Sabbath is an important and often overlooked component
of spirituality. Pastor Gene shares his personal
experience of the importance of Sabbath
Friday I went to my weekly "make something happen" recovery group. I am a habitual abuser of overworking, anxiety and adrenaline rushes. My wife, who is wise, calls my condition being addicted to "making it happen."
Sound familiar? Most pastors I know suffer from the same condition. Most people I know do, too. I am not sidestepping my condition by making the classic excuse, "Well, yes, I have a problem, but so do lots of other people." I am simply making an observation that virtually everyone I know struggles with too much hurry and stress and not enough rest, play and prayer.
Enter the best recovery program in the world -- score the drumroll right here: sabbath. It's strange, really. Sabbath provides an unbelievably effective healing process, yet we rarely talk about it in church or in Christian community. Most people disregard it; most pastors disregard it.
Eugene Peterson has been mentoring me on Sabbath for nearly two decades through his writing. It was then that I came across his book, "Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity." His words about Sabbath penetrated me and invited me to this practice. I saw how Sabbath as taught in Exodus is an invitation to pray. I saw how it is also an invitation to play, as taught in Deuteronomy. Keeping this balance of pray and play is essential for a sabbath that re-sets mind, body, emotions and soul back to health. Puritan Sabbaths eliminated play and secular Sabbaths eliminate pray--both are disasters.
What I started to see was that Sabbath was not just a "day off." Eugene Peterson calls that a "bastard Sabbath." I think he's right--on a day off I am still connected to my work through smart phones and anxiety. This is much more than taking a day off. This is turning the concept of Sabbath into a verb, as in "to sabbath," or "What did you do today? I sabbathed." When I sabbath as a verb, then I stop. I take a break. I rest. In the words of Dallas Willard, I "do nothing." I "don't try to make anything happen." Instead of centering myself in what I do, I remember who I am (child of God), where I am (creation), and who I am with (family and friends).
If Sabbath is a recovery program for overworked and overstressed people who habitually burn through adrenaline to the point of emotional depletion and physical exhaustion--and it is--then this is not about one day but about something that grows into an attitude and an outlook on life. After I sabbath I start to see that I am not alone. It is not all up to me. God is working in me and around me for my good. I can rest, pray and play, knowing I truly do not have to hold all things together. This is unimaginably liberating.
Back to Friday. Lorri and I drove an hour to the Pacific Crest Trail trailhead near Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada mountains. We walked for several hours and miles along the trail. We talked. We said nothing. We held hands. We enjoyed a snack we had prepared in advance. We sat on a log by this lake pictured above. We walked through Glacier Meadow. We took some detours onto the Donner Lake Rim Trail. We "oohed-and-awed" over God's creation. We did a little planning for our next extended trek.
Here is how Sabbath works: before Friday, I was slipping back into my "I have to make something happen" version of me. I was overworking. I was starting to get anxious that I could not get it all done. I was becoming pre-occupied--when I was not working I was thinking about working. By the time I left the Pacific Crest Trail, I had remembered that it was not all up to me. I was free to do my part, trusting that a good God is at work and able to do much more than I can imagine.
(As a way to help you do a Sabbath and make it a part of your rhythm of life, our church offers a quarterly Sabbatismos. It is a Sabbath "taste test" that helps you understand and do Sabbath in a way that will work for you. The next Sabbatismos is coming June 7.)