By Kim Johnson
It is 9:05 PM on December 19. This devotion publishes in a matter of hours. (Well, technically it publishes as soon as I hit the blue ‘publish’ button over there, but it gets to YOU in a few hours.) Pastor Brian has gently reminded me about this devotion at least 3x/week since mid-November. And every time I [less gently] say “I know. I’ve got it. It will get done.”
He saved December 20 for me because it’s my birthday (see last year’s 12/20 devo for all the ins and outs of having and surviving a dreaded December birthday). But, I REALLY think he saved December 20 for me because it was just about as far to the end as one could get, in the hopes that I’d eventually write it and get it to him to get to you all.
And so here we are. It’s now 9:09 PM and I’m here to tell you that I STINK at resting and sabbath. As we approach Christmas and days that hopefully we have set aside for rest and time with family, I wonder where you fall on the resting/sabbath spectrum. Will your days be restful, or will you fill your days off with projects or tasks?
I’ve been on quite a journey this year trying to make myself slow down and rest. Some days and some seasons I’m more successful than others. This particular season (Advent/Christmas + Bi-District Training Day season) is always a busy one, and this year is no exception.
On this, what should be my ‘screen-free-Saturday’ I’ve officially clocked 7.5 hours of work and I’ve got a few more hours to go before I call it a day. In fact looking at my hours reports* for the past week I worked 17 hours Monday, 13 hours Tuesday, 10.5 hours Wednesday, 14 hours Thursday, and 12 hours Friday. Tomorrow I will clock at the very least 5 hours of Sunday morning worship and tech support for 2 churches. This. Is. Insanity. I say this not to be boastful–there is nothing to boast about here–but to let you know that I STINK at rest.
So back to sabbath. What is sabbath? Put very simply, sabbath is intentional time of rest and worship. Sabbath is talked about in the Scriptures in various places– in the Old Testament we are asked to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy–referring to the day to be set aside each week for worship. In the New Testament Jesus gets asked about it and accused of breaking it on more than one occasion. There is a whole exegetical [<– fancy churchy word for study of Scripture or a text] conversation and examination to be had there, but this is neither the time nor place for that. Suffice it to say, that practicing Sabbath is biblical, and is important, and even Jesus thought so.
So, why is it so dang hard? Even in this year of stay home and so many canceled plans #thankscovid, many of us, myself the prime example here, find it hard to slow down and rest. We live in a world where success is measured by how much we do, how productive we are, long lists of things we’ve accomplished or gotten done. As someone who has worked multiple jobs at once for as long as I can remember — back in the college days I worked from 6AM-12PM at a childcare center with their big kid camp and then sprinted across town for my afternoon shift in my uncle’s law office– slowing down and resting, in my head, just feels lazy. Really, what it feels is uncomfortable. When my brain is working a mile a minute and my hands are busy typing or my body is busy moving from this activity to that, it feels normal. Sitting down and being quiet and doing nothing is not something I do well. It feels SO. VERY. WEIRD. A list of ‘shoulds’ fills my brain when I try and slow down– I should finish this project, I should get started on that, I should be doing this, I should be doing that. And all those shoulds make it that much harder to rest. So trying to rest and worship nearly impossible …
So, back to my sabbath journey– this year I’ve been practicing rest. I strive to take a full day every week away from my screens. I try and use that day to do things that use my mind differently. Rabi Abraham Heschel says, “If you work with your hands, sabbath with your mind. If you work with your mind, sabbath with your hands.” And I’ve tried to take that to heart. It has helped me put some of the things that once were stressful undone items on my endless to-do list like laundry and cleaning into my rest days as ‘working with my hands.’ Instead of being frenzied while doing those things in order to get back to the long list of projects and items for my paying jobs, I’ve tried hard to prolong those regular old household tasks and to do so with a spirit of rest and worship. Because as I’ve learned during this journey, a big part of truly taking sabbath is to worship. So, while folding laundry I’ve exchanged my tv binging [most of the time] for worship music or faith-related podcasts. I’ve taken time to build things, to create things, to organize things in my home, and to use that time to *try* and rest my soul.
I still have A LOT to learn (see paragraph 5 above!) but I can look back at the past few months and see some progress.
So, on this Sunday– the typical Sabbath day for those who don’t work on Sundays–I ask you to ponder how you will rest today. What will you do with your mind or your hands that is opposite of your every day life. And what will you do to make that a true time of rest and worship?
And, as we approach Christmas– a time that many of us have days off from our jobs, how will we find time and make time to seek sabbath amidst the holiday chaos that so quickly and easily fills up those days off?
Looking for books or resources on Sabbath? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll share some of my favorites with you.
*Need an hour-tracking program, Toggl is the best there is.
If you’ve missed any of our previous daily posts, you can find them all archived here. We hope these devotional offerings are helping you encounter God this season!