The first time I made challah bread I didn’t know I needed to let the dough rest before forming it into long strands.
I rolled, stretched and pulled, but the dough kept snapping back. No matter what I did, it wouldn’t cooperate, and I was getting frustrated.
I turned to the internet to research and see if anyone had any tips. I found a tutorial that included an additional step: separating the dough into equal parts, rolling them into balls, covering in plastic wrap and letting them rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
The difference was remarkable.
The relaxed dough stretched out easily beneath the warmth and pressure of my hands as I rolled it into ropes.
This wasn’t the first time I had to cover the dough and leave it alone during the bread making process. The particular recipe I follow (you can find it here) requires a rise in a moist oven for an hour. A quick punching session, then a return to the warm, damp oven for another hour. Then, it’s time to knead. I usually do this for about 7 minutes before separating and weighing equal pieces that will eventually be braided and baked.
The active time of challah making is a fraction of the process; about 30 minutes out of the 3 or so total hours.
What I’ve learned is the process doesn’t work without rest.
My parents came to visit us this weekend. I’d been looking forward to our time together for a while, and when I think about hosting, I think about food.
Saturday was my dad’s birthday and he loves French toast. So, it was an obvious anchor point for our weekend menu.
On Friday afternoon before they arrived, I began the challah making process so that we could have French toast made from homemade bread on Saturday morning; a special birthday treat.
In the middle of my bread preparation I took a break. We all went out to dinner and as a result the dough rested longer than usual in the oven on its second rise.
The resting bread allowed me the space to step away and settle into a weekend of quality time with my family.
This weekend we spent a lot of time in the kitchen cooking together, and around the table eating. We played a lot, too as we conquered another escape room, spent hours at a local pinball arcade, watched a funny movie, and took Britt on walks.
I set aside work and enjoyed the time we had together.
Since they left yesterday afternoon, I’ve been thinking about how like challah dough we as humans are. We need time to rest and relax in order for God to mold us into beautiful shapes.
Before I knew to let the dough rest, it fought me. It stretched and pulled against my efforts. It wouldn’t settle into its purpose: to become a beautiful braided loaf.
I’m like that a lot. I wrote some about this last week when I described how I’m learning to live into and enjoy the plateaus of life. It’s hard for me because everything around me says I need to strive.
But it’s only when I rest and sit quietly with God that I hear a different story. It’s only when I relax and trust the hands of my Creator that I am shaped and formed into who I am meant to be.
I needed this weekend to just have fun. To enjoy time with family. To eat good food and laugh.
I also needed this morning when Britt woke me up at 4:45 and I knew I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep. Instead of grinding it out and getting to work, I sat quietly with God for a while. I read some more about prayer, journaled a bit, and felt drawn to read a particular passage of scripture (Matthew 14, when Jesus walks on water and Peter jumps out to join him).
This summer has been full of good, deeply formative things. If we want to stay with the bread metaphor, God has used these long, hot days to knead yeast into my life. I can feel myself changing as it works its way through me.
But like my challah dough, in order for things to take shape the way I believe God wants, I’m learning (again and again) I have to take time to rest, too.