Week of 3/1/16 – Sabbath and Freedom from Anxiety

I received this message from a member of our faith community. He is a hard working husband and father who is diligently committed to his missional community (LCG) in WCC:

“The conversations on the Sabbath have reminded of how rushed I’ve become in past weeks. I was reminded of a time when I was ‘resting in the magnitude of God’ on a regular, daily basis and how good it felt to realize the weight of the world that I allow myself to believe is mine to carry is in the hands of an all powerful God. I was reminded that by habit, I made a decision to be present with God in Sabbath throughout my week and that allowed me to be more present with the people around me. I was reminded of how I replaced peace with the anxiety of maintaining my world – family, work, bills etc. This led me to regularly seek distractions to hide my restless thoughts temporarily, instead of giving them over to our God who invites us into sacred rest and settled presence.”

The frantic rush of always “producing” and problem solving. Paying bills, responsibly caring for our families. I feel what he is feeling. I bet many of you can too.

Our beginning point for this series on Sacred Rest and Settled Presence has been Exodus 20:8-11. Israel arrives at Mount Sinai after miraculous deliverance from Pharaoh’ Egypt. Egypt was slavery, an environment where systems of anxiety and scarcity led Pharaoh to create systems of coercion and fear. The anxiety formed by economy, selling making bricks to house grain to sell more grain requiring more bricks to house more grain—was the cycle. Israel had lost their true humanity and had become a labor commodity birthed from systems of anxiety.

At Sinai they are told that they are more than that workers, producers and consumers–they are God’s beloved and chosen people. They have been set free from the anxiety systems formed by a culture of distraction that tells them their identity is somehow bound up in possessions, producing, success or wealth. They are Yahweh’s beloved people and they can choose to cease working, striving, producing, and consuming, and trust in his provision and care. Consequently, they are called to break this system of anxious production by observing the Sabbath–a day where all are made equal and can equally rest.

In the Sabbath Yahweh personally voids out the entire system of anxious production. There are now limits to how much one makes and how long one works. This limit is set by the weekly pause that breaks the production cycle and by those who participate in it break the anxiety cycle. They are invited into an awareness that life does not consist in frantic production and consumption that reduces everyone and everything into products, agendas, or competition. They do not have to fall into the seduction of being great or winning.

This command of Sabbath at Sinai is God’s way of countering anxious productivity and promoting neighborliness—a settled presence in the home and in the neighborhood. They can trust God to provide for their needs. They can let go of trying to get ahead and simply be faithful to what they already have, what they do and who they “do life” with as God’s people.

In my view there isn’t too much our society values more than success and upward mobility (getting ahead). In and of themselves these aren’t bad things to strive for, unless it creates anxiety systems, i.e. ways of being and doing that pushes us toward more activity, makes us feel frantic, or leads us to work more, produce more, problem-solve more and view people as something other than neighbors and fellow humans. If thee anxiety systems are created we need to step by and ask the hard question of why success (and whatever that means at the time) and upward mobility is so important. We need to cease. We need sabbath.

What I have learned, and am learning, is that God never called any of us to “success.” He calls us to be faithful–faithful to what we have, to who he proclaims we are, to who is making us to be, to who he has already put in our path, to what he has equipped us to do; just faithful. And faithfulness will always include being fully present, attentive and thankful. Anxiety always pushes us away toward presence and redirects our attention toward multi-tasking (I am in the beginning stages of learning this part!). Anxiety pushes us toward discontentment with what we have and away from thankfulness. The antidote to all of this is Sabbath—sacred rest. It breaks the “production cycle” of wanting more, needing more, obsessing with more, and resists the anxiety systems. For example:

  • what-car-should-you-really-drive_100467774_mThe commercial may subtly tell you that you are the car you drive. You are not.
  • The neighbors may tell you that you are the cleanliness of your yard. You are not.
  • The family in our church may lead you to believe that if you are to be as loving and caring as they seem to be that you must do life as they do it. You do not.
  • Your company or career may suggest to you that if you are to really matter in your work that you must keep moving upward. You do not.

Like the Israelites at Sinai we are reminded that we are not created in the image of Pharaoh—our boss, spouse, child, neighbors, friends, family of faith—but in the image of our Creator who is not a workaholic and does not keep production schedules. He is a God who rests and is at peace, and invites us into his redemptive love and care, which can settle our hearts and minds. The God in whose image you are made invites you to sacred rest and settled presence. Rest in God’s provision and care, and focusing on remaining faithful to his invitation to trust him. Choose to obey God and trust him with the consequences.

I believe that it is in this same vein Jesus speaks in what others sometimes call his own little Sinai in the sermon on the mount:

 25 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:19-33)

Jesus isn’t just teaching us about money or possessions. He is inviting us to rethink what  organizing our lives around and how we receive the holy gift of time. He is inviting us into is a life organized around something different. He invites his disciples out of the anxiety system and invites them into organizing their lives around sacred rest and settled presence which comes when we learn to trust God for His provision and care.

The birds and the lilies teach us that God’s good creation works. God has set things in motion and sustains all he is done. We can’t control it. In actuality we have little control. If God can be trusted with the birds and the lilies he can be trusted with our lives. Trust His reigning presence, Jesus says, and our heavenly Father—our creator—will see to our well-being.

By discipline. By resolve, by our baptism, by the eucharist we resist the seduction of the anxiety system. We reorganize our way of being and doing and in doing so, we are ushered into the peace of God in whose image we are made and we can find sacred rest.

I leave you with this honest words from a working mom in our church family who texted me just this week:

Usually in the mornings on my drive to work I would think through my day and do planning in my head while driving. This created a lot of anxiety before I even arrived at work. For the past couple weeks I have made a conscious effort to not do that. Instead, I have been actively listening to my Micheal W. Smith cd’s which are themed as old hymns. It has become the best 20 minutes of my day! It puts me in a great frame of mind to face the day positively after praising the Lord thru song. I am concentrating on the words of each hymn and really giving them thought. Thank you for making me change my ways for the better. Our Sunday conversation is making a difference in my life and I am sure many others also. Although it’s not a life shattering change, it is amazing how much better it has made me feel to get centered and just say thank you every morning to our Lord and Savior. I just wanted to share my way of sacred rest.

See you Sunday!

Grace and peace,

Fred

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