Many people think that sabbath, what we are more broadly calling sacred rest, is about naps or doing nothing. That can be a part of it, but I have come to believe it is about something more, especially in our culture of distraction. Sacred rest is about ceasing, but not just any kind of ceasing. It’s about making the conscious decision to cease working, cease striving, cease producing, cease consuming, cease from problem-solving and cease competing (trying to measure up). Once we choose to cease from these things we stop trying to make time and begin receiving it (we can’t make time anyhow–it is already made).
When we choose to see time as something to be received, we soon discover that rest and the ability to slow down is within reach. We begin pushing back against our tendency to want time to pass. We stop fiddling with our phones in line at the grocery store. We stop aimlessly flipping through magazines while we wait at the doctors office. Instead we recognize time as a gift that invites us to receive a few moments of inward and outward rest. We remember that rest isn’t only necessary, it is sacred, a holy gift given by our holy God. Sacred rest is for our good so we can live lives that are good. Then we will learn that sacred rest isn’t so much about entering into God’s presence as it is about God’s presence entering into us. Our eyes will slowly open to the soul-settling presence of God.
This is so much easier to write and talk about than to practice, I admit. But it doesn’t change the reality that only when we choose to cease working, striving, producing, consuming, problem-solving and competing can we recognize that God has always been with us through the presence of his Spirit, longing to bear witness to his work within us, and between us and others. In sacred rest our attention can be given to the people, places, things and experiences God has created and worked-out all around us, like our families, encounters with co-workers, conversations with neighbors, and in the life-shaping truths of the Scriptures and the soul-forming experience of prayer.
This past Sunday as we reflected on God’s activity in the creation narrative (Genesis), we saw that when God ceased creating, he created sacred rest. He did so in the ordinary earthiness of humanity and time. I believe this shows us that sacred rest can indeed be found in the ordinariness of life, in the grittiness of our every day comings-and-goings. The monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani (where I spent a week in January) illustrate this as they pause from work seven different times a day to pray the psalms and give God thanks and praise (what they call Liturgy of the Hours). Likewise, extended moments of sacred rest can be found in ways so ordinary that it may surprise us:
- by turning off the radio while driving to work and spend that time silently talking with God, recognizing his presence
- in the slow reading of a psalm during lunch and allowing it to shape your lunchtime prayer
- by taking your fifteen minute break from work to sit quietly, undistracted by technology, to close your eyes and silently sit, pray or meditate on your favorite scripture
- as you go about routine tasks, like grocery shopping, washing clothes, or putting away the dishes, you consciously choose a sense of gratitude and awareness for the reasons behind and for the task over the urge to be anxious or frustrated with the task
- as you walk to class with the earphones out and thoughtfully recognize God’s artistry in creation, including the people you see hustling about from one class to the next.
As we’ve talked about before, sacred rest begins as an inner disposition, an inward act of defiance, and leads to a different way of being at any given moment. Here’s the key: these moments of sacred rest grow and mature into a Spirit-stirred longing to reorganize our lives and priorities to set aside an hour, morning, afternoon, evening or even entire day to unplug from all the technology and noise to spend quality time enjoying the gift of God-blessed friendship and family. We can practice a new way of receiving time and receiving the gift of sacred rest where God’s Holy Spirit begins to form within us a settled presence that allows us to be faithfully present with others. I believe God wants this for us.
I want to close by offering you a glimpse into a surprisingly ordinary rhythm of sacred rest. To do so I have to let one someone in our church family take it from here. Meet Allison Anderson (if you don’t know you’re missing out!). Listen to her witness of how God’s Spirit has helped her make the connection between sacred rest and her missional community (what we call Life Connection Groups):
I was thinking about this during our conversation around Sabbath as sacred rest and how it connects to our LCG. Try to follow this crazy train of thought. I didn’t want to join and LCG because I didn’t have time. I was too busy working, being mom, wife, etc. Eventually I committed for my husband. Now spending time with our LCG has become a scheduled “partial”sabbath, in the sense that it’s become peace-giving (despite all the kids we have in our LCG!). My family enjoys our weekly meal with friends, we focus on the Lord and share in his mission, and it gives me friends to walk with as we learn for follow Jesus. Meeting with my LCG forces me to slow down. It’s 2 hours of sacred rest in the middle of my week!
This is how it has affected her vocation as an assistant principle of a middle school:
I talk to every kid like I’m the only light they will see that day. In many cases I’m afraid that is the case. I try to be more present with adults and never miss a chance to tell them where my “spunk,” as they call it, comes from. I literally ask the Lord for his armor every morning and realize as I drive home that he had me in his arms all day. I am more aware of his presence and calling on my life. There is no way I could do this kind of meaningful work without Him.
Sacred rest is an invitation to receive time differently and leads to a new way of being and a reorganized and reprioritized way of doing, just like we see in Allison’s story.
See you Sunday!
- How can you find extended moments of sacred rest and receive time differently?
- How can you reorganize your time to cultivate new rhythms of sacred rest?