Finding Inspiration in Rest.
The thought of rest comes to mind, as I sit drinking a latte in Florida. I have heard many artists say that inspiration—creativity—comes from a place of desperation. They say it is the desperate circumstances that propel us into our creative outlets. Without struggle, without pain, there is nothing to draw from.
This is where I disagree. While it is true that inspiration can be drawn from desperate circumstances, and ideas formed from problems in need of solving, ultimately you can't draw from a dry well. When you are emotionally, physically, or spiritually, running dry what can you draw from when the well is empty? Everyone—in light of their creative nature—needs rest to refocus the mind, body, and spirit into the next phase of artistic endeavors.
So why am I eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and sipping a latte at 6:30 in the morning in Florida on a Tuesday in March? Because I am burnt out. In all honesty, I am desperate for restoration—not inspiration. Right now, in this moment, I long for the recharge the makes my heart flutter with wonder. Yet, lately it is has been puttering along like a broken down wind up toy on its last leg. I wanted to find time to recover and restore what I feel like has been lost in the last few months—my dependance and reliance on the one who gives me my creativity to begin with—God.
July of 2017 saw new changes for me. I was 312 lbs. Severely overweight. I struggled with depression and anxiety, and I felt like I wasn’t living my life the way God has designed for me. I had reached a point where I was done with my own excuses and set up a time to go to the local boxing gym owned by a couple in the church. I looked at the clock as my alarm rang: 4:45am. The earliest I had woken up for something up until this point was only ever for traveling to or from an airport. Why would I get up so early when sleep was so precious? But class began at 6:00am and I wanted to be on time without excuse.
With fear and trembling I made my way to the gym. As the 5:00am class drew to a close the owners, Kenji and Anne, were there to greet me. Anne took boxing wraps and walked me through how to wrap my hands. I had seen this done before in films like Rocky, and Warrior, but as the fabric was folded over my knuckles and between my fingers I couldn’t help but wonder what I had gotten myself into.
Once my hands were wrapped, Anne gave me a loaner pair of boxing gloves and preceded to show me the four basic punches all boxers learn; jab, cross, hook, and uppercut. These four punches would become engrained in my mind over the next hour as Kenji trained me in the basics of boxing. We started with five minutes of jump rope. Five minutes doesn’t seem like a long time, until you’re huffing and puffing your way over a rope. All 312 lbs of me was covered in sweat by the time the class ended. If I am honest, I was ill prepared for the type of work I would be doing that July morning. But I persisted.
I knew that if I wanted to see change I would need to push through difficulties, maintain consistency, and rest when necessary. The beauty of rest while working out, is it allows the muscles to go through a process called protein synthesis. Protein synthesis is the breakdown and build up of the muscle after a workout. Often times, this process continues for two to three days after a workout, which then allows you to return to this muscle group to work it again to increase muscle growth while working out.
In other words, the rest period is designed for the broken down proteins in the muscle to build back up and get stronger.
To get stronger.
I can honestly say that that I have never viewed rest as a strength. But I longed for the rest between workouts when I first started at the gym. It was refreshing and restorative, and it got me all the more excited for the workouts to come the next day.
It’s been eighteen months since I began the laborious journey of working out. And I enjoy it. I enjoy sweating and I enjoy the hard work it has produced in me. I enjoy that I’ve lost 92 lbs so far, and I am working on losing more. Never in my life would I have thought I would enjoy “exercise” to this level. But even more than the work, I enjoy the rest. I enjoy the parts of the day where I feel my body breath in the restorative work that protein synthesis causes. The days I am away from the gym allow me to appreciate the work all the more; chomping at the bit to get back to it.
But in November of 2018, I experience something I had never felt before: numbness in my right arm. It was almost paralyzing. I was in the gym one Saturday morning and got up from doing push-ups (a routine of our intense Saturday ritual), and looking at Joy, I said, “I can’t open my hand.”
Something had happened which caused a stiffness in my muscle that shook the tendons and ligaments in my arm as I forced my hand open. Joy looked at me and in her whimsical way said, “Ha! That’s weird, what did you do to your hand?”
I tried to shake off the discomfort; thinking maybe I pulled a muscle or pinched a nerve, but I couldn’t explain what had happened. The following week, I went to the chiropractor for adjustments, and to a family friend who specializes in neuro-pathway motor control. While in many ways these treatments helped, they weren’t explaining the root of the problem. And the numbness began to spread to my left foot and calf.
