself too. I’ll put a podcast in my headphones and walk 18 holes in solitude. It’s wonderful.
Limit my TV time
It’s tempting to lay in bed or on the couch and watch TV all day on my Sabbath. But what I’ve found is this is not productive rest. It certainly doesn’t fill me up. TV (or video games for that matter) is a mind-numbing, not life-giving, activity. Sabbathing is about discovering what fills you up. I may watch a movie at some point during the day or evening on my Sabbath, but I won’t veg-out all day glued to the tube. There is a difference between productive, life-giving rest and counter-productive, life-draining laziness.
Plan for Vacation
I need regular times away. I’ve heard it said before that a different pace and a different place produces a different perspective. I find this to be so true. When I get away a couple times a year for vacation it fills me up, provides a lot of clarity, and refuels me to step back into the grind of life. Married couples this should be a regular, yearly practice for you. Leave your kids with a trusted friend or family member and get away just the two of you to reconnect.
So next week, May 21st - May 28th, you won’t hear or see much of me. Gavin, Amber and I are going on vacation and my phone will be off most of the time. We originally planned this vacation because Amanda’s trial was scheduled for May 15th - May 19th. We knew we would need some time to recover after that week. Now the trial has been pushed back to an undetermined date. We’re trusting God’s timing with that and I’ll write more on the topic as the trial gets closer. But the three of us decided to keep this vacation week in tact frankly because I need it. This will be the first time I’ve truly vacationed without kids or a bunch of people since Amanda passed. Amber originally wanted to go to Hilton Head because that’s where Amanda and I vacationed every summer and where the four of us would often go together. I don’t think I’m ready to run into that roar (Run toward Roar blog post) yet. One day I’ll be ready, just not today.
I’m thoroughly looking forward to getting some time away from the ministry grind, the speaking itineraries, the leadership meetings, and the office just to gain clarity on what God has next for Weston, me, our church, and my ministry abroad. Please pray for this time that it would be refreshing, healing, and restorative.