The Art of Rest

topics:
Grace

Sometime between April of 1977 and April of now, I forgot how to rest. Oh, I can fall on my pillow at night and sleep. I can sit and watch Downton Abbey for hours. I know how to read a book on the beach. But sleep is often different from rest. And lots of times I’m watching Downton because I’m avoiding real work. And when I’m at the beach, I’m on vacation so rest is kind of a requirement.

Over the past year, there have been times when I have felt breathless, never able to catch up, not even sure what I was chasing. I forgot how to plan for rest during hours where I am fully awake, able bodied and not on vacation.

When the twins were babies and they would miss a nap, people who weren’t parents (or hadn’t had babies in a long time) would say to me, Well at least they’ll sleep gooood tonight. But every mama knows that tired babies actually sleep worse.

Not surprisingly, when they rest well, they are also more pleasant when they are awake. Sleep and rest were natural and necessary parts of our lives when we were young.

I never got around to applying that to myself.

What if, instead of saving all my rest up for nighttime or because I have a cold or broke my arm, what if I planned for rest on purpose? Would it make a difference?

I’m slowly recovering what it means to practice Sabbath. I think because we’re made in the image of God, sabbath rest is built into us. We need it. We crave it. But we have all of these Very Important Things to do. Sabbath is lost and rest is lazy.

That word sabbath has never been a pleasant one to me. I’m sensitive to anything that sounds too much like a rule because I come from a background of being very legalistic towards myself. I had a mentor tell me in college that ironing on Sunday was offensive to God and he was not pleased with me if I were to do so.

Ironing.

There are many reasons I don’t like to iron on Sunday, but disappointing God is not one of them. I was devastated. But something in my spirit told me she was wrong, and after that, I didn’t confide in her. But I still didn’t like the word sabbath.

There is a lot I have to learn about Sabbath rest, but one thing I know for sure: God gives us rest as a gift, not a punishment.

I’m beginning to explore what it means to give myself permission to discover those things that make me come alive, and choose a day of the week to do or enjoy those things on purpose, in his presence.

So far, for this season of life, I’ve discovered that having one day a week where I don’t check anything computer-y (Facebook, Twitter, email, even my beloved Instagram) helps me to establish a rhythm of rest. That day of the week, for now, is Sunday. I don’t mop the floors or catch up on all the laundry or clean out the hall closet or my email inbox. I don’t open my laptop at all, really. Instead, I rest on purpose.

I choose things that are life-giving to do, either alone or with the family. I make bread, read fiction, sit outside while the kids play, eat dinner with my high school girls small group.

These rhythms are ever moving, changing to fit the things my family and I desire most. You may love mopping the floor and that is something that is restful for you. Only you know.

Sometimes I try something that doesn’t really work out. For example, a few weeks ago, my mother and sister-in-laws called and said they were going to Home Goods after church and did I want to go? You bet I did! So I went, and I loved being with them. But shopping, as it turns out, was not a life-giving activity for me. I thought it was, but coming home I realized it wasn’t. So now I know to avoid that during the time I have purposefully set aside to practice rest.

“The point of the sabbath is to honor our need for a sane rhythm of work and rest. It is to honor the body’s need for rest, the spirit’s need for replenishment and the soul’s need to delight itself in God for God’s own sake. It begins with a willingness to acknowledge the limits of our humanness and take steps to live more graciously within the order of things.”  -Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms

There is no magic or formula or secret. There is only tired you, needing to remember to slow and savor and be. Do you practice an intentional sabbath? Do you do it on Sunday or a different day of the week? What are some life-giving things you incorporate into your daily or weekly rhythm?

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  1. 1
    Felicity says:

    Gosh what an interesting way to look at ‘resting’.

    I guess I rest more on a Saturday, but I would like to switch that round.
    Thanks for a really good post!

  2. 2

    What a beautiful way of looking at resting Emily.

    Thank you !

    I rest more on a Sunday, just woke up way to early so I am here :)

  3. 3
    Claudine Perry says:

    I so agree! I posted a note on my fb pg about this last week!
    This is one of the areas , that I am so thankful that I submitted and honored my husband in. When he first suggested we do this years ago, I really didn’t want to. i was doing the submission in my actions, but not with my heart. I could think of many GOOD things that needed to be done on Sunday. Like you I did not want to be legalistic.
    Years later I have been blessed WITH REST on Sunday!! As always God knows what HE is talking about, and I am thankful for my husband’s wisdom.

