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Sabbath Rest

If you know me in person or through this blog, you’ll know I’m the type of person who is often driven by a list of to-do’s. While I value reading and learning, I have to confess that in past years, when the school year hits, my books start to collect dust. Each year I regret this. Reading typically gets squeezed in here and there, but kicking the hamster wheel lifestyle seems impossible. It can happen even in the summer when school is out. “Hi, I’m Lydia. I’m a workaholic and adrenaline addict.” You can all reply now: “Hi Lydia!”

Was I always this way? I’ve wondered about that lately. I seem to remember taking long bike rides as a kid, playing loads of neighborhood baseball and hide-and-seek games, and piling books up beside my bed to read in the morning on days off from school and loving every moment of it. As we become adults, do we start to feel the need to prove our worth, losing this sense of holy leisure?

This school year, however, something has been changing. I think it began with the September weekend in Vancouver, when I decided to forego last minute school prep for a fun trip with Lyle. It actually took discipline for me to just “be” – hanging out in Stanley Park, walking around Granville Island, taking in the Josh Garrels concert (the whole reason we went) or hiking on a gorgeous walk to the ocean.

I say it took discipline because my natural tendency is to be an activist. All weekend, I was twiddling my thumbs in a good way, but it was almost like I had to act like another person! Lyle and I spent several hours on the ocean shore “just” reading and staring at birds through our new binoculars. Loads of good jokes, coffee, walking and reading marked our days. Who knew the world could turn without me, or that the school year would unfold without too much toil a few days later?

Hanging out with Lyle in Vancouver

Looking back, the holiday is a gift that keeps expanding even into October. I think I made a decision that weekend to try to “waste” time more often. Taking up my friend Cal’s example, I decided to put aside one evening a week to read before doing any school work. One hour after supper on Monday nights. Didn’t sound like much, but it was a start.

Scripture talks about the importance of keeping “Sabbath”, a time of rest. When I was a kid, stores were still closed on Sundays and my religious upbringing dictated that we were not to work. Sewing (for my mom) and other work was discouraged. Church in the morning and the evening was the rhythm of our lives then, with an afternoon of trying to be quiet so as not to wake napping adults. I imagined that Heaven would be like one long Sunday, and I shuddered.

Looking back, however, there was wisdom in the weekly rhythm of stepping out of the normal pace of life. I am coming to crave rest – not an exhausted collapsing at the end of the day but true soul renewing rest. In fact, I have been longing for it more and more. It’s not so much that I need another vacation as I need a vacation from myself!  A vacation from the hamster wheel where urgent to-do’s and self-thoughts often dominate me and make me a driven person.

I know I am not alone in this, for our society urges us to be efficient and productive with our time. I always thought I couldn’t find room within my “busy life” for consistent holy leisure but I don’t want the old ways anymore. As Bruce Cockburn sings, “I’ve proven who I am so many times, the magnetic strip’s worn thin.”

Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk who has written and practiced a method of contemplation called Centering Prayer, talks about our thoughts being like a whirling wheel.  Anyone who has been unable to shut off their mind and go to sleep will understand the tyranny of this state of mind. Keating says that meditation and prayer helps a person to put a stick into the spokes of our whirling wheel and stop for a while.

Taking time to read or write in the evenings has been acting like this stick, and I have been noticing its calming effect, as I wrote about in last week’s blogpost. “Silence is God’s first language”, wrote the 16th-century mystic John of the Cross. Entering into this  silence is difficult at first because usually all I’m noticing is my whirring mind. It almost always takes me a while to get into reading or writing. I am usually preoccupied with something from the day but invariably the text before me, whether it’s studying scripture, reading a good novel or typing away at my next blogpost, has a lot more depth. As I begin eliminating hurriedness from my life, a larger perspective starts to creep in and strangely the to-do’s feel a lot less urgent. More often than not, by the end I can barely remember what felt so pressing a few hours earlier.

These days, I’ve expanded my hour of reading to Friday night as well, and now here it is, Thursday night, and I’m taking time to begin my blogpost.  I look forward to my “hour” all day long. I know it is not a magic wand to create warm feelings, but somehow I have a hunch that God uses it to heal broken people like me.

Workaholism has at its root the assumption that we can never do enough and, worse, that it all falls on our work weary shoulders. Sabbath is an ancient practice and began to remind us that it’s not about us doing enough. The ancient Hebrew word “Shabbat” literally means “to cease and desist”. Sabbath invites us to stop the endless striving that characterizes so much of modern life. I’m afraid I fell prey to this striving for many years, but I’m beginning, perhaps, to grow out of it. At any rate, I’ve grown very tired of the toil it’s brought me and I long for holy leisure once again.

What a restful thought to remember that the universe will turn without me. I can let go of my grip on the constant need to accomplish and prove my worth because I am already loved, as I am, in God’s eyes, just as I love my son as he is.  Just as I was loved as a child. I can let my life – past, present and future – rest in God and trust that I will receive what I need when I enter into doing mode once again. My future doesn’t depend on my accomplishments, but on God’s unconditional love in Christ, who accepts me as I am today.

As I finish up these reflections, it’s Sunday morning. It has been so fitting that this topic came to me because I have more “to-do’s” than usual this weekend. Assessments are due tomorrow along with regular school planning. The demands crowd in my brain and start to make me feel crazy, but I’m so blessed to have God’s perspective to contemplate all weekend in this blogpost. Is it true? Can I rest? These can’t just be ideals I am writing about.

I know I don’t always live this way, but it is my hope to let every moment become characterized more and more by Sabbath. A restful living in whose I am.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

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