FOCUS – God wants you to take a break
It was Saturday night, and my family and I had just sat down to watch the original “Sabrina,” which my oldest son had given me for Mother’s Day. The popcorn was popped, and I had a tall glass of iced tea. We were mesmerized, naturally, by the charming Audrey Hepburn, when the phone rang. My husband answered, and I cringed as it was passed to me.
On the other end was a woman from the corps who is very dear. She had a question about a Scripture passage she was reading. “Could we talk after church tomorrow?” I asked. “I just sat down to watch a movie with my family.”
She replied that that would be fine. But as I hung up the phone, a bolt of guilt surged through me. Were my priorities askew? Had I hurt her feelings? On the other hand, how long had it been since I’d watched a movie with my family? When was the last time I’d just flopped on the couch to enjoy myself?
I try to make every moment of my day count for something. And as a Christian and particularly as a pastor, I tend to feel that every moment should count for something eternal. With such a sense or urgency, it is tempting to devalue Sabbath, which means “to catch one’s breath,” or “cessation,” or “rest.” God himself was the first to practice Sabbath after creating the world. Assuming that God did not actually need to rest, one understands God to have been modeling the behavior he expected from those created in his image.
Sabbath has two components: rest and worship. God demands that we pause from our strenuous pace to do both. As Ron Hutchcraft writes (Living Peacefully in a Stressful World) “A Sabbath day of rest is built into creation. It cannot be cheated against.” We are in direct defiance of God’s Word when we consider Sabbath to be dispensable. Exodus 20:810 says: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work…” Hebrews 4 again underscores how serious God is about Sabbath.
When God commanded Sabbath, he knew we would consider ourselves too busy to keep it. But he has left us without excuse: “even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.” (Exodus 34:21) Hutchcraft writes: “Regular rest and recovery is not an option in God’s plan.”
In his delightful book Soul Salsa, Leonard Sweet suggests we “decentralize” the Sabbath. “Every day needs a holy hiatus,” he writes. “Every week needs to be well ventilated with sabbaticals. Christians know they must meet with God daily. But how do we feel about a bit of rest each day? Is that valid?
Part of our problem, I’m convinced, is that we do not allow each other regular sabbaticals. We push and push each other and fail to acknowledge when those around us need a break. Christians–those whom Jesus said would be known by their love for one another–should be well-equipped to detect when someone else must rest. Perhaps we need to extend a bit of grace to one another, even if it means being unfair to ourselves.
My two youngest sons–ages three and four–wake up between 5:30 and 6:00 every morning. They have done this their entire lives. My husband and I used to moan at each other, “It’s your turn.” “No, I was first up yesterday!” “Seriously? Well, could you cover for me just this once? I’ll do three days in a row, I promise!” This pattern frequently led to arguments and malcontent.
Somewhere along the line, Rob and I decided to have more compassion for each other. Most of the time, we get up together. But on other days–especially Saturdays–one of us will decide that the other needs more rest. Sometimes my husband will slip out of the house with kids and return with bagels, without me even knowing they were ever gone!
Perhaps a little bit of Sabbath rest is one of the greatest gifts we can give. What mother hasn’t requested “just a little peace and quiet” for Mother’s Day? What single parent wouldn’t be blessed to have a friend take the kids to McDonald’s so she could just relax? What corps officer wouldn’t be moved if the congregation decided to respect and even guard his or her day off? (And you should be taking one, officer. Remember, Sabbath is not a suggestion.)
We must be diligent for God. There is much work to be done for his Kingdom. But ragged is the worker who never refuels. Worship and rest are not matters of choice. So watch that movie, and spend time in the Word and prayer. The world will still be there tomorrow.