  4. 4
    Marcia says:

    Eugene Peterson (the Message) says the Sabbath is a day to play and pray. Ever since I heard that, Sabbath rest has meant joy for me, rather than duty. Great blog. Thank you for sharing!

    • 5

      This is a beautiful way of looking at it and makes it something I want to be a part of. :)

    • 6

      I love that. I’ve been in church my whole life and though I love going to church, have always kind of dreaded Sundays because they’ve always been so boring after/between services. Like adding play in there as well!

    • 7
      Tiffany says:

      Yes, I agree, that is a beautiful way of looking at Rest. the Day to Play and Pray.
      Now if only I could put it into practice. I think Resting is something some of us have to learn.

  5. 8

    I work a part time job and often pick up shifts on the weekends. If/when I get rest its usually a Wed. or Thurs. when hubby and the kids are in school (although I usually am still doing laundry in between resting ;-)

    I like the idea of a “family resting” together…..I may have to rethink my “rest” day and reschedule my shifts to involve family rest time together.

  6. 9

    I love Cathy’s reference to Eugene Peterson in regards to this post and the idea of Sabbath. In another book (Under the unpredictable plant) he talks about the importance of the ordinariness of life — Emily you tap into this with the necessity of rest, true rest. I wrote about Peterson’s book in “Quotation of the week: My laundry list of a life” (http://wp.me/p1Ut5W-2e)

  7. 10

    I really appreciated the practical approach to this post. I have long been yearning to allow myself this time. It is a good reminder that God intended it for me. I really like the idea that it could be any day of the week and am going to try it!

  8. 11

    I love your call to Sabbath rest as reward, as a gift … not just one more thing on a list of rules by a demanding father.

    I love that it can morph and change over time, depending on the season of our lives. But God is always beckoning, because He knows what we need ‘for life and godliness.’ And in the end, it’s always about being present to the Lover of our souls. And honoring Him by stepping into His warm embrace and away from all that pulls at us.

    This little Sabbath Worksheet has been a help in keeping me focused on soaking in and appreciating what He is doing in my life … and takes me to the next level, calling me to figure out what I want to do about it all.

    http://creeksideministries.blogspot.com/2011/04/sabbath-gratitude-worksheet.html

  9. 12
    Jennifer says:

    Emily,
    I so needed to hear this today. My husband, kids, and I were having this conversation just the other day. They were saying that the “Sabbath” was an Old Testament rule, and we didn’t have to observe it today. But I somehow, deep in my soul, was longing for the Sabbath, but didn’t know how to communicate it correctly to them, or even to myself. I have eight kids. I am first one up in the morning, and the last one to bed at night. I am exhausted physically and emotionally. I know this comes with the territory with being a wife and mother, but I yearned for rest, and just sitting with God, and refueling. But as you said in the post, I have always equated rest with laziness. so I trudge on. I have been mulling over imposing a rule on myself, that for one hour every afternoon, I must rest alone in my room, with no computer. Maybe just a book. And talking with God.
    The quote you included from Ruth Haley Barton is wonderful. I am copying it out to hang on my mirror. To remind me that we are only human, and we NEED rest. Thank you for this post!

    • 13

      Oh dear sister, please let God speak to you about this and let you know that your longing for rest is real and you really do need it. I love how Emily said it – it isn’t a punishment, but a gift. It is so hard to take it when others around us don’t get it, but yes – rest! : )

  10. 14

    Emily there are several points in your post that struck me as coming from one having wisdom…rest on purpose…for me is the one I like the most. Stateside living is soooooooooo not restful. We have lived over seas and watch people tucked in remote places and they seem to have the ability to “rest”. I found that interesting because to even get food meant hiking sometimes a mile or two in the jungles or mountains, once they got to where the food was it mean hours of gathering, loading it on their back and hiking back, building a fire, waiting for it to cook in their only pan. And that would usually just one meal of one kind. Cean up was easy, one pan, no left overs, no fridge. In Sept we ended our overseas living, age and health rules our ministry location now and I am still over whelmed, I hike all the stores for the best deals, get what I think is enough for a months (cost that much anyway), store it, I have a fridge and cook three times a day, clean it all up, carry out tons of waste as a result of packaging. Somehow I think we in the states have the process backwards.

    At 65 I value this “rest on purpose” but its taken me a while to get there. Learning what kind of rest my body needed was the first step. Second, learning to say no kindly. For me shopping in any country is not restful. Third, being flexible, one action that missionaries HAVE to exercise all the time. Fourth do not spend time feeling guilty when I do rest. I am back to your words of wisdom now, “on purpose”…believing GOD DID create this bodies, minds and our souls for rest too so we could serve Him with our best.

    Ok now I am going to rest…blessings.

  11. 15

    I agree, and I have been thinking this same thing this week.

    “We do not rest because our work is done; we rest because God commanded it and created us to have a need for it.” — Gordon Macdonald

    http://www.weakandloved.com/

  12. 16

    Love this post.
    Growing up we never learned about the Sabbath. We learned that Sunday was a holy day and to honor it.
    As an adult I have had to look into my own beliefs and examine what I truly believe of everything I’ve been taught about God. Part of this was learning about the sabbath and what it means. Through this I have decided the following for myself…

    The Sabbath is important. It is supposed to begin on Friday evening and run until Saturday evening. This is the day (the night and day) that God set aside to rest and he declared it Holy.

    Sunday is also important because it is the day the world began. A day of work when God got started on everything we know. And it is a weekly remembrance of the Resurrection.
    I try to rest on the Sabbath as I believe we are meant to. I’m not always successful, but I try. I have not abstained from internet activities however, and this will be something to consider and think about this week. Thank you!

    On Sunday I recognize the importance of the day by purposely and directly serving the Lord, not always in a restful way. This might be going to Church, charity work, Bible study, discussion with my Family about God, and so on.
    In this way I am able to reconcile what I was taught growing up and what I have learned as an adult.
    Thanks again for the post. Definitely something to think about.

  13. 17
    vanessa says:

    I have been keeping the Sabbath for almost ten years now… some Sabbaths are better than others but either way its a big part of my week. After much study, I believe Sabbath is from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. I view Sabbath as a gift from God. Like any gift I receive, I get to choose how I use/spend the gift… I choose to honor the Lord and follow what the Bible teaches about the Sabbath but often (like all sinners) I fall short of that goal (which is ok)! Sabbath for me, is a time to take a break from the cares of this world and spend time with our Creator and loved ones… God knew we would need a day to chill with Him and for that I am grateful. Thanks for writing about the Sabbath; its a gift too many Christians miss out on! <3

  14. 18
    vanessa says:

    I have been keeping the Sabbath for almost ten years now… some Sabbaths are better than others but either way its a big part of my week. After much study, I believe Sabbath is from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. I view Sabbath as a gift from God. Like any gift I receive, I get to choose how I use/spend the gift… I choose to honor the Lord and follow what the Bible teaches about the Sabbath but often (like all sinners) I fall short of that goal (which is ok)! Sabbath for me, is a time to take a break from the cares of this world and spend time with our Creator and loved ones… God knew we would need a day to chill with Him and for that I am grateful. Thanks for writing about the Sabbath; its a gift too many Christians miss out on!

  15. 19

    Emily,

    I woke up this morning an “saboth” was literally the word repeated to me over and over again by the Lord. “Day of rest” was on my spirit. I stayed home from church and only got on my e-mail to make sure on one thing. I saw your post . . . God used you today to confirm His still quiet voice and I intend to put your words to practice. I can relate to this need and I will apply what God is speaking to my heart. Thank you :)

  16. 21
    Caroline says:

    What a thoughtful and thought provoking post. I have learnt alot about resting over the last four years due to the fact that I have been forced to. I was an ever on the go person with a busy work and church life – but that came to a sudden halt when I developed M.E. also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I now have to plan activities and amounts of time I can sustain, but also periods of rest throughout the day. It has been a tough road and I still have the tendency to work against my body but the wisdom of Sabbath rest and doing things that are lifegiving is a great way to look at things – I believe that I have been stopped for a reason and that God is using this time to prepare me to live a more balanced life for Him in the future. Thank you for your words of wisdom today. Gb C

  17. 22

    Thank you for this post it is so timely. Thank you Father God.
    I like reading Christian fiction, listening to music; drawing; reading scripture; watching fun movies. There are more I’ll prayerfully consider. My soul viscerally thirsty for sabbath rest. It’s possible to drop commitments and still be tied up emotionally. So I want to also really actively try nor worrying and at least hot a day really take God up on the free invite to give Him my cares and not worry about them. God bless you.

