I was having breakfast with a young man from church the other day, and we were talking about how easy it is to feel overwhelmed with work, marriage, faith, and, well, life in general. I’m discovering that this sentiment is not exclusive to any specific generation. I’ve spoken with many retirees who have said, “I thought things would slow down in retirement, but they’ve actually gotten busier!”
Whether it’s moms running ragged with taking care of the kids or managers who are frustrated with never having enough staff to keep things running, life can seem to spin out of control.
How do we get off the merry-go-round long enough to catch our breath and reclaim our sanity?
According to German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), it is possible for our souls to find rest. This morning I pulled my copy of his book, My Soul Finds Rest, off my bookshelf and re-read my notes and highlighted sections. Maybe I was drawn to the reminder that my soul needs to find rest, or maybe I was thinking about my young friend from breakfast.
Either way, I reflected on how every new generation thinks it’s unique with the pressures and challenges of life. I hear and read multiple accounts of the crumbling of our culture, the instability of our economy, and the threat of our divided politics, and then I consider the environment in which Bonhoeffer lived. Hitler and the Nazis gained control of Germany and made their conquering blitzkrieg throughout Europe. The German church capitulated to the idolatry of Hitler’s state religion, and they turned a blind eye to the unimaginable suffering of the Jews.
Amid this reign of terror, Bonhoeffer was arrested and eventually executed under the Nazi regime. Maybe my circumstances aren’t so bad after all.
Prior to his arrest, Bonhoeffer wrote a number of letters that have been preserved, for during this time, he was not allowed to publish, preach or hold assembly. A recurring theme in many of his letters was how to find rest for our souls.
One of Bonhoeffer’s recommendations was the use of the daily Losungen. Every year this book was prepared by the Moravians for daily devotion. The title means “lozenges”—to be taken daily. Bonhoeffer’s remedy for a soul in turmoil was a daily “lozenge” of Scripture, prayer, and worship.
I shared this with my young friend at breakfast and said, “Sometimes, I think we over-complicate the Christian faith.” There is beauty in simplicity, but simplicity does not mean easy. I can have reminders set on my phone for praying the hours (Liturgy of the Hours from St. Benedict) and reflect on Scripture. That’s simple, but it’s not easy to follow through and read, think, pray, and rest (lectio divina, the “divine reading”).
Bonhoeffer, however, in the midst of the chaos around him, found rest for his soul in the simple, yet challenging, discipline of Scripture, prayer, and worship. I’d say this is a pretty good remedy for our souls as well.
While in prison at the end of his life, Bonhoeffer found comfort in Psalm 30:5, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” When his soul truly found rest, he wrote these words:
Though from the old our hearts are still in pain,
while evil days oppress with burdens still,
Lord, give to our frightened souls again,
Salvation and thy promises fulfilled.
If your soul is frightened or overwhelmed, find rest for your soul as you take your daily “lozenge” of Scripture, prayer, and worship.