I am deeply grateful that Jessica and Angie have given me this chance to be part of your family as you read and listen together, being challenged, comforted and nourished by uncovering what you may find – and what may also find you – in Sabbath.
As it happened, God did provide me that insurance – just enough to cover an
extended hospital stay in intensive-care. My saintly frenzy had so corroded my immune system that I contracted a case of case streptococcal pneumonia, a disease as rare to get as it is to survive. The real insurance is my being alive to tell my story, which I do, in the book – but as a cautionary, not an example to follow.
We all, myself included, thirst for this Sabbath promise of rest, ease and delight. But we will also uncover our own particular challenges in creating Sabbath time in our increasingly busy, complex, and overwhelming world.
As we begin, I have the unique opportunity to share with you a few potent, valuable teachings I could only have learned from speaking with, and listening to, thousands of people who have already read Sabbath. Because they have lived with its message, and tried to make real its invitation into Sabbath time, I can now offer a few guideposts along the way that I could not possibly have known before the book was published. So I offer here the gifts unearthed by those many who have come before, in hopes they may offer some guidance and mercy as you plant these Sabbath seeds in the garden of your own life.
I have, for the past two years, been accumulating many of these lessons in a new book, A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough. I continue to learn from, and share with, many people who call me for mentoring. But for now, let me share a few insights I describe in the new book.
The first lesson I have learned, and would like to share, is this:
1) Regardless how beautiful its invitation, and no matter how clear our need for it, Sabbath time is fiercely elusive. Yet without Sabbath, many good- hearted people feel more exhausted, overwhelmed, and discouraged.
Wherever I go, I am privileged to meet with parents and teachers, business people and community volunteers, doctors, clergy, nurses, and civil servants. Each describes some relentless assault of increasing expectations and demands. They confess they feel bone-weary, spent, used-up. What is required of them feels impossible. Nothing they do ever feels like enough.
How many of us take on increasingly impossible pressures and responsibilities? Most good, ordinary people ache simply to do what they can, to help their families, communities, and their world become more beautiful and more loving. Yet each in their own way feels some corrosive pressure to go faster, produce, perform, more and more perfectly, every day.
The second lesson:
2) We rarely, if ever, feel any permission from anywhere or anyone that it is all right for us to stop, to rest, to take Sabbath time.
Even if we believe in taking Sabbath, we rarely know if whatever we have done is enough. We cannot feel when we have accomplished enough, given enough,loved enough - we are drowning in an inner maelstrom of heart-shredding self-judgment, and a shameful sense of insufficiency.
It is as if our soul’s inner thermostat is broken, incapable of sending or receiving reliable information that signals us to stop. We seem to have lost the deep exhale of knowing in our gut that now we can rest, without worry or regret. Without that permission from our own soul’s wisdom, we will never stop mindlessly shoveling more and more coal into the fierce and unbearable furnace of our overheated lives.
The third lesson I have learned:
3) There is a reason that Sabbath is a commandment, and not merely a lifestyle suggestion. Because, left to our own judgment, we may never make the choice, nor feel the permission to stop.
Only when we finish everything on our desk, to- do list, calendar, deadline, perfectly, every time, then (we say), we will have earned our rest.
But this ridiculously impossible moment never arrives. How can we feel safely comfortable enough to put it down, walk away, let it be, and call it a day?
Here’s the problem: We won’t. We can’t. We never will. Knowing this, God takes it out of our hands. Makes it a commandment…Do not kill, Do not steal, Take a day off. Leviticus makes it clear: at sundown, we stop. No excuses, no special circumstances, one more meeting, email, phone call, report. Nothing. Done. Stop. Now. God can take it from here.
This gets us to lesson four:
4) We need to find some deep, inner permission to take Sabbath time.
As silly as this sounds, even though Sabbath rest is a Biblical commandment, most of us never feel we can let ourselves take it. Nearly everyone I have spoken with feels guilty for taking time off; can’t justify it if others are still working; worries things will fall apart if they are not watching over everything; feel unworthy when they are not contributing; worry about being seen as lazy; worry if they stop, their latent, inner sloth will take over and they might never work again, eat ice cream on the couch and watch Oprah until they die; are afraid of what they may find in the stillness and quiet; and finally, we are actually worried that, in the end, God can’t really handle the universe very well without our help and, well…supervision.
Not surprisingly, this last one is most popular among church-goers and clergy.
I could go on, but I won’t. Let me end with a few observations, and offer a blessing on your own adventure.
We cannot do this alone. This is extremely important.
What we need instead is what you are doing together here, now. We must have honest and honorable conversations with our family, our work, our congregation about how we wish to live and work together in time. All things precious and sacred need Sabbath time. Children need unhurried, undistracted Sabbath time. Love can only flourish in time. Marriages and families can only work peacefully and compassionately together with sufficient time. Friendship needs time; trust needs time; community, prayer, worship, all need time. If we refuse to set aside sufficient time for what is sacred and undervalued by worldly time, everything we claim to hold as precious will get dropped, will break, will get lost forever.
We can only do this together. We need to remind one another that Jesus said to all who would toil, heavy laden, that he would give us “REST.” He didn’t offer Seven Spiritual Tools for Inner Success, or Time Management for Busy Christians, or anything like that. Just rest. Stop.
We need to remind one another that Jesus said “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”
He actually says it twice, for emphasis. As often as we embrace the suffering servant, Jesus offers mercy and rest. Without the love of good, honest friends to remind us, we will forget.
May your journey be gentle, easy, nourishing, and filled with the grace of a loving community listening together for the innumerable sounds of the divine creator blowing through us as wind through a flute, as we are used to make the music that may heal the world.