  18. 23
    Brigitte Anne Gleason says:

    Today’s devotional really made me look forward to Sundays for the first time in ages. I like your idea of what real rest is. I think I’ll take some time to read, light insense and listen to some good music. Thank you!!!

  19. 24

    I am currently trying to find a time to rest in Him every day. So, I guess that means daily recovery after a restful Sunday! there are so many things on my to do list, but if I ask Him what I should be doing, then my day goes better. I talk to Him all day long, but have to find that time to be quiet and listen – to rest in Him and be filled up and refreshed once more.
    Blessings!

  20. 25

    So beautifully expressed. How wonderful if we all could take that collective sabbath and feel how the Lord restores us all, as a community, in that time.

    Thank you for so eloquently holding this up for us all.

    Blessings on your day, Emily. Enjoy resting in your family day and in His quiet still places.

  21. 26
    bonnie Edson says:

    Such a wonderful post. I’ve been thinking about resting alot & how can I fit it in. As I sit here recovering from surgery I’m already thinking of all the stuff I want to do and looking forward to having the energy. But something about rest, real rest, thats a gift from God, life giving rest. That is the rest I long for. That is the rest I will pray for.

  22. 27
    Beth Williams says:

    This past week at work was very hectic, crazy and stressful. I found myself craving rest–just 1 day that I didn’t have to drive anywhere! It didn’t happen–had errands Saturday and then a wedding.

    Feel better today and will rest, work on Bible study, enjoy my pets and hubby! I find that as I age I’m craving more and more of rest–just staying home 1 day and doing very little of anything!

    Favorite things to do during sabbaths: watch Food network or HGTV, play with my pets, snuggle with hubby, listen to Christian music!

  23. 28
    alison says:

    I try to use the kids’ afternoon naptime as a time of rest and refreshing for me. Generally, I try to not get anything “done” around the house, but I sit in my chair, have a yummy drink and read the Bible and other books. I try desperately to not feel guilty for this practice because I think I really need it. Sometimes I worry about it because during the time I am sitting around my husband is off actually working hard for his family and I could be doing the same. but it really refreshes me to do so.

  24. 29

    Ah…

    I’m breathing here. Just watched an hour-long interview of Eugene Peterson over at Q Ideas. Peterson was talking about this very idea of Sabbath, and how it’s all about praying and playing – and no rules. I watched Peterson while sitting under a tree in my backyard and a long shadow from the trunk of the tree slowly walked its way across the grass.

    Yes. Sabbath is a gift.

  25. 30

    Really enjoyed this post. I too try to focus on life-giving things- like time out or at home with my family- on Sundays, but it can be hard to leave everything behind. Sometimes I can’t, and I need to spend some time cleaning the house or whatever. Some days- like today- getting on the computer is my rest. I think the focus on doing what works for you & your family to get a break is so important and really helps relieve stress.

  26. 31
    Annette says:

    I also need a reminder to rest. I sometimes keep piddling and working until I am exhausted. As a single mom there are always things to do and I think at times I fall into sin insteadi let these things define me instead of God. I have made an effort to rest not as much on purpose as once again as a result of overwhelming fatigue. I work long hours during the week and on the weekend my job becomes having a life instead of having a rest. Thank you for the reminder.

  27. 32

    Thank you for posting such beautiful words about the Sabbath rest. I too have always heard it described in a legalistic manner and I love the way you said that Sabbath rest is a gift from God. It is often easy for me to see the “why” behind many other “rules” that God gives us (they are so we can experience true freedom!) but this one had always confused me. Thank you for helping me understand the “why” behind Sabbath rest. This actually makes me DESIRE a Sabbath rest!

    Thank you!

