The Power of Rest and Saying “No” by Amy Petré Hill

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowd. After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by himself to pray… alone. Matthew 14:22-23

written by Amy Petré Hill

When I first began dealing with my complex trauma and the depression that often goes with it, I did not have energy to do much of anything. Getting up out of bed, making it to my therapy appointments, and walking my dog took about all the “oomph” I had each day. While I often felt frustrated by my lack of energy, my doctor and my best friends reminded me that I was in the process of healing. If I would be patient with a friend who took a nap in the afternoons after breaking a bone or having an appendix out, why would I not give my self a break while my brain was getting better? They held up the wisdom that it was okay to say “no” to activities or requests if I needed the time to rest and reconnect with the sacred. 

With the help of a loving spouse, friends, my faith community, and support from knowledgeable mental health professionals, I have found health and wholeness. Yet, I still find myself struggling to say “no” when to all the requests for my time. Our society equates success with activity, judging the resume or college application filled with hobbies and groups as better than ones that list less, but reflect a life filled with rest, reflection, and prayer. In our 24/7 digital world, there is never ending pressure to do more, be everywhere, and network with everyone to increase or sense of belonging and success. Sometimes I give in to siren call of success, do not say “no” when I should, and always regret it later. I need a certain amount of sleep, quiet time, and prayer in order to be fully present during my day and act in ways that further the common good. When I ignore those needs, I fall into old dysfunctional patterns of unhealthy eating and my mental health lessens.

God understands this deep human need for living creatures to rest, making Sabbath a commandment (Exodus 20:8). As Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann explains, this day of rest is in direct defiance to the social and economic structures in our lives that try to transform living creatures whose being with God and community is good, into a locus of economic productivity and disconnected doing focused on private gain (from Journey to the Common Good). Similarly, Jesus provides numerous examples of taking time from his work of healing and preaching to rest and reconnect with God. In Matthew 14:22-23, Jesus honors his need for quiet time by saying “no” to crowds who wanted more of his healing presence and “no” to his disciples who wanted to remain with him so he could spend time alone, resting in God.

When I feel that pull to say “yes” to everything, I remember Jesus’ example of saying “no” from a place of love and respect for himself, his ministry, and his relationship with God. God demonstrates throughout the scriptures that we are loved as God’s beloved children from who we are, and that love for our very being is independent of what we do. During this coming week, may all of us feel God’s love for us as a unique being in creation and be inspired to say “no” to doing when we need time and space to rest.

Amy Petré Hill is the Director of Mental Health and Inclusion Ministries at Mountain View United Church in Aurora, Colorado, a Chaplain Resident at a Denver hospital, and Member-in-Discernment for ordination in the UCC. Amy currently serves on the UCC Mental Health Network Board of Directors.

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