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Last month, I met a friend for lunch. She had made some pretty radical changes in her life, including quitting a job at a highly regarded national company. It looked like the dream job — the stepping stone to career success. But to hear her tell her story, she was struggling. Her days began early and ended late. Work consumed her waking hours. Her stress level was making it difficult to sleep and it was hard to invest in relationships outside of work.
One weekend she got out of town for a mini retreat — just a couple of days out of the city to get some space and quiet. She got a lot of quiet that weekend. A freak spring snowstorm hit and knocked out the power. The roads were piled high with snow. She wasn’t in danger, but she wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while. To top it off, her phone was dead.
For the first few hours she managed to kill time. But when the silence and the aloneness caught up with her, she truly started being with herself. All the thoughts and feelings that she had been pushing aside for months in all the craziness of life came rushing forward. It took a weekend of absolute quiet to realize the busyness was slowly strangling her.
If we allow space in our lives, it’s likely that we’re going to have to start taking a good, hard look at ourselves.
Slowing down or even stopping is difficult to do. Americans are not culturally conditioned to reward rest. Our insatiable desire for money and the accumulation of material possessions often leads to long work hours and an out-of-balance lifestyle. That six-figure paycheck seems like a fair tradeoff for pushing ourselves to the brink.
Slowing down is made more difficult because technology is always “on.” A generation ago, people predicted that one of the main challenges for upcoming generations would be too much spare time. (They were just a little off with that prediction.) Rather than making space, technology has made our lives more complex. Our work life and our home life overlap. We answer emails at 9 p.m. and get texts from coworkers on our day off.
Before we know it, we find ourselves, like my friend, in the grip of external pressures that push us to go, go, go.
There is also something even deeper inside all of us that keeps us running and busy all the time: fear.
Fear of missing an opportunity.
Fear of disappointing someone.
Fear of not being included.
Fear of not being recognized.
And then there’s the fear of just being alone. We avoid rest because we can’t stand the silence.
It’s easier to keep our lives busy, rushing from one thing to the next, than it is to sit alone with our own thoughts. If we allow space in our lives, it’s likely that we’re going to have to start taking a good, hard look at ourselves. We may not like everything we see. We may have to confront what is hidden deeply in our hearts — whether that’s “I feel like a fraud at my job. I’d better put in tons of overtime so that it looks like I know what I’m doing,” or “I am incredibly lonely most of the time.”
Resting may be the most countercultural and spiritual thing we can do as people who follow God.
It’s as if God knew we would have a hard time with rest. Living a crazy, busy life isn’t just a modern problem, living a crazy, busy life is a humanity problem.
From the very early dealings with his people, God desires to give them rest. That is the beauty of the fourth commandment: remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
The word Sabbath means to stop. Full stop. Whatever you are doing, stop. Let your hands rest. Cease the constant consumption of ideas and information and products and simply be.
It is easy for us to get caught up in ourselves and begin to overestimate our own importance. So God gives us rest to set us free.
Free from our own busyness.
Free from our own self-importance.
Free to delight in God.
To delight in creation.
To delight in each other.
With Sabbath, God sends the message: rest is important to the way you live. So important I want you to do it regularly.
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann talks about the importance of Sabbath rest in his book Sabbath as Resistance:
Sabbath is the cornerstone of faithful freedom . . . it is an act of resistance. It declares in bodily ways that we will not participate in the anxiety system that pervades our social environment. We will not be defined by busyness and by acquisitiveness and by pursuit of more, in either our economics or our personal relations or anywhere in our lives. Because our life does not consist in commodity.
What a beautiful idea! Rest, rather than being something passive, is an act of resistance.
Resting may be the most countercultural and spiritual thing we can do as people who follow God. In our modern, crazy-busy, take-it-to-the-limit society, rest is an act of trust in a sovereign God.
In Psalm 46:10, the psalmist writes:
Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.
It will be hard to allow extra space in life. It’s likely to feel uncomfortable — we’re not used to it! It may look unnecessary. But it is in that very space that we prosper. Be still and know that I am God. In stillness, a very important truth is revealed: you are not God.
How about we stop living like it all depends on us?
How about we let go of that burden that was never ours to carry?
And in the stillness we know God. We have the space to truly experience the presence of God in a way we never would when we are continually rushing from one place to the next. Verse 10 is the climax of Psalm 46, but the beginning is worth noting:
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its water roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging . . .
Be still, and know that I am God.
It’s beautiful poetic imagery of trusting in God when the very foundations of the earth feel shaken. Written for the average person today, maybe the psalm would sound something like this:
God is the One I turn to for safety and strength.
I won’t be afraid when I don’t know when the next job will come in.
I won’t be afraid when my plans fail and my dreams are frustrated.
I won’t be afraid when markets rise and fall,
When outcomes seem uncertain,
Though I feel torn between conflicting demands on my heart and my mind and my time,
I will be still and know that You are God.
Sabbath. Stillness. Rest. All along God has been saying: trust me! I will care for you. You can live without anxiety and fear if you will regularly rest from the work and the production, the achieving and striving, the constant busyness — and turn to me!
When it is so easy to push it to the edge and take it to the limit and measure ourselves against one another, these are life-giving words. Trusting in who God is, who God has designed us to be, and realizing our part to play in God’s Kingdom are the hallmarks of a life with regular rest.
Most of the time, we don’t see our lives as careening off track and into danger. Until they are. Let’s not wait for a freak spring snowstorm to remind us to rest. Let’s be people committed to rest — to practicing it together and encouraging it in each other. In that way, we are actively trusting God.
Image courtesy of Steven Lewis.