  28. 33
    Tracy in NJ says:

    Sabbath rest is an area the Lord has been working on me for a while. Finally about a year and a half ago I made a conscious effort to rest on Sundays. What a blessing (when I do it–i have fallen off the wagon for weeks at a time several times but…)! My Sabbath is Sunday. Typically I “sleep in” til maybe 6:30 or 7 ( which is a big deal considering weekdays my alarm goes off at 4:30). Get up and get ready for church. After worship I come home, hit my chair and read my bible, pray, catch up on journalling, read all the interesting devotional articles tucked away in my Read-When–there’s- Time folder, nap, take a walk (if I’m feeling ambitious) and generally take it easy til sundown when it’s back in the saddle again. When I do this,( hard as it can be knowing how many things are not done that need to be) I am definitely better!

  29. 34

    “as a gift, not a punishment.” Prize words, perfect for learning to balance the sabbath rest.

  30. 35

    I love the Sabbath! What a true gift from God when we learn to use and live it. For me it is a day of religious worship, scripture study and then time home with family…unrushed, unhurried, just treasured.

  31. 36

    Emily, this was much-needed today. Thank you so much for elucidating what’s been brewing in my spirit. I’m learning bit by bit to rest some in the midst of my busy days–or at least at the ends of them, but I still felt draggy overall, and wasn’t sure why. I think being more intentional with my Sabbaths would be very helpful. Again, thank you!

  32. 37

    I loved that chapter in Barton’s book too. The thing that really stood out to me was the idea of it being something we need to do not just for ourselves, but to mentor our kids in the rhythm of regular rest. Her admonition to not have Sabbath = alone was kind of new to me because a) I have four kids 10 and under and b) my oldest two are emotional overloads due to their foster/adoptive history. But even still, I want my kids to have this rest rhythm in their lives and be a part of it with them. I don’t want any of us to have to be laid flat on our backs with illness or a car accident just to get our attention and make us take a break! My hubby and I have had two weeks of consistent sabbaths since we read that chapter in the book and it’s so nice to know from sundown one day to sundown the next we’re responsible for only one thing: be. Be family, be grateful, be present…. just BE. It’s fabulous!

  33. 38
    Anonymous says:

    Well stated. The never-ending “to do” list has to be put down sometimes! There is always tomorrow (and that is not procrastination)!

  34. 39

    I like you Emily! :) Thank you for sharing this today. I really relate. I am learning what things are really restful and what are not for myself. My husband and I take Mondays as a day of rest for our family. A day to spend time together, do nothing work related, low key homeschool day. I gravitate towards reading and now with the good weather am loving the time to spend in the back yard doing some gardening,etc. We have been so thankful for this day each week to recharge. It really helps us be able to make it through each week and have more clarity and energy….even if it’s just a bit more mental energy.

  35. 40
    Heather says:

    This is something I’ve been thinking about for quite a while. It has been a hectic, stressful season of life, and now that it is coming to a close I’ve pondered how I might use my time differently… how I might incorporate rests and play into the rhythm of my days.
    I do have a question for the community. My husband is in the ministry, so Sundays are not particularly restful :) I want to incorporate a sabbath into our lives, but we have very different ideas on what that means. He feels that doing ministry is what we should do with our sabbaths (I think he feels guilty using them to do fun things or personal things). For me, ministry can feel like work, not rest. I am also very much an introvert, so spending the whole day with people is exhausting, not restful! We both recognize that Sundays do not have to be our day of rest, but we just don’t see eye to eye about what a day of rest looks like. Any suggestions? Has anyone else wrestled with this kind of thing?

    • 41

      Heather,
      My husband and I are both in the ministry and find that rarely can we truly Sabbath together. We can play together and rest together but Sabbath renewal is something altogether different for us. He fly-fishes on a stream alone. I read, journal, sleep.

      I get a babysitter once a week (though I must admit, it is often is every other week) and spend about 6-8 hours at a retreat center, or a friend’s empty home, or even a Panera with a journal in front of the fire. I often tell other bleary-eyed moms that even mothers need rejuvenation away from their children, to be replenished in order to give again.

      Moms will sometimes exchange babysitting in order to get this time. Linda Andersen, the person I blog with, opens up her home for frazzled women, giving them 5 hours of a quiet place of beauty in her tree house of a home. She lights candles, has quiet music playing, leaves books on Sabbath, and a lunch in the fridge. Then she and her husband leave, giving the exhausted woman a soft place to wander into rest.

