Christian reflections

But Why? Sabbath Practice Part 2

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If you haven’t read it, start with last Friday’s introductory post on Sabbath here.

Have you ever been given a gift you didn’t really want?

When I graduated high school one of my favorite teachers gave me four rolls of quarters at my graduation party. Sure, it was $40, but it seemed a really odd way of gifting me money for college. She saw my confused face and smiled.

“That’s for laundry, Court,” she said. “Trust me, you’ll need these.”

The Sabbath is a gift we aren’t sure we want. Like those quarters in high school, we’re not really sure what to do with it. It seems odd. Inconvenient. Even unnecessary.

To understand God’s gift of Sabbath, we must understand a bit about Jewish culture. Rabbi Abraham Heschel, in his beautiful book Sabbath, asks,

Is it possible for a human being to do all his work in six days? Does not our work always remain incomplete? What the [Exodus 20 passage] means to convey is: Rest on the Sabbath as if all your work were done. Another interpretation: Rest even from the thought of labor.

In the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook Adele Calhoun writes,

The Jewish understanding of Sabbath embraced a special twenty-four hour rest time that was different from every other day. Other days of the week were given over to work, but the Sabbath reminded people that they were finite. They could not constantly be on the go. There were limits to their energy. And to honor these limitations was to honor the infinite God, who himself worked and rested.

This is not an easy thing. Left to ourselves, we tend toward frenzy. I tend toward frenzy. Our culture encourages this. Life is much more expensive than it used to be—the cost for childcare rivals that of a private college education. Housing in Orange County is expensive. We are high achievers. Yet at what cost?

Many of us can barely find time to shop for groceries during the week. Our constant busyness has eroded our sense of self, of creativity, of freedom. Technology doesn’t help. Now the free time we do have gets quickly filled with television and smart phones and iPads and all manner of screens. Instead of more space and freedom, we have less. One Barna poll showed that people spend 50% of their free time—50%!—watching television, which is not truly restful.

Yet the Psalmist tells us in Psalm 127 that this frenzied pace of life is not for us. Even in ancient Israel, God knew that busyness, an endless pressure to be productive, to keep doing, threatened to swallow his people.

In vain you stay up early,

writes the Psalmist.

in vain you stay up late anxiously working for food to eat. Don’t you know that God enjoys giving rest to those he loves?

And then comes what is, to me, the most interesting part of this Psalm. A verse juxtaposed to its teachings on rest.

Don’t you know that God enjoys giving rest to those he loves? Don’t you see that children are a gift from the Lord?

We undertake Sabbath not only because we need it and God has commanded it, but because our children need it and need us to model it. Our friends need it. Those next to us in the pews on Sunday need it.

We need Sabbath rest so that we can turn once again to our children and remember that they are a gift from the Lord. Not a burden. Not a difficulty. Not something to be scheduled into eight thousand lessons. A gift. Our kids need Sabbath rest, too.

In his article on busyness for the NYTimes, Tim Kreider writes:

Kids come home at the end of the day as tired as grown-ups. I was a member of the latchkey generation and had three hours of totally unstructured, largely unsupervised time every afternoon, time I used to do everything from surfing the World Book Encyclopedia to making animated films to getting together with friends in the woods to chuck dirt clods directly into one another’s eyes, all of which provided me with important skills and insights that remain valuable to this day. Those free hours became the model for how I wanted to live the rest of my life.

The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it.

Busyness is a choice. Sure, work is good. Good and necessary and commanded by God. Activities are wonderful. Family is a blessing. But the busyness—that is a choice. One we can say no to, with God’s blessing.

Do you know that? You can say no. You can say no to the coach. To the band director. To the extra project. Once a week you can set aside a day of rest to the Lord for you, for your family, and for the sake of your soul.

Next Friday? The how of Sabbath.

 

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