“Taim blo malolo!”
Jack gleefully clapped his work-hardened hands and yelled again, translating the Tok Pisin phrase into English for our benefit: “It’s rest time!” My family and I were one day into a month-long stay in Jack’s community in Papua New Guinea. We were in the final stretch of our language and culture training and were eager to get started on our assigned goals. But Jack was the regional leader, and he determined when the community should rest.
Grumbling, I tried to move about the house quietly enough that no one would hear me through the woven bamboo walls. I had things to do, like sorting our provisions and handwashing an already growing pile of laundry. I would work without disturbing anyone, but no one could force me to rest.
Although the timing of Jack’s command varied from day to day, the instruction to rest changed the tone of the whole community for an hour or two. Children scurried out of the heat and joined their mothers under the shade of thatched roofs. Men laid down their gardening tools and dozed against tree trunks. Even the chickens grew quiet.
My husband and our daughters welcomed this daily respite, happily reading or napping until noise from Jack’s yard signaled that rest time was over. But the enforced pause irritated me. As someone with a natural abundance of energy and a healthy dose of stubborn independence, I felt like sitting still was a waste of valuable daylight — until my family and I got sick.
Less than a week into our time in the community, my daughters and I developed the unpleasant symptoms of a common tropical infection. Suddenly rest time was a lifeline, allowing us to close our door and lay motionless for a while. Instead of rolling my eyes at Jack’s cheerful voice booming, “Taim blo malolo,” I began to appreciate the wisdom in his words.
Even though my family returned to the U.S. several years ago, those Tok Pisin words are still a regular part of our life. Most Sunday afternoons, my husband grins like Jack and announces, “Okay: Taim blo malolo!” We each find a quiet corner and settle in for a long nap. It’s become one of my family’s favorite routines.
Forced to Pause
Not long ago, I was congratulating myself on how I’ve embraced rhythms of rest. And then I got sick again — but unlike my time in Papua New Guinea, this wasn’t a temporary tropical infection. A sudden-onset chronic illness quickly reduced my flood of productivity to a struggling trickle. I realized I still don’t like being forced to pause.
“I don’t know how to do this,” I recently told a friend who’s lived with a physical disability for decades. “I know how to be enthusiastic and creative. I can strategize, meet deadlines and network all day long. But I feel completely out of my depth sitting in a rheumatologist’s office, discussing a long-term treatment plan that requires so much down time.”
“I understand,” my friend replied gently. “Your pace has slowed, so you have to relearn who you are apart from what you do. Maybe you’ve let your productivity become too important and it’s time to obey God by resting.”
I cringed. She was right. Resting is hard for me, not just because I’m energetic, but also because rest requires obedience. I want to do things my way, in my timing; I resist being told what to do, even by God.
Recently I came across our Tok Pisin Bible and opened it to one of my favorite passages, Psalm 23. In English, verse 2 reads, “He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams” (NLT). But in Tok Pisin, seeing the word malolo (“rest”) brought a vivid picture to my mind. I imagined Jesus, the Good Shepherd, clapping his work-hardened hands and calling cheerfully: “Taim blo malolo!” Then I imagined myself, a rebellious sheep, sprinting wildly for the hills at Jesus’ command. This mental picture made me laugh because it’s uncomfortably true.
While I’d like to believe that I struggle to rest because I have so many pressing commitments, my choices often disprove this. I have no problem avoiding my to-do list when I want to, but the distractions I choose often leave me wearier than before. I curl up on the couch to scroll aimlessly on my phone, telling myself that I’m resting. My body may be still, but my mind is running rebelliously for the hills.
Maybe you’ve tried to create your own green meadows and peaceful streams through leisure, indulgence or entertainment but you’ve ended up drained and unsatisfied. Or maybe you feel like your schedule is too full for you to slow down. How can you find real rest with so many demands on your time and attention?
King David, who wrote Psalm 23, also wrote another short psalm that offers an answer: “LORD, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I don’t concern myself with matters too great or too awesome for me to grasp. Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself, like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk. Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the LORD — now and always” (Psalm 131, NLT).
As the leader of Israel, David had more responsibilities and crises to juggle than most of us ever will, but he found a way to calm and quiet himself: childlike trust in God. He released his desire to understand or control his circumstances, and he surrendered to God’s wisdom and goodness. God knew best, so David could truly rest.
Obeying the Shepherd
Our Good Shepherd created us, and he also created the very places of rest and renewal he knows we need. Before my diagnosis, I couldn’t have imagined that chronic illness would lead me to green meadows and peaceful streams. But as I obey the Shepherd, let go of my own priorities and rest when, where and how he determines, I find rest for my body, mind and soul.
You don’t need to be facing health struggles to be able to find time to truly rest. God offers soul-deep renewal in every season, and it begins with trusting that he has your best at heart and is in control. He’s intimately familiar with each detail and nuance of your life, so he knows everything you need — and everything you don’t. You can afford to set aside your schedule, responsibilities, desires and distractions for a while, let your mind grow quiet and just be with your Shepherd. As you slow down, spend time in God’s Word and pay attention to what he’s doing in you and the world around you, you’ll find a nourishing stream of rest running through your days, whatever circumstances come.
Rest and Reflect
Take a few minutes to rest and reflect on Psalm 23:1-3: “The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name” (NLT).
- How does trusting God bring honor to his name?
- What most often keeps you from finding real rest? How does believing God’s goodness and recognizing his control impact this?
- Soul-deep weariness is an issue in the U.S., where we have access to God’s Word. But it’s also a problem around the world, where millions are still waiting for translated Scripture in a language and format they can clearly understand. What’s one practical step you can take to share God’s Word with those who don’t yet have it?