I never understood why a person would find a bubble bath relaxing. Maybe it was the years living in a dorm room with a shared bathroom followed by an apartment with a less than desirable tub, but taking a long bath was never on my list of calming activities. Even when my husband and I moved into our first home which had a garden tub in the master bathroom, I never considered a hot, bubbly soak as a way to rest.
Our garden tub remained empty except for toddler bath toys and dirty towels until midway through my second pregnancy. When my pelvic floor pain finally became unbearable, my husband drew me a bath and poured in Epsom salts borrowed from my mother. Still wary of the idea, I tentatively lowered myself into the warm water and looked up at the ceiling. While my body instantly relaxed, my mind raced and my fingers fidgeted. Instead of feeling calm, I felt guilty sitting there doing nothing but soaking in the aromatic oils and salts. My fingers had just begun to prune when I realized the true reason why I don’t enjoy bubble baths.
Bubble baths aren’t productive. My other leisurely hobbies have some sort of outcome. When I listen to a podcast, I learn something. When I read, I make progress on the large pile of books on my nightstand. When I bake, I get to share and eat the fruits of my labor. When I run, I burn the calories I ate from my baked goods. But when I take a bath, I just sit there.
As I lay in the garden tub, wet fingers keeping me from doing anything but popping bubbles, I felt the itch to do something to earn this rest. I began making a list of ways to return my husband’s favor, to make up for the time lost sitting here doing nothing. I needed to make this relaxation worth it.
This belief that I need to earn my rest isn’t limited to bubble baths. For much of my spiritual life, I’ve attempted to prove myself to others and to God, believing I needed to earn God’s blessings and the rest he has given me. While he has freely poured out his grace and mercy on my life, I receive them with guilty pride rather than humble gratitude. Instead of resting in the finished work of his Son, I spin my wheels trying to show how I was worthy of his salvation.
Yet when God promised his rest, there were no strings attached. Jesus calls us to himself in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He doesn’t require anything of us but to come, and he guarantees his perfect rest. We know Jesus isn’t offering a long soak in a bathtub, so what kind of rest does Jesus give us?
Come to me
The religious teachers in Jesus’ day were all about the rules. They went beyond what Scripture taught, adding guidelines on how to work, how to eat, how to dress, and even how to observe the Sabbath rest. When Jesus invited his disciples to come to him, he knew they were heavy laden with the religious expectations of their day. They were laboring week after week to follow one more rule, to learn from one more rabbi, to make themselves a little more righteous before their God. It is into this culture of law, shame, and toil, that Jesus spoke of life, freedom, and rest. He invited his followers to leave behind the unbearable burden of a works-based salvation and enter into his grace-filled rest.
While Christians today aren’t trying to make themselves righteous before God by animal sacrifices and cleansing rituals, legalism (focusing on God’s law above all else) still abounds in our churches. We have faith in Christ for our salvation but still carry the burden of the Christian life alone—heaping on one more Bible study, one more volunteer opportunity, or one more dollar given. Our burden may look different than the ones carried by first century Jews, but Jesus invites us also to lay down our futile work of trying to make ourselves righteous and instead accept the rest found in his righteousness.
Rest for our souls
Jesus followed his invitation with a command, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). The rest Jesus provides isn’t freedom from work but freedom in our work. He doesn’t offer to remove our yokes altogether but gives us his own yoke—a yoke we share with him as he carries the brunt of the weight for us. Jesus has accomplished our justification once and for all, but we continue to be sanctified through the power of His Spirit in us (Hebrews 10:14). We will never cease to do the good work that God prepared for us in this life (Ephesians 2:10), but we do it from a place of soul rest—not with the heavy burden of guilt but with the light yoke of gratitude.
Jesus describes yoke as easy and his burden as light (Matthew 11:30). Jesus’ yoke is not a long list of religious duties, as the Pharisees in that day required. It is not the work to earn our rest in salvation, but it is the work to rest in the salvation he has freely given and continues to freely give us. We will continue to toil on this earth, working out our “salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). In our work, we can enjoy the rest freely given to us by Christ until we reach Heaven, our eternal place of rest.
I continued taking baths regularly throughout my pregnancy and postpartum—to curb my body’s aches but also to rest. Each time my husband watched our children so I could have uninterrupted time alone in the warmth of the garden tub, I chose to feel gratitude instead of guilt for this undeserved gift of rest. I didn’t earn this rest because of how many loads of laundry I did or how well I cooked dinner or how much money I made that day. My husband wasn’t expecting repayment for this time away to relax and recharge. No, it was a free gift—one that made me love and serve our family with a heart of joy and a soul at rest.
Our Heavenly Father has given us the beautiful gift of rest in his Son. God doesn’t hold back this rest until we have read enough of our Bible or volunteered enough of our time or given enough of our money. He freely gives us rest in salvation and sanctification through Jesus Christ. Out of this undeserved rest we work—not to prove our worth but because our worth is found in his Son.