Monday, August 23, 2021

When I watched gorillas at the zoo

After lunch one day, I followed my kids into the gorilla exhibit at the zoo. The sight almost made me laugh out loud: the gorillas were displaying exactly what a typical afternoon in our home looks like-or, at least, what I want it to look like. 

As I gazed at these majestic creatures who were caught up in an afternoon snooze, I wondered if I could learn something from them about the importance of rest. 

Even while on display, the gorillas settled down to take a break. It's what they  needed, so it's what they did. While it would not work out well if we disregarded propriety and manners and flung ourselves down for naps anywhere we wanted, perhaps we can still notice how the gorillas rest, not caring that people were nearby, watching their every move. 

Would we be willing to do a similar thing? 

All summer, I've been thinking about what it means to "lie fallow." Seeing the gorillas in their afternoon nap only continued this theme. It made me think about all the times when I've pushed myself beyond my limits. At times, I've done this out of my own desire to accomplish good things-but there's sometimes another reason, too: I'll be motivated by a desire to meet unspoken expectations and a pressure that I've felt, to "always be doing something." 

Continually create. Market yourself. Develop your brand. Give your children the highest quality of education you can think of, so that other parents will be impressed by your teaching and choice of curricula. Go, go, go. Always have something amazing to offer in those conversations of "small talk" at the library, grocery store, or parking lot. Whichever way I turn, whether it's in homeschooling, parenting, the writing world, or anywhere in between, pressures and expectations are there-and breaks are few and far between. Countless people are pushing themselves hard in one direction or another, to the point where they are living in continual stress and agitation. I've seen it in others, and I've experienced it myself. 

There are those few brave people who publicly discuss the importance of making time for rest and slowing down. Yet, those are also often people who have "made it" in many professional ways already. They've written books, done podcasts, been on television, or completed numerous amazing feats. So, when they say those things, there's part of me that thinks, I agree, but that's easy for you to say-you've already "put in your time" for years and years and you have the luxury of taking breaks here and there. 

But I think of those gorillas at the zoo, and I think about how good it is to claim rest even if we haven't "made it" in whatever area-homemaking, homeschooling, profession pursuits-we're focused on. How, when I silence the noise and expectations of the world and crawl back into the hobbit hole of my home and local community, life slows down in a beautiful way. I find myself wondering if I can be brave enough to rest even if other people happen to be watching; because I'm finding that living in a state of rest and peace is much healthier for me, my marriage, my parenting, and my homeschooling than the alternative. 

It shouldn't be a crazy idea, and yet, it is. 

Being willing to not be an "influencer," being satisfied with "unremarkable" accomplishments, and prioritizing rest in whatever ways we need--whether it's stepping away from social media and/or our phones, making time for fun creative pursuits, or cozying up with a book so that we can recharge; these ideas run against so much of what is in our culture and in our communities. Stepping off the hamster-on-a-treadmill lifestyle is daunting, but just imagine how liberating it is. 

When we stop living up to those pressures and expectations (both the real ones and those we have imagined) we're more free, refreshed, and open to hear God's voice and follow his lead...and that is the lifestyle that will truly satisfy us. 


  1. Excellent! You know I'm passionate about this topic too! My spiritual director just recently encouraged me to start praying the Litany of Humility-- it's so opposite to our world and the pressures you're talking about! I wish more moms/women/faith-based things would start emphasizing the virtues and the interior life instead of focusing on permeating the culture with Catholicism...I think we need to first be grounded and focused on the interior life of holiness before we can be an "influencer" anyway! And honestly, I'm coming to question if we are EVER to focus on becoming an influencer or doing big things for God...I have a feeling that if we focus on holiness and relationship with him and quiet, consistent soul-growth, He will provide opportunities of influence that won't even look like such, or we won't notice them because they won't be our goal. Just ponderings.

    1. OK, first off, thank you for mentioning the Litany of Humility! I used to pray that frequently-when my husband and I first met, we started praying it after Mass-but when babies entered the scene, we fell out of that practice since Mass-going is a different experience with kids :P And for some reason, I had convinced myself that we could ONLY pray that prayer after Mass (silly, I know, but here we are...). You've got me thinking that I need to bring this back into my life and normal routine!

      Also, I love what you say about the importance of emphasizing the virtues. It makes me think of so many of the saints, who lived lives of holiness and virtue, but didn't really realize or care about the extent of their accomplishments, because they were so focused on growing closer to God and bringing others to Him! It hits me with just how much work God still needs to do in my soul ;) A few years ago, I attended a small local conference, and someone gave a talk about virtue-he showed us an image of the "virtue tree" that people would reference in the medieval period, and he talked about how his parish was doing small group studies based on the virtues in that tree. I thought it was a really cool idea!

  2. So right. Rest is important -- physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This reminds me of what I just read in that book you recommended, The Art of Spiritual Writing. She was talking about how writing and spirituality go hand-in-hand for her. When she neglects one, the other suffers. We need to be holistic about our lives. We need rest or what good will our influence be to others? And we not only need to rest but give things a rest that are stressing us out, like the news or social media. Fasting from things occasionally has helped me significantly.

    1. Tiffany, I'm so excited that you've been diving into that book! That part is so good, and I totally forgot about it-thank you for bringing it up :) And yes, I absolutely agree on the fasting/taking a break from stuff that's stressing us out. The whole realm of how-much-news-should-I-consume is something that I deliberate with myself about quite our 24 hour news cycle culture, it's so hard to know what we should be paying attention to sometimes.

  3. Love this, AnneMarie! I've definitely been on the same mode of thinking this summer (pregnancy will do that:) and I too think there is so much goodness and fruit from just being present to what is right in front of us, what God is calling us to, and not seeking more. I think social media, though not all bad, has contributed a lot to "being an influencer" or having a side gig, etc. But really..there is so much beauty in simplicity and letting go of societal expectations. Love your writing!

    1. Thanks, Elisabeth! I'm glad you enjoy my writing, and I always love your encouragement :) I think social media can definitely contribute to those things. I'm barely on social media as it is, but when I do log in occasionally, I find that within a couple minutes, my stress and anxiety rise and I question if I'm doing enough for myself or my family, etc. When I don't look to social media, it really is a lot easier to let go of expectations!