More disheartening than the discomfort, came when I tried to hold a pencil to draw. I couldn’t grip the pencil without shaking, and the simplest of lines became reminiscent of my children’s refrigerator artwork. While I am nothing magnificent in the art world, I draw for personal fulfillment. Art is the side hobby that brings in some extra cash, and it allows me to stay connected to the comics scene—even if it’s the edge of the scene—by drawing at conventions and for a few small projects throughout the year.
When I couldn’t grip the pencil, I could feel the anxiety grip me. Drawing was my usual way to find relief, and it relaxed my mind when other things stressed me out. In an instant it felt taken from me. Without this ability, I felt void of all creative desire. I thought, “What’s the point?”
Joy had urged me to see my primary care physician, and I finally gave in. In January of 2019, I visited my doctor. I wish I could say he found an answer, but he was just as perplexed as I was. “Numbness, huh? That’s weird.” He said nonchalantly.
Weird?! That’s all you have to say. Is that your professional medical opinion, or do you say that to all your patients? Chickenpox, weird. Influenza, weird. Rheumatoid Arthritis, weird. Numbness in your hand and foot, weird. WEIRD.
Blood tests were ordered and an MRI scheduled to determine if my brain was causing any of these symptoms. Maybe I had worked out too hard. Maybe I took one too many hits in the ring while learning to spar. And then the dark thoughts seeped in like a rolling fog on an early summer day. What if I was dying? What if the MRI came back with cancer, tumors, or MS? I was terrified and the anxiety swelled within me like a storm brewing on the horizon, and it felt like there was nothing I could do to outrun it.
Jesus and Finding Rest in the Storms
Jesus in all his perfect glory took time to rest. Amazing, right? The Son of Man, who on Calvary bore the sins of the world for our restoration with God, took time to rest.
In Mark 4, Jesus shares parables of the Kingdom with the people and as he is ministering and healing those in need when evening comes. It’s been a long day and he tells the disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Here we have in verses 35-40, the story of the calming of the storm. What follows is not just the amazing power of Christ over nature, but the opportunity presented to the disciples to rest in Jesus while surrounded by chaos.
So the disciples and Jesus get into a boat on the Sea of Galilee and sail towards the other side. Leaving the crowds behind, Jesus sets himself apart from the needs of the people, momentarily, to rest. The sick, the poor, the hurting—all important, all in need— are still crying out to Jesus, in need of Jesus’ powerful wonder in their lives, and he takes some time to rest before continuing the work before him.
The whirlwind of needs from the people were rising up like the sea waves that rolled up and over, swamping the deck with water. Scripture tells us “a furious squall came up,” and in the stern of the boat, Jesus slept on a cushion. I picture this humorous scene in a relatively sized fishing boat, God incarnate sleeping while a storm rages on around him.
Without concern, without fear, or worry Jesus relinquishes himself to rest. There is no second thought, nor is there the guilt of leaving the crowd behind. Jesus embraces the comfort of this fishing boat cushion like a weary traveler returning to the comfort of their own bed.
The disciples begin to panic. This isn’t a culture of swimming after all, these men have a healthy fear of water for they know that while it brings life with hydration and food—it also represents the unknown darkness of what lies beneath. In their fear, they cry out to Jesus, waking him from his sleep. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
This question feels like a plague to the creative soul. Maybe it’s just me, but the question really feels like, “Don’t you care about who I am?” As artisans we pour ourselves into our work, we write, draw, paint, formulate, equate, and implement our ideas at the bereavement of our soul. For better or worse, every act of creation is an act of loss. And the question is asked, “Don’t you care about what I have done?” Like the disciples, we let the storms take us over without trusting in the Creator of the wind and the rains. We forget that our creative spirit is connected the Great Creator. In doing so, we fail to rest in his presence regularly for the restorative work necessary to reengage the soul with our creative source.
Jesus wakes up to this question from the disciples and after rebuking the wind and the waves, he says to them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” In this moment, it is not because Jesus is unconcerned with his disciples physical safety, but rather is concerned about their spiritual well being. When we rest in Christ, the storms become little more than nuances to the overall well being of our souls.
Does this mean the storms are not troubling, difficult, worrisome, or life threatening? Of course not! The worst of these storms, however, should cause us to run to Jesus with our fears in faith of him, rather than with our fears in spite of him.
Life is chaotic. Life runs crazy. Life can often implode in the overwhelming storms of priorities and responsibilities. When the storms hit, who are you trusting in? Your personal worth? Your own abilities? Or are you trusting in the one who calms the storms?
A week after I went in for my blood tests, I received a phone call from the hospital, all test came back normal. All protein and sugar levels were normal, and there were no vitamin deficiencies. Even my thyroid came back with top marks in health. “We will wait and see what the MRI gives us.” The doctor told me over the phone. My words caught in my throat. I was scared.
I remember sitting in the cold, sterilized room as I put on a set of scrubs before climbing into the machine. I wanted to forget the whirring, clanking sounds of the MRI as I sat for an hour inside this mechanical cylinder. The nurse walked me through the sounds and reassured me I would be fine. I tried to relax and breathe, but the intensity of the potential outcome kept me from feeling anything but claustrophobic. When the MRI was complete, I went home wondering what the future would hold.
It took six days to receive the results. In those six days I discovered who I really was and what I really cared about. I leaned into Christ. I knew death was inevitable. I knew a day would come when I would see my Savior face to face, but I had not prepared myself for what could be an early entrance into eternity. I held my family tighter, kissed my wife longer, and began to feel a strong pull to leave work and ministry behind to focus on self-care. It was a beautifully difficult six days, wrestling with life and the choices coming ahead of me. When the hospital called, I held my breath, thinking over the minutes after those fateful words; but they never came.
I hung up the phone. Joy was at work and I immediately called her.
“Got the results of the MRI.” I said.
“Yeah? What were they?” She spoke softly, ready for whatever the news would be.
“Normal. They were normal. They don’t know what is wrong with me,” I chuckled, “But the results were normal. They do want me to follow up with a neurologist in a few months when they have an availability. Other than that, I guess I’m fine.”
We hung up and I sat relieved and perplexed. If there was nothing wrong with my brain, why was I struggling with this uncomfortable pain?
I visited my doctor once more to schedule the neurology appointment, and he told me my stress levels were a bit high. I should consider a vacation. If you’ve ever been in vocational ministry, you may be laughing to yourself right now because you know vacations are usually working vacations. If you’re lucky enough to be completely "away" from the church and ministry, then bless you. I have not been so fortunate. Some of this has been my own fault. Other times, no matter how hard I try to pull myself away, people pull me back in.
Resting in Christ, truly trusting in the process of rest and recovery requires us to return to a state of dependency on the Lord. I haven’t been so faithful in this dependency. I’ve become dependent on my own abilities, my own strengths to power through. But it finally felt like I had reached the bottom of my reserve—my well—and I had nothing left to give.
Even now, I write this during a rest period my life desperately needed. For nearly eight years, I’ve been working nonstop on ministry, art, personal projects and family time. All of these things have been good, but they’ve also left me feeling empty. The few times I’ve had “away” time from work over the years, has been filled with more work. I would attempt a mini-vacation while at a conference, or I would take time off from my church to speak at a camp, or attend a comic-con selling art. Even my family vacations are usually a two to three day break at another family members home, leaving very little time without obligations to the host family.
While all these things are good, and often enjoyable, each time I failed to truly rest, these enjoyable moments became less enjoyable. They became burdens unnecessary piling up in the well of my soul. And the life giving water of Jesus, was unable to reach me; or rather, I was unable to reach him.
It was with this realization that I casually mentioned to Joy that perhaps I take a vacation. Not surprisingly, she agreed—it’s something we’ve talked about often enough—and knowing I had travel credit soon to expire, she suggested I use it soon. She pushed me to recover and restore my soul with the life giving nature of rest.
While the storms of life still rage on, the chaos of ministry, change, and deadlines expand, I sit in a little cafe in Cocoa Beach, FL sipping a coconut milk latte. Here I let Scripture restore. I process through creative writing. I explore the world outside in wonder of God’s beautiful creation. I let the cushion of God’s ever underserved grace soften the cynical heart that has dried up within me.
And it is in this moment, I feel the wellspring of life begin to trickle in once again.