Last weekend I decided to take the day of rest seriously. I have always believed in the concept of a Sabbath and had read the words “keep the Sabbath holy” countless times, but I had gotten a bit lazy. Yes, lazy in keeping a day of rest. I would remember something I had to finish for a class on Monday. Read an article. Work on a presentation. I’d try to keep it generally free, but slipped into a mindset of still doing so-called “emergency tasks”.
But then, what really is an emergency? Isn’t there always going to be some more work to do? Is it not a decision you make to stop, leave everything and rest from your usual work for one day? Isn’t there something healthy and wholesome in obeying God by entering his day of rest and honouring this age-old practice?
A book I found at my church this summer has been challenging me in this. The Swedish original by Tomas Sjödin is called: Det händar när du vilar. I‘m reading the German translation, Warum Ruhe unsere Rettung ist, which means “Why rest is our rescue/salvation/deliverance”. A strong claim, though I’d say I prefer the Swedish title: It happens when you rest. The author is a writer, pastor, speaker who went on his own quest to discover more about rest by looking into how the Sabbath was and is celebrated in Jewish tradition. His approach is a refreshing combination between a good grasp of present-day reality and an insightful description of age-old practices and principles. I love how Sjödin lets the reader in on his own thoughts and reactions as he learns about the Sabbath, including rhetorical questions that lead one to reflect why one lives life with or without rest. One key thing that has intrigued me is the idea of rest not being passive, but active. Rest is not about “doing nothing” but about doing something different. And, in a way, you have to “be active” about resting in the first place.
Some of the questions asked:
What changes when you finish what you are working on and postpone rest for half an hour? What really changes? Nothing. But this is where we go wrong. We say “I just need to…do this one thing. Finish this one thing. Check this one thing…” and the clear cut between work and rest disappears. Finishing „one thing“ ends up being “and one other thing too”. The Sabbath in Jewish culture starts abruptly and deliberately. Friday evening. One moment people are still working, the next it is time to stop everything. People go home, change their clothes and begin the Sabbath by sharing a meal together. It is a deliberate stop of work and beginning of rest. I feel this is a really important aspect of rest. It must be deliberate. It is not the same to rest at random – unplanned rest often feels guilty. You think “I should be doing x”. This is not the case when rest is planned, anticipated, scheduled. There is nothing else you should be doing right now. It is time to rest.
Why did God rest on the seventh day? Did he need to rest? Was he exhausted? The book offers this interpretation: God created rest. Just like he created everything else before that. God created rest, for us. He established a pattern, an order – just as he established the order of all nature, of the universe, with days and months and seasons. And so the life of man and woman, created on day six, began with rest.
What is the relationship between work and rest? Work as God entrusts it to us is a responsibility, a privilege and a duty. We are not slaves that must be afraid of a god who enjoys seeing us suffer. Instead, God gives us responsibility to care for things on earth and responsibility to rest. To spend time alone with him, but also in fellowship with friends and family, to enjoy meals together, to praise God for his goodness and seek him.
In reading, I begin to remember something that I‘ve thought about before: the discipline of rest. A discipline to be cultivated, practiced, respected.
In our culture today it often seems almost sinful to be rested. Being stressed, having a lot to do, and too many people that demand your time is almost synonymous with being hard-working or successful. Sleeping in past 7am? Unthinkable if you want to make it in life. Maybe that’s an exaggeration…but I do find that “busyness” is highly prized and rest is saved for the yearly holiday where everyone tries to catch up on what was missed.
I’m in the middle of this. Not working or even doing homework on a Sunday used to be a no-brainer for me. There wasn’t even an option, this was Sunday. Family time. God time. Leisure time. The whole day. But like I said, I got lazy, especially during the last couple years. I got pretty stressed with finishing Uni and investing in different projects and trying to figure out the future…and kept thinking „when x is over I‘ll be more relaxed.“ When I pass my chemistry exam. When I‘m done with my thesis. When I’ve moved house. When I’ve completed my degree. But that‘s not a very helpful mindset: there will always be different stress factors in every phase of life. The question is, how do I deal with them? I’ve felt God leading me to rediscover his rest in the midst of the chaos of every day life. Slowing down. Taking things one step at a time. Focusing on the task – or rest – of the moment. It’s not always easy. I love making plans and starting projects and being involved in lots of exciting things…but am realizing that not everything worth doing can and must be done right away, or even by me. And I can commit my ten-year plan to God and trust that being present now, he will guide tomorrow. I am trying to work towards working when it’s time to work and resting when it’s time to rest. There is something liberating in following rules and principles. As Sjödin observes after an interview with a nun – the nuns he met at the convent live in a very strict manner with a lot of rules and regulations and yet, they were some of the most relaxed people he had ever met! We love being flexible and enjoying our “freedom” – but might there be something worth discovering in the freedom of living according to strict principles?
It’s something that‘s really true for lots of areas in our lives. The freedom that the Word of God gives when things get confusing, when emotional turmoil or stress would turn life upside down. Continuing to follow Jesus regardless of the storm, keeping my eyes and heart fixed on him and obeying God’s word give safety and direction and stop me from making rash decisions in moments of instability. Decisions I’d probably regret a little further down the road. I want to apply this to resting and discover what happens. Make rest a habit, a principle – a mindset. I haven‘t finished the book yet and am excited to see how it will challenge me further and what I can learn from the Jewish Sabbath teachings. The last part I read talked about not even trying to change anything on the day of rest. I like that too. Just let things be for one day. Don‘t fret about what isn‘t, be grateful for what is. Let things that are on your mind settle a bit and you never know, you might get peace doing nothing but resting.
What are your experiences with rest? Do you deliberately keep a day of rest every week? Saturday or Sunday or another day that suits your schedule better? Or do you tend to work more and not make a clear distinction between times of work and times of rest? Would love to hear your thoughts 🙂