God’s Gift of Rest under a Tiny Tree

For as long as I can remember, the word rest has never been in my vocabulary. As a child, my parents reported that I would constantly move and shift items around in my room, rearranging and retooling. Going from one activity to the next. I would read, then write, then play, then bike, then talk, then—well, there were so many “thens.” That overly planned childhood nature ended up demonstrating itself in adulthood.

A Diagnosis

I would always have a job, a project, an errand, a task—something to do so that my thumbs would never dare twiddle. When my therapist explained my recent diagnosis of high-functioning anxiety, it felt as if I was finally, fully understood—fully known. Her words to me: “Gerard, you can work, but find a way to rest. Spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally and socially.”

Rest? What’s that?

NOT a word in my vocabulary.

So I opened up my word bank—His Word. And this verse popped out from Genesis 2:2:

And on the seventh day God finished His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. (emphasis added)

Immediately, it hit me like a ton of bricks. The days of creation described as seven days in the Scriptures include a day that is equally important to the others: a day of rest.

The pause that comes after creation is important. Like a pause in a measure of music, a moment of calm before you make a free throw, or a stop sign in a small town—sometimes it’s time to rest. God Himself models it! My therapist confirmed it. It was time to rest.

So I added a new word from His Word to my word bank. And I cashed in on this “rest.”

Learning to Rest

At Concordia University in Texas, I teach a Christian Nature course to my online students each spring. In their experience reports, they are to report on things they have encountered in nature and how it connected to the things of God—and also how it gave them rest. I decided if I was going to challenge them to do this, then I should do it myself!

So I bought a bonsai tree.

Yes. A bonsai! Those little trees you would see in any shopping mall in the early 2000s. I must admit, I had bought my fair share of these throughout the years as a teenager, grabbing the first one I saw at a big box store and being excited to have the power of a giant tree in a tiny pot.

They would die almost as fast as I would get them home.

I could never figure it out. Why wouldn’t the trees just live? Why couldn't they survive? Why didn’t they just work and do what they were meant to do? And then it hit me:

They needed to be cared for.

See, caring for something that is completely helpless on its own—that’s part of resting! Loving the tree by watering it when the roots are dry, giving it sun when the clouds have come out, misting it when the branches get arid—that’s rest. Pruning it so it spends energy on the right leaves. Turning it so it grows evenly—rest.

God’s Gift of Rest

Is this not exactly how God feels about us? God’s love for us, even in His resting, is a sustaining and persistent love. His rest is constant in its nature. His rest is persistent in its goals. And His rest is gracious in its posture.

So, yeah—I am a bonsai guy. I probably have ten or so of them now. And each day when I water them with my kids, when I turn them and prune them, when I re-pot them, I give myself rest. I give myself pause. That little demonstration of care for creation helps me connect with the seventh-day resting God we serve, who reminds me that it’s the little things that help us enjoy the big things. It’s the moments of pause that help us enjoy the music in the first place.

Find a way to rest. A way to take a breath, to practice your seventh-day pause. Work, family, responsibilities—those are important vocations from God. But find moments of pause, brothers and sisters. For me, it’s a big tree taking root in a small pot. As you are rooted in Christ, what are ways that you can rest?

And in all things—never forget to open up your word bank (the Bible) and rest in the promises of our God.

Note: Mental health is an important thing to consider at all times. Please take advantage of mental health resources offered by your employer or in your community.

Scripture: ESV®.

Find rest in Psalm 23 with a new Bible study, Be Still and Know: A Study of Rest and Refuge by Deb Burma.

Start the study

Picture of Rev. Dr. Gerard Bolling
Rev. Dr. Gerard Bolling is an LCMS pastor and Lutheran university educator. Dr. Bolling holds a BA in theatre from Concordia University Chicago, an MDiv from Concordia Seminary, and a doctor of education (EdD) degree from Concordia University Wisconsin in leadership, innovation, and continuous improvement. His dissertation was focused on human resource development in under-resourced urban ministry structures of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (How LCMS Pastors Are Developed through Mentorship). Dr. Bolling currently serves in a dual call as pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in St. Louis, Missouri, and as assistant professor of leadership and theology in the online modality and coordinator of multicultural engagement at Concordia University Texas. His passion for urban ministry, education, leadership, nonprofit management, mentorship, diversity/equity/inclusion, and distance learning are all married in this dual call as he serves the saints of Bethlehem and the students of Concordia University Texas simultaneously. Dr. Bolling has also spoken at numerous conferences, on podcasts, and at churches, schools, and events within our church body, reflecting the love of Christ and prodding deeper conversations about deaf, urban, and cross-cultural inclusive ministry. He has taught in half the schools of the Concordia University System, thoroughly realizing the depth of knowledge our Concordia schools have to offer to the world they engage. Dr. Bolling has been married to his beautiful and talented wife, Lorenda, for six years. Lorenda serves as a preschool teacher at Word of Life Lutheran School. Together, they have a four-year-old son named Lincoln and a two-year-old daughter named Monroe. Both children were born in different years but on the exact date—October 5! They currently reside on the south side of St. Louis, Missouri.

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