In order to rest well, we must learn and honor our limitations. This is true in very simple ways: when I reach my limits, I feel tired. I must know how to recognize that I am tired if I will assent to the gift of rest in sleep or stillness. It is also true in more complex ways: unless I attend to my patterns of energy and depletion over time, I will never proactively build rhythms of work and rest into my life, so that the way I live comes to honor my need to both do good work and to rest.
It is similarly true that I will never connect deeply with others unless I learn and honor the specific ways in which I am gifted in offering myself to them — and the ways in which I must care for and protect myself. If I give of myself to others without discretion or self-control, I will eventually reach a point where my stores of self are exhausted, and I have nothing left to offer. Thus emptied of myself, I will have little of myself left with which to move toward connection with others, or to delight in them as they are.
There is, then, a tension in our pursuits of both rest and relational connection. Even as we dedicate ourselves to good work, or generously give ourselves to others in relationships, we must also understand that we cannot do so forever. We must be intentional about naming the times and places in which we are incapable of doing these good things, and so must practice different good things: Rest. Quietness. Kindness and gentleness toward the sometimes-frustrating, always-gracious reality of our smallness.
My favorite definition of humility is “accurate self-recognition.” A mentor of mine, the one who taught me this definition, also calls it “the threshold of love.” By this definition, the person who is seeking to practice humility must recognize and repent of her sins, and be honest about her failings and limitations. At the same time, she must see the good, powerful gifts she has been given by the Spirit. She must recognize and inhabit the ways she is called to embody the Image of God in power, gentleness, and beauty.
When it is defined like this, we may find that humility is the virtue we most often forget when seeking to rest and connect with others. But humility is powerful enough to energize both of these pursuits. I must be honest about my limitations in order to know when I need to rest. If it is true that I must be honest about the things I can and cannot give in order to love others well, the strength of my humility — of my ability to accurately recognize who I am — becomes inescapably important.
As we re-enter in-person learning and campus life, we find ourselves receiving many lessons in the importance of humility in our pursuits. We are eager to reconnect with one another — but, having grown accustomed to spending so much time alone over the last eighteen months, we grow tired much faster than we expected. We long to spend time with others, but find ourselves needing to say no to potential plans more often than we might wish. We are happy to be together, but remain marked by the griefs that entered our lives during this year, and we must honor our grief in the same ways that we honor our joy.
In GRIT this year, our theme is “Rest & Reconnection.” Our hope is that this will allow us to name and explore the many facets of these ideas — whether delightful or difficult — that we face as we return to in-person classes and the fullness of university life.
In the meantime, and always: May we be gracious with ourselves as we strive to love one another well. May we make boundaries for our time and relationships that permit both interpersonal generosity and individual restoration. May we love one another in the spirit of humility — courageously inhabiting the glory and grace of our smallness.
And may we be curious enough to discover creative, patient ways to rest and reconnect as we engage (or re-engage) with ourselves and others.