      Whenever I hunger for Sabbath but it feels hidden or hard, I often pray for it, knowing that it is a core longing and asking the Lord to provide.

      He always does and I know that He has just the answer for you too, my friend.

  36. 42
    Jessica Y. says:

    God began to invite me to intentionally honor the Sabbath a few months ago and I too have been finding that some things work and others don’t. Shopping with my family is something I enjoy, but it is just not restful – too many people for this introverted gal. The things that rejuvenate us really are as personal and unique as the fingerprint we carry. Thank you for affirming that for me through your life-giving words!

  37. 43

    I feel that resting in the Lord is the only way to replenish yourself spiritually and physically. Just “being” and not “doing” is essential to maintaining a sound mind and strong spirit for the upcoming battles that await us in the coming days. I don’t advocate becoming lazy, not keeping the house clean or ignoring the piles of dirty clothes, but to take time to reflect and rest in the joy of simply being in the moment free of the cares and concerns of life. It is when we are rested, we can tap into our creative source and find God cares. Our full enjoyment of life can be savored when we are nor frentically working. Have a wonderful day of rest and relaxation.

  38. 44

    Yes Yes Yes!

    Rest has to be intentional, learned, prayed for.

    My friend, Linda Andersen, has made this her life calling and besides having written two amazing books on the subject (the too-busy book and Interludes – available on Amazon) every Friday she writes beautifully, giving us practical help to learn how to Sabbath here:

    http://www.athirstforGod.com/the-practical-art-of-being-renewed/

  39. 45
    Catherine says:

    Thank you! How wonderful to know that a loving creator, father, and Lord understands our need to have rest. Isn’t it wonderful, how of all the ten commandments, the fourth begins by stating “Remember…(the sabbath) to keep it holy.” ? God knew we would become busy with life and forget to rest, to restore and renew. Being tired makes us vulnerable to the enemy. When we rest we are more alert in our own walk and prepared/refreshed to minister to others.

  40. 46

    We have been going for Saturdays since reading Celebrating Biblical Feasts. I am so totally imperfect at it, but I like to think of Jesus smiling at my small efforts done in love, and accepting my apologies (over and over again). My parents had a strict sabbath rest on Sundays (no homework!) which I am very grateful for, actually. Dad eased the legality of it when once I was scrubbing his kitchen floor while mom lay dying and he came back from church to find me “worshipping on my knees.” he asked if it were something I usually do, and when I answered no, then he said it could qualify as restful! It was, to my heart, to clean my mom’s kitchen floor for her once before she died. Odd, yes? Anyway, thanks and praise to God who understands and leads us gently (Is. 40:10).

  41. 47
    Donna Dippel says:

    I love your post and I plan to share it with the rest of my family. What I find works best for me is reading. It is my time that I take for myself and it helps me unwind and refresh. I try to read each night before bed, but that doesn’t always happen. My husband and I are empty nesters and we are learning to take naps on weekends and we usually allow ourself so many hours on Sat and Sunday to get our things done, and then we rest. If we don’t complete things by our set time then we do them another day or the following weekend. It is good to set limits so that you allow yourself time to rest. I am a hard sleeper so taking naps were not always good for me. I can sleep for hours and hours and it would mess up my night sleeping, so when we rest we usually don’t allow it to go longer then a couple of hours. We listen to our bodies, but we also know our sleep habits. Thank you for sharing.

  42. 48

    So true, Emily, and I’d never thought of the connection with cranky vs well-rested babies but it sure applies! I’ve been intentionally including more life-giving activities in my Sundays and leaving anything that smacks of “work” or “ought to” for other days. The book that got me started on this is Mark Buchanan’s The Rest of God.

    • 49
      Anonymous says:

      thank you emily. i am from singapore, a tiny island with over 5 million people! sometimes, i wonder how the island keeps afloat! anyway, i thought it would be nice to let you know how grateful i am that you have shared. your article affirms the journey i am on now…THE NEED TO REST. i suffered depression as a result of not loving myself enough to want to rest. this went on for umpteen years! God, in his love, had to intervene and stop my folly. i ended up having to be hospitalised. now i rejoice i am well. EASTER now takes on a special meaning because i feel as if God has given me a NEW LIFE all over again!

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