“Some people don’t need to rest but I do,” she said. In the rhythm of the conversation, it wasn’t the time to contradict her assumption that some do not need rest. I just nodded, “Yeah, me too.”
The great American myth is that we can accomplish more if we muscle through without rest. The great American sin is failing to take care of ourselves and, in the process, failing to trust God that the world will keep spinning without us. It is an arrogance. It is an idolatry to worship work at the expense of rest and self-care.
Besides our arrogance and failure to trust the divine spirit that flows through creation, when we neglect self-care and regular sabbath we abuse ourselves.
Threaded through the biblical witness from Genesis (e.g.; Gen. 2:3) to Jesus (e.g.; Mark 2:27) is an emphasis on the importance of self-care and rest. Living into the image of God in which all of us are created, we need regular sabbath. Despite the church’s traditional (self-serving?) teaching that sabbath is primarily about going to church, the reality is that most references to sabbath in the Bible are about abstention from work, rest, and self-care.
Created in the image of the divine, maltreating ourselves through overwork is abusing God.
When we forsake physical and emotional rest, we are more likely to mistreat others and break the Golden Rule (Matthew 22:34-40). When we fail to care for ourselves we are less kind, less patient, and, in my case, quicker to become angry and short over minuscule slights. Harming the God in me, harms the God in you.
Without regular sabbath, we cease to be the people we were created to be.
Though productive and gratifying my spirit and body were ready for a sabbath hike at the end of the day. With thoughts of wafting sage and a murmuring river, I began filling water bottles and checking my pack.
Making a “just in case” stop before heading the twenty-five miles to our localstate park, I watched as the energy of out-of-towners turned our small town gas station abuzz. Some smiled; many looked pained and stressed.
The station manager smiled at me and I her. It was a holiday weekend at the only gas stop for fifty miles. Our small talk while she pumped multiple cars revealed that though it was still before four, she’d been chewed out several times by stressed holiday-goers.
Once filled, I headed down to the park. As I passed wheatfields, the old abandoned homestead, a parishioner’s ranch, and the wind farms I noted actual traffic on our two-lane highway. I waved at the sheriff as I slowed to pass him writing a ticket.
The thought emerged as I made the twenty-five minute drive but impressed itself upon my brain as I walked the quiet trails in the canyon. My holidays are significantly different than those of others. We’ve long since given up stress-cations and are healthier for it.
Walking quietly along the trail, I listened to the gurgling river, the singing birds, and humming insects. The stress of my day flowed out of me with each footfall. Respite is not tied to a place; it is in the journey. My sabbath began as I filled my water bottles and stopped for gas. My healing was jump started by smiles and small talk at the gas station.
The friendly wave from the sheriff and the nod from the woman leaving the trailhead are not a means to an end. They are the sabbath itself.
I hope that the hurrying masses find the peace they need when finally arriving where they’re going on this holiday weekend but I wonder. I wonder if they might have more joy if they slowed down and breathed in the journey rather than fighting it.
As my level of fatigue increases, my positivity decreases. When I am tired I self-judge harshly, my self-esteem goes down, and I am less tolerant of imperfections in others. This is particularly true of the fatigue that comes from of a lack of adequate sleep. That is, hard work and fatigue from physical exertion do not have as strong an impact on my mood if I’m getting proper sleep.
God, as experienced by our ancient kindred of the faith, desires us to have periodic rest so that we can regenerate not only our bodies but our spirits.
God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work of creation. Genesis 2:3 CEB
Work can be done for six days, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of special rest, a holy occasion. You must not do any work on it; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the Lord. Leviticus 23:3 CEB
We need sleep and rest so that we can be the people we are created to be. This may be the greatest sin of our twenty-first century western lifestyle in which we are always connected. We don’t get the rest and sleep that we need to be kind to one another and ourselves.
Though it is not the whole answer, I wonder if the rampant polarization and evils that we see in our world might be lessened if we took better care of ourselves. I wonder if we were all better rested, we might be more tolerant and loving.
God of the Sabbath: We confess our always-on lifestyles contradict your will for us. May we trust you that six days is enough. May we take better care of ourselves, keeping sabbath rest sacred. Amen.
A dozen tiny mosquitoes circle around me with their own demands as I trudge through a major project with a looming deadline. An even larger project lurks in the background awaiting its turn.
My old-self, the one knee deep in workaholism and self-worth defined by doing, nags me, “Just keep working! You’re only worthy if you’re working. Rest is for whoosies!” I’m tempted to believe old-self. Old-self is forged from America’s harsh Puritanical religion, from a culture that values things over people, and money over joy.
I’m tempted to embrace our toxic culture. I’m tempted to remain at the keyboard until my shoulders ache and my brain ceases to function. But the Spirit reminds me that God desires joy for me. God desires that we rest in the midst of the hectic.
2And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. Genesis 2:2 NRSV (Read in context.)
Too often we read this passage as our ticket to rest only after we finish our work–all of it! But the Genesis narrative is not about creating worlds before we’re worthy of rest. It is about taking time for rest in the midst of our work. God wasn’t finished creating before resting. This was but the first story in a sacred text filled with stories of God’s works. God still speaks to us. God still works in the world. God continues creating the loving realm that God desires.
To hear the voice of God, to feel the divine presence of the One blowing on our skin, and be the co-creators God desires us to be requires periodic rest. If we are made in the image of the One as the biblical witness tells us, then sabbath is as important as hard work. Sabbath is about rest and trust. Do we trust God that there will be manna enough for tomorrow, that the work will get done?
In the midst of a huge project and mosquito tasks, I choose to trust. I choose to walk the sabbath trail.