As another school year winds down, I am reminded we all need a certain amount of open time in the summer to allow space to plant new seeds in the fields of our life. Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to sit back and watch the grass grow, taking a hike, walking along the river, going fishing, knitting. These little “sabbaths” are needed to replenish our bodies, and minds, and spirit.
The full moon earlier in the week took me back to my childhood days when I was reminded how I could spend the entire day and night outside playing. Our work, when we are children, is to play. A healthy childhood involves play for the sake of play. One of our issues in our modern society is that we have lengthened the school day and shortened the number of time children has to play. When was the last time you saw children playing in the streets? Maybe you remember a time when children were free range, and as long as they were safe, life was good. Nowadays, children have to be protected and with what little free time they have, it is the usually structured activity which leaves little if any free time to discover a personal freedom and playing for the sake of playing.
This happens in part because of the parents and adults. Yes, we know the influence adults have on children. And our society has become so consumed with work and running a rat race, that we have almost entirely forsaken our own need to play. It’s sad really, we are teaching our youth to value work and being busy more than just being. We weren’t created to work all day, every day. Even God rested after created humans on the six-day, so why do we think we are smarter than the Creator? It’s just foolishness.
Have you ever met anyone who has won the rat race? If the answer is no, then why do we feel like we must compete in an unwinnable race? Seems as if your human inclination is to consume more and more and we get sucked into a vicious cycle of the rat race to keep up the pace so that we feel good about ourselves, our existence, and purpose. Some people are motivated by their own need to feel like my people, so they run the rat race to buy beautiful clothes and fancy automobiles and toys. Fact is, there is no end. It’s an empty hole that is hard to dig your way out of. Only when you look back in self-examination, do you discover your motivation and purpose has been wrong? Heck, some people never examine themselves, and as a result, they become miserable because they are tired of running the rat race.
See, the scriptures tell us there is a dichotomy between God’s order and order of this world which produces a strain on Christians. We all know that to live and buy stuff, you have to work, but the problem comes when all we know how to do is work and forget about the living part. Now I know there are worker justice issues and the real wages in this country have been stagnating for several decades, and the living wage is far higher than actual salaries paid. It’s a real issue for many people working three part-time jobs. The thing is, the system we find ourselves in is unsustainable. At some point, it will collapse. So, why put more effort into a system that only pays off in the short run? There has got to be a better way, right?
Actually, there is, it’s called a Sabbath. And the good news is that God commands us to take it. Hear these words of Jesus: “The Sabbath was made for humans., and not humans for the Sabbath.”
Some of us are better at taking sabbaths than others. We can all learn something for people who make the time for self-care and leisure. Who in your life is good at this? Talk to them and learn from them. I bet they are probably in pretty good mental, spiritual, and even physical health. They are more self-aware than the rest of us because they take time to care for themselves. Learn something from them, they have something to teach you and us.
Abraham Joshua Heschel, a great Jewish thinker, writes: “The Sabbath as a day of rest is not to recover one’s lost strength and becoming fit for the forthcoming labor. The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life.” If we are taking a sabbath rest, it should disrupt our lives in a right way. Setting aside time from busy daily life and allowing ourselves to just be alive, it gives us something to look forward too and can make us feel good about ourselves and our daily labors. If God can take a day of rest, you can too. Everyone can. Jobs, families, lovers, employers, and friends can exist one day a week without anyone of us, none of us are that important and if your ego permits you to admit, actually they could exist eternally in our absence.
I am always amazed at the energy I discover in my zeal for ministry when I set aside the time to take care of my own needs and step aside and remove myself from my vocation. It’s not that I’m trying to get out of my service, but it refreshes me to step out of the rat race of life, and let my mind wander into something new. It’s way refreshing and energizes me for newness and change. If we don’t step outside ourselves, we become dull. Our world becomes small, and we lose that sense of wonder for life.
Sisters and brothers, don’t lose your zeal for life. Take the time to care for yourselves. It’s not only good, but it’s also a commandment! Your soul and spirit will become energized by the time you take away. Your soul is on a different timetable than your body. It doesn’t like to be rushed, so it is of utmost importance to remove yourself from the daily task for moments of contemplation and the dimension of our spiritual realities. You will be a happier person because of it. Amen.