When I was young, we had what was known as “the 3 o’clock rule”. On Sundays, we would come home from church and eat lunch, and then all five children and my parents rested. That rest could include reading, napping, sometimes swinging on the porch outside. It always involved memorizing Bible passages. (The Thomas 3 o’clock rule was the stuff of neighborhood legend and my brothers’ friends who lived near us would begin gathering on the edges of our yard as the clock inched towards 3:00, waiting for them to be released so that the neighborhood football game could commence with full teams.)
The intent of this enforced rest was to help us recognize the rhythm of Sabbath – a time to rest that was part of God’s created order – and to listen and learn from God’s Word. If I’m honest, I have to say I liked this time. I’m not sure I would have chosen it on my own, but I was very aware that this time was different from the way I spent other afternoons, and I liked the rest. (I also still remember almost every single passage I memorized during those slow Sunday afternoons.)
Fast forward to September 2017. My official day of retirement after nearly 30 years at the Seminary happened while I was in New York, having moved there to be the primary caregiver for our then 6 month old and 10 year old grandchildren. Clearly, retirement wasn’t going to start off by resting. I can tell you many wonderful and moving things about that year, but resting a lot isn’t one of them.
As I left home, my natural inclinations towards what I consider to be the freedom inherent in structure didn’t take too long to morph into wanting to ‘get more done’. In addition to showering these wonderful children with love and attention, there were closets to clean out and rearrange, clothes to take to Goodwill, bathrooms to redo, a blog to administer for the Seminary, exercises to complete. But in order to do any of them, I had to get James to take a nap.
My children were fabulous nappers when they were young, taking two-hour naps morning and afternoon and still going to bed at 6:30. So imagine my surprise when I came face to face with a charmer whose aversion to sleep – napping or nighttime – was something to behold. What was needed – for both of us – was to get him on a schedule.
I tried my best tricks. I watched him carefully for cues that he was tired. We rocked and sang. He lay on the couch listening to music and I rubbed his back…when he would lie still. We moved to other rooms where it was dark; we tried the living room where it was light. I tried putting him in bed when he looked drowsy but wasn’t asleep and I tried rocking until he fell asleep. I tried every variety of white noise known to humans. I tried letting him cry it out and I tried never letting him cry. And even though we did eventually arrive at a schedule, I was lucky if he slept for an hour. My to-do list was disintegrating.
By early this year, James and I were at a crossroads about napping. At that point, I knew when James was tired and I knew he’d be going to sleep eventually, but getting from the tired to the sleep state could still be pretty time consuming. On one particular day, I decided to just forget the rocking chair and his crib and instead lay down with him on my bed. He’s a cuddler when he’s tired and after a few rolls around to play in his new surroundings, he moved over to snuggle. I was singing and he was staring at me intently. He reached his hand up to my cheek and just left it there and then whispered, “Mimi, Mimi, Mimi” and after a few more minutes when he never moved his hand off my cheek or quit staring into my eyes, he went to sleep. I was nearly in tears at this connection and I didn’t want it to end. So this time, I didn’t move to quietly sneak out of bed to get to the things that needed doing. I had the overwhelming recognition that I wanted to rest – that this time was a gift. Not only my time with James, but this time to quit worrying about what I wasn’t getting done and to just take some time out of our very busy days to relax. I didn’t nap that day, but I did lie quietly next to James for the entire 45 minutes and just….did nothing. From then until the time I left New York in late June, every day included one rest time for me with James. He eventually learned to fall asleep in about 3 minutes; I was reminded that the spirit of the 3 o’clock rule was not just a gift but a necessity in a life filled with movement, sounds, and schedules. I very seldom napped, but I always rested.
In Carla’s sermon last Sunday, she said that “knowing we have time – cultivating practices that remind us God gives us time – can make us more attentive to needs around us. It also can open us to opportunities around us.” Guess what I was doing when I first read the letter asking me to serve on Session for the next thee years. It was afternoon nap time for James and rest time for me. With that soft head resting on my shoulder, in that quiet, peaceful moment, I felt like God was telling me the time was right to go back on Session. Would I have said yes even if I had been cooking supper and listening to Ava tell me about her day? Maybe. But I like to think something I learned about the God who calls me to work – and about rest from a toddler who called my name as he finally decided to take a nap – had a lot to do with that response.
Ann Knox is a member of the Session class of 2021. They are in the midst of church officer training with Carla and will become official members of the Session in the fall. They are also contributing reflections to our blog.