In my previous newsletter article, I wrote of the importance of intersections in our everyday living. As we continue celebrating the intersection of heaven and earth – divinity and humanity – in the person of Jesus Christ, we remember that frequently at intersections, we are made to slow down, proceed with care, or stop altogether. Though for many, stopping at intersections means quickly checking their cell phones (I admit my guilt), it ought to be a time to check our surroundings, taking note of any changes that need to be made as we continue our journey. Recently, the road signs telling me to “Stop” have been more blaring than usual. As we move deeper into the winter months, the lack of color on the landscape makes the red on the “Stop” signs or the red traffic lights more pronounced. Or, maybe their pronouncement is more reflective of my own spiritual condition that the monotonous grayscale in which we love during the Midwestern winter months.
As I write this reflection, I am preparing to take my 30-day Sabbath time for rest and renewal. By the time you read this article, I will already be away. For some time now, the red Stop sign in my soul has become more pronounced, and now, I must heed its warning. I am grateful to have this opportunity to pause, take stock of my spiritual surroundings, and alter my spiritual course so that the journey may be all the more fruitful. We see this necessity articulated in the Bible. Taking time to rest is not an option for God’s people. God commands it. The fourth of the Ten Commandments stipulates, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” Many of us are familiar with that commandment, having memorized it from our youth. Many, however, may not realize the Biblical text goes elaborates the command. It goes on to say, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and God rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:9-11)” Yes, God makes time for rest in God’s life, so it is no wonder God commands us to do likewise.
Neglecting rest proves detrimental to our well-being. That is why the idea of Sabbath encompasses so much more than a 24-hour period in a given week. Sabbath rest marks a way of life. Each day ought to involve Sabbath – a time set apart for leisure and self-care. It expands into our weeks, months, and years. Each of these opportunities is a gift from God. The Talmud, which is a Jewish commentary on Torah in the form of dialogue, has the Holy One saying to Moses, “I have given you a goodly gift, and it’s name is the Sabbath.”
Yet is a goodly gift we so rarely receive. It is no surprise given that we live in a world that celebrates productivity and lauds busyness. I suggest we go so far as to idolize them. While there is a satisfaction in being productive
and working hard, neglecting the time to rest continues to have negative effects on our society. We are overworked, overstressed, and struggling with burnout at an alarming rate. The vocation of ministry is no exception. Studies show that 60% of pastors will burnout and leave ministry altogether. Sadly, this includes a number of my friends with whom I went to seminary and was in Residency of Ministry. Although these statistics seem grim, it doesn’t have to be this way. The constant pressure to over-perform is being rejected without sacrificing the value of hard work. Resources for rest and self-care are growing in popularity. It is my hope and prayer our collective society will continue to awaken to receiving the goodly gift of Sabbath.
How about your life? How do you experience Sabbath in your life? There is no right or wrong way to practice Sabbath. But it does take effort, for saying “No” to the pressures demanding our round the clock energy will always take effort. Turning off the computer or cell phone is easier said than done. However, when we make room for Sabbath, we are also making room for God to move. Placing distractions and mental clutter off to the side brings the holiness and beauty of life into sharper focus.
Therefore, as I continue my own Sabbath, I encourage you to receive this goodly gift in your lives whatever that may look like. I am confident the Holy Spirit will show you how best to receive it for yourself. The Spirit always does.
I’ll see you soon. Ash Wednesday will be here quickly.
Sincerely, in Christ
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