As I’ve grown in my own awareness in the past few days of my need for a vacation I have been reflecting once again on the faith involved in choosing to cease from one’s labors for a season. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, the act of taking a break from one’s labors (and/or other kinds of ceasing) can be inherently scary–whether it be for 10 minutes or 10 days.1
As a Christian I have reflected over the years on the idea of sabbath rest and why it is that God prescribes it. In my Christian upbringing it was sometimes referred to as “the Lord’s day”. While this is more or less technically true, I think we can miss some of what sabbath rest is about when we use this language. Certainly, part of the literