Remembering to Rest

            Life seems to be full of lists. There are so many things to get done or have done, and each day seems to be of inadequate length to complete the tasks at hand. In my life, I have begun to notice that the busier I am the less productive I become. It’s a terrible reality, to be sure. When I read Mark Buchanan’s comment on the opening pages of his book The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath – “I was squandering time, not redeeming it” (2), I realized I was reading the right book for the hectic life I’m struggling to live.

            God has given me many ways through which I function as a leader and through which I need to take time for Sabbath. As a father, I am leading my children by word and deed. Through my example, I am speaking boldly about how I view God’s command to remember the Sabbath. When I am frazzled, I react to my children, rather than respond. Much the same could be said of my relationship with my wife. As I lead in our marriage, we both desperately need to be healed and restored through some form of Sabbath. With three young children at home, I am fully convinced that my wife needs this! As a youth worker, I am influencing many other young people who are already caught up in the proverbial rat race and longing for someone to give them permission to stop. Remembering the Sabbath is also critical to their ability to know and have an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. As a leader, my example is what directs those whom I lead.

            Remembering the Sabbath doesn’t have to necessarily be a day, but it does need to be purposefully remembered. “God gave us the gift of Sabbath – not just as a day, but as an orientation, a way of seeing and knowing. Sabbath-keeping is a form of mending. It’s mortar in the joints” (2-3). I know all those I lead need this mending, and I know even more how greatly I need His healing touch. It’s better that I begin taking time to do this now. If Psalm 23 is accurate (and I believe it is), then either I lie down for a Sabbath or “He makes me lie down.” There have been times that I have seen this evidenced in my life. At times it’s been through a sickness. Others have experienced a broken car. In any event, we all need time for rest, renewal and restoration – God knows that, and we should be on the same page.

            Part of my problem with Sabbath is purposing what to do with it. Again, Buchanan gently smacks the side of my head.

“Maybe,” I said, “that’s the problem: you think he wants your attention in order    for you to do something. Maybe he just wants your attention.” Maybe that’s what God requires most from us: our attention. Indeed, this is the essence of a Sabbath heart: paying attention. It is being fully present, wholly awake, in each moment. It is the trained ability to inhabit our own existence without remainder, so that even the simplest things – the in and out of our own breathing, the coolness of tiles on our bare feet, the way wind sculpts clouds into crocodiles and polar bears – gain the force of discovery and revelation” (50).

Being fully present is something that would be a breath of fresh, Sabbath air in my life. Imagine how different life would be if I were to be fully present with my children. Picture Daddy with his crown and plastic cup of “hot tea” enjoying the sights, smells and the sounds that pass by all too quickly as my girls grow up and move on. Think of this minus the usual thinking of what else needs to be done or how to respond to that nasty email. What would life be like if I were fully present with my wife, enjoying the company of an amazing woman who I believe God truly to have made just so for me? Imagine taking in every word as if I were getting to know her all over again (because I probably am). Consider being fully present with my teens – actually listening intently to their feelings and struggles without scanning the files of my brain for the perfect biblical response. How would my wife, children, and teens feel about me if Sabbath were a priority? How would my wife, children, and teens feel about God if Sabbath were a priority?

            Spending several years in full-time vocational ministry, I can totally understand that “there can be no real worship without true rest” (94). So as I rest, I believe the starting point should be in my personal time with God. “It is no accident that the lengthy passage in Hebrews about Sabbath rest and hearing God’s voice is immediately followed by this: “For the word of God is living and active…” (187). The more I allow the word of Christ to dwell in me richly, the more I will understand and see Sabbath as essential to my worship of Almighty God. I also have taken to heart the quotation from Dorothy Bass: “Without a fast, it’s hard to recognize a feast” (163). Even now, I’m making plans for a partial fast during the week prior to Thanksgiving. I want Thanksgiving to be a sort of Sabbath – a time of great celebration and remembrance of all the things for which I should be thankful. Time with those I lead could be in and of themselves celebratory if I am renewed through restfully spending time in His Word (rather than rushing through the pages to mark off my list) and stopping some things which have taken control of my life (such as time on the internet or food cravings).

            As Mark Buchanan explains, Sabbath is “to cease from that which is necessary” (126) in order to “embrace that which gives life” (127). The things which take up my time are all very necessary, but they are not all life-giving and renewing. I’ve committed to spending time quarterly reading something that I don’t have to read. I thoroughly enjoy the written word, but I find myself skimming rather than reflecting. I’ve also determined there will be days during the week in which my attention is not to be upon anything other than my God and my family. “Some quality of life should mark the difference between our days of rest and celebration and our days of toil and production” (165). Taking a walk, going out for a meal, sitting at the library during story time, watching an old movie with my wife – these are things that can be different from the days or times of work. These are also things which give life. At the risk of becoming legalistic about my newfound conviction regarding the Sabbath, I am also daily working through my Sabbath “orientation.” In the busyness of my day, one of my daughters might say, “Daddy, please come play with me.” Stop. Rest. Be. “Ok, honey, what do you want to play?” She shrugs her shoulders. “Anything.” Anything, as long as she can be with her Daddy – a little Sabbath in the day.

            I’ve a long way to go in terms of tuning in to the Divine interventions which should bring cause to pause and reorient my life toward Sabbath. Hearing the heart behind the words of my wife, seeing the loneliness in the face of teenagers, or looking down to see the little hand grabbing mine – perhaps they are all ways through which God is trying to get my attention, not just to do something but simply to be attentive. I’ve no doubt that my leadership in the lives of those God has placed under my care will be dramatically and substantially different if I heed the voice of God and adopt a deep passion for remembering the Sabbath.

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