I’m trying to enjoy my burrito supreme from Taco Bell while watching the back of Colin Kaepernick’s jersey as he runs away from Green Bay Packers toward another back-breaking first down. This effort in contradiction makes me irritable, and my fit of pique spills out to my Aussie shepherd, Kelly the Wonder Dog.
Technically, Kelly is not doing anything wrong. She’s just sitting, staring. Staring at me and my food. She doesn’t whine, drool or even wag her tail. She just stares at me, ears cocked, body language frozen, as if to say, “Just on the off chance that you might suddenly be filled with charity and compassion for the peckish plight of your beloved, four-legged family members, I thought I’d sit here so you didn’t have to call out for me or get up to find me.”
I try to explain to Kelly she’s from Australia, not Mexico. That Australians don’t eat burritos. That she’s way bigger and furrier and less bug-eyed and yappy and ADHD than a Chihuahua. (OK. I’m not a big Chihuahua fan.)
No go. Kelly continues her irritating, mendicant vigil. “Lie down,” I bark, as the 49ers continue their inexorable dissection of my team’s delusion of playoff prowess. Kelly begrudgingly lies down. She “walks” herself prone, the way a sullen child will goose step to his room when remanded there. It’s an editorial. Both the child and the dog are obedient, but they let you know they shouldn’t have to be obedient.
I make her lie down. A voice rises, unbidden in my mind: “I maketh her to lie down!” I smile, thinking of the 23rd Psalm of the Hebrew Bible: “He maketh me to lie down …” (vs. 2).
“You’re not the only one, Kelly,” I assure my dog-breath companion. “We’re all regularly made to lie down.”
It’s kinda funny to think of it that way. God glancing over at me with exhausted patience, trying to eat his burrito and barking, “Steven! Lie down!” Funny, maybe, but real and true. I regularly need to be told to lie down. And, should I persist in disobedience, God sometimes maketh me to lie down. You, too. Everybody.
(A quick commercial break here for those readers who “aren’t religious.” Just replace “God” or “He” with “Life.” As in, “Life maketh you to lie down.” That way, you won’t be excluded from the discussion I’m inviting.)
It occurs to me there are four essential ways we humans are invited — or remanded — to lie down:
Rest and recreation
Some personalities don’t rest very well. Or very naturally. I’m one of those types. My brain and my body are restless. Ever searching and fidgeting.
Like most people, I confuse rest with indulgence and wasting time. But indulgence only appears to be restful. An afternoon of mindless channel surfing actually makes boredom and restlessness worse. Facebook isn’t restful. Neither is texting, video poker, pornography or shoving a quart of ice cream in your face as an antidote for spiritual malnutrition.
I have to be reminded to “lie down.” To rest through recreation. Real rest is recreation. Literally, re-creation. Play is restful. Humor is restful. Beating myself to death at the gym is, paradoxically, restful. Time with friends is restful. Art, nature, hobbies. Sleep is a good thing.
Injury or illness
Sometimes, the respiratory flu maketh me to lie down. In a few weeks, the doctor will scope the torn meniscus in my right knee. And he will then demandeth I lie down. And this shall irritateth me and lo, I shall be great with boredom. The limits and frailties of the human body regularly humble us. Slow us. Stop us. Sickness and injury can be, if we’re willing, an important time to remember the limits of being human.
The contemplative life. Meditation. Pondering. Intentional breathing. Centering prayer. Flow. Surrender. All of these disciplines invite us to stillness. Most of what really matters about being human cannot be brought into focus and awareness without stillness. Stop pressing. Stop agitating. Stop talking. Stop thinking. Ignore what you’re feeling. Be still.
Ah, yes. He will someday maketh me to lie down for real. Someday, I will lie down and not get back up again.
Maybe the first three examples are practice for the last. Maybe being more obedient to the discipline of rest, the humbling of illness or injury and the nurture of stillness could be thought of as a dress rehearsal for mortality.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.