Some things look much easier than they actually are. Stopping, for instance.
When we were first married, my wife won a free weekend at a ski resort in North Carolina as a part of a sales contest at her work. Neither one of us grew up snow skiing, but it sounded like fun, and it was, after all, absolutely free. So we went for it.
Our ski chalet was right on the slopes, so we rented equipment, walked out our back door, and watched the skiers swooshing by. It didn’t look too hard, so we put on our skis and boots and decided to give it a try.
My wife took off first, heading straight downhill quickly and disappearing from sight, so I decided to do the same. And as I picked up speed, I had a shocking revelation: I did not know how to stop, or even to slow down, for that matter. In hindsight, it probably would have been something good to find out in advance.
So when you don’t know how to stop, there’s really only one solution; you start looking for the best place to crash. Which is exactly what I did; hoping to crash in as good a place and as soft a way as I could. But no dice. The crash was epic. And in the end, there I was, covered in snow, equipment littering the hillside.
As I was trying to gather myself and considering how I would gather all of my equipment, a bunch of little kids in ski school coasted by. Their teacher encouraging them the whole time with the words, “Pizza! French fries!”
“Ah, pizza,” I thought to myself. “That’s what I’m missing. That would have been good to know.”
We humans need stopping lessons. We are great at "french fries," but not so good at "pizza." And if we don’t know how to slow down and stop, the only other alternative is to crash. I guess that’s why God decided to weave stopping and resting into the story of creation (Genesis 2:2-3). And then to remind us of it again and again all throughout the Scriptures. He even put it in the Ten Commandments, reminding us that if God himself stopped and rested, how can we possibly expect it to be any different for us?
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy,” God told us in Exodus 20:8. “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:11)
From the very beginning God was giving us stopping lessons, because he knew how vital stopping and resting were to our being able to live the lives he intended us to live. How important they were in us becoming the people he dreamt us to be. In fact, when we refuse to stop and rest, we tear away at the image of God within us.
His stopping lessons included two things. First they involved stopping. That is what the word Sabbath literally means. Thus, we must stop regularly, or we will crash and burn. But as I learned the hard way on the ski slopes, stopping is not as easy as it seems. We tend to live our lives at a certain speed, which creates a certain momentum. Thus, we cannot expect to go one hundred miles an hour right up to the stop sign and stop on a dime. It just doesn’t happen that way. The momentum of our lives will carry us way past the stopping point. You see, stopping is a process, not a moment. Slowing must precede stopping. We can stop physically, but it will take a while for our heads and our hearts to catch up. We need to give them time and space to finally come to stillness. We need to install brakes in our soul, if you will, to combat the foot-on-the-gas, peddle-to-the-metal way that we typically live our lives. And then we need to learn how to start applying those brakes well in advance of the stop sign. That’s what many of the spiritual disciplines are for: silence, solitude, prayer, retreat, and sabbath keeping. If we can learn to live at a certain pace, and with a certain rhythm, we will become much more proficient in the art of slowing and then stopping. They will not just happen on their own.
But God didn’t just stop with stop, he also told us that we must settle in. That’s the literal meaning of the Hebrew word used for rest in Exodus 20:11 (nûaḥ). So not only must we learn how to stop, but we must also learn how to settle into that stopping. We must learn how to be fully present and alive and attentive to him and to ourselves in that resting. We must learn how to dwell with him, abide in him, and savor the time and connection with him. We must give free reign to the Spirit of God to form his very life in us, to breathe his Divine breath in us, that he may then breathe it through us.
We must make slowing and stopping and settling in a priority. It must become a part of our rhythm of life. Otherwise, the only alternative is to crash and burn. And take it from one who knows, that’s not a pretty sight.