April 27, 2019
We live in a busy, hyper-kinetic, wired, and overly-connected time that is no longer bound by the clock or the calendar. There seems to be no significant “dividers” for our days. One day runs into the next. Weeks slide into months. There are few parameters or “fences” that mark the passage of time. Time is an unceasing blur, as we constantly move from one event to the next, from one thing to the other. Thus, we tend to live in a space of unregulated activity and busy-ness.
From a spiritual and psychological perspective, this state of constant movement and restlessness comes at a great price. In many ways, I too have been caught-up in being too active, too productive, and too busy.
This Counseling Newsletter is about Rest and Sabbath. For much of my life I have not taken seriously God’s exhortation (command) to rest in Him. Sadly, I have been reluctant to set aside enough of my pressing agenda to allow time to deeply relax, breathe, and find rest in God. But, this is a new season and I am desirous of developing a lifestyle of more fully resting in God and intentionally developing a Sabbath heart and habit.
In September 2018, I was in Switzerland serving as a staff psychologist at a men’s Christian retreat called TRACTION. During this time it became clear to me that I had not lived a life of rest and resting in God—I had not seriously considered the notion of Sabbath. While in Switzerland I wrote an email message to my adult kids. Here is what I wrote:
“Adult Morey Kids—as I write this (and I will tell you this in person) I want to apologize for not modeling well for you how to rest, be quiet, and be still—and take Sabbath. We’ve been talking about Sabbath and rest in our small groups and I shared that I think I taught you well how to work, how to be productive, how to serve others, how to use your time well, and how to play hard. But, I went onto say that I don’t think that I taught or modeled for you (at least not well or consistently) how to take time to rest, slow down, and be still. For this I apologize. I am wondering how/if you may have learned this elsewhere or from others (maybe from Mom). When I get back, and in the months ahead, I would really like to unhurriedly, and at a leisurely pace, listen to your thoughts/feelings on this.”
The conversation about Sabbath, within my own soul and with my adult kids, continues. Below are a series of quotations. The books from which these passages are drawn are listed on page 4. They express the wisdom of taking time for rest and Sabbath. If a need for Sabbath and rest resonates with you —I invite you to bring that conversation to one of our sessions.
In a culture where busyness is a fetish and stillness is laziness, rest is sloth. But without rest, we miss the rest of God…Some knowing is never pursued, only received. And for that, you need to be still….Sabbath is a day and an attitude—a spot on the calendar and a disposition of the heart…Sabbath—in the long run, is as essential to your well-being as food and water, and as good as a wood fire on a cold day.
I was just in a hurry. I’ve been in a hurry most of my life. My biggest regret in life—being in a hurry. Getting to the next thing without full entering the thing in front of me.
Time itself is not enough, but when time is absent, nothing else is present.
When I was a boy I learned to skip rocks across a lake. If I threw the stone fast and true, it could skip clear to the other side, barely getting wet. But if I threw it too slowly, it hit the water once and disappeared. We don’t want to disappear. If we slow down we might be pulled by gravity to the bottom of our feelings, we might drown in all we have lost. So we keep moving, never finding refuge.
These “lost” values are human qualities that require time. Honesty, courage, kindness, civility, wisdom, compassion——these can only be nourished in the soil of time and attention, and they need experience and practice to come to harvest. These are not commodities that can be bought, sold, or invested. They cannot be manufactured, advertised, or marketed. Our core human values, the deepest and best of who we are require the nourishment of time and care, if we are to grow and flourish.
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, whole awake, in each moment.
Martha’s industry joined to Mary’s attentiveness. The best is to have Martha’s hand and Mary’s heart. Put your hand to the task, Martha-like, and do it with all your heart, Mary-like. (see Luke 10)
Leisure and Sabbath
Before we keep a Sabbath day, we cultivate a Sabbath heart.
Leisure is Sabbath bereft of the sacred. It is a vacation—literally a vacating, an evacuation. Leisure has become despotic in our age, enslaving us and exhausting us, demanding from us more than it gives.
Sabbath and Relaxing Without Guilt
The lie here is that I have no right to rest…I have no right to a lot of things. I have an inescapable need for rest. You cannot rest until your work is done…and the work’s never done. It’s always more than you can finish and less than you had hoped for. Sabbath is sheer gift. Sabbath is a stop-work order in the midst of work that’s never complete, never polished. It’s the rest we take smack-dab in the middle, without apology, without guilt, and for no better reason than God told us we could.
Sabbath and Paying Attention
Stop. Look. Look Close.
There is a subplot of comedy in the Bible: God or Jesus or an angelic messenger shows up, and those who should know better, who should be paying attention—priests, lawyers, teachers, apostles—typically miss it—while those least deserving—shepherds, children, beggars, whores—typically grasp it, and immediately…Of all the days we might set apart to practice the art of attentiveness, Sabbath is an outstanding candidate. Sabbath invites us to stop—to relax w/o guilt.
The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception (Prov. 14:8). The wisdom of the wise is to give thought to their ways. They think about what they’re doing. Wise people ask, “Does this path I’m walking lead to a place I want to go? If I keep heading this way, will I like where I arrive?”
We only thrive by an ample measure of stillness. A bird not nesting, then plummets. Grass trampled day after day—gets scalped and hard. A saw used without relent grows dull and brittle. A motor new that is not maintained sputters, stalls, and seizes.
We’ve not been still long enough, often enough, to know ourselves, our friends, our family. Our God. The worst hallucination busyness conjures is the conviction that I am God. All depends on me. How will the right things happen at the right time if I’m not pushing and pulling and watching and worrying?
Play is an anticipation, as shadow is of reality, of a rest that never ends. Play and Sabbath are joined at the hip, and sometimes we rest best when we play hardest.
Play feels irresponsible. How can you justify it when there are so many things still to do on your to-do list?
The Sabbath in the Old Testament (Psalm 92:1-5) was a day for rejoicing. Many modern readers of the Bible seem to miss this. They imagine the Old Testament Sabbath as an oppressive day burdened by endless rules and prohibitions. But it wasn’t like that. People didn’t have to go to work! They were given an opportunity to gather with their families and friends from morning till evening and enjoy the presence of God! It was a good day—one in which they could literally play lively tunes on their harps and sing joyful psalms from their hearts.
God’s Sovereignty and Sabbath
Unless we trust God’s sovereignty, we don’t dare risk Sabbath…Jewish Sabbath begins in the evening—with sleep. Sleep is an act of faith.
There’s no rest for those who don’t believe that God is sovereign. If God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called to His purposes, you can relax. If He doesn’t, start worrying. If God can take any mess, any mishap, any wastage, any wreckage, any anything, and choreograph beauty and meaning from it, then you can take a day off. If He can’t, get busy. Either God’s always at work, watching the city, building the house, or you need to try harder. Either God is good and in control, or it all depends on you.
Sabbath as Counter-Cultural
Jesus’ Sabbath-keeping always looked to His enemies like Sabbath-breaking. That was one of the many ironies of their accusations against Him.
Isaiah 58:13-14. Isaiah brings the central issue of the Sabbath controversy into clear and bold focus. Whose day is it? Who is the Lord of the Sabbath, and will I bow before Him? How does the Lord of the Sabbath want me to use the day for my good and His glory?
Mark 2:27. You are not made for the Sabbath; the Sabbath is made for you.
Sabbath and the Heart
When I say Sabbath, I also mean an attitude. It is a perspective, an orientation. I mean a Sabbath heart, not just a Sabbath day. A Sabbath heart is restful even in the midst of unrest and upheaval. It is attentive to the presence of God and others even in the welter of much coming and going, rising and falling. It is still and knows God even when mountains fall into the sea.
Sabbath Set Apart
God blessed the seventh day and made it holy. Literally, that means that God sanctified it or set it apart (from the other days). God made the seventh day something special, a spiritual and material blessing for all humanity.
The word holy refers to someone or something that is unique, distinct, set apart by God from common use for His purposes. We are called to keep or maintain the Sabbath as a day set apart by God for rest and refreshment of both body and soul.
Sabbath as a Covenant
Thus, the Sabbath became a sign of the covenant, an emblem of the special relationship of grace between the Redeemer-God and His chosen people.
Sabbath and Rest
A major blessing of Sabbath keeping is that it forces us to rely on God for our future. On that day we do nothing to create our own way. We abstain from work, from our incessant need to produce and accomplish, from all the anxieties about how we can be successful in all that we have to do to get ahead. The result is that we can let God be God in our lives.
Rest is here defined as refreshment. The fact that we are not working does not necessarily mean that we are resting. The word translated “refresh” in the Old Testament also means to “breathe.” A man is refreshed when, having exhausted himself, he recovers his breath. The Sabbath is a God-given opportunity to catch our breath in the midst of our weekly routine of work.
The Sabbath prescription is a loving reminder to take full advantage of a condition that already exists. At rest, our souls are restored. This is the only commandment that begins with the word, “remember,” as it refers to something we already know, but have forgotten. It is good. It is whole. It is beautiful. In our hurry and worry and acquiring and working, we forget. Rest, take delight in the goodness of creation, and remember how good it is.
Just because we are working hard does not mean we are making anything happen.
The wisdom of Sabbath time is that at a prescribed moment, it is time to stop. We cannot wait until we are finished, because we are never finished. We cannot wait until we have everything we need, because the mind is seduced by endlessly multiplying desires. We cannot wait until things slow down, because the world is moving faster and faster, and we cannot be left behind. There are always a million good reasons to keep on going, and never a good enough reason to stop.
Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives. Wayne Muller.
Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time. Dorothy Bass.
Celebrating the Sabbath: Finding Rest in a Restless World. Bruce Ray
The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath. Mark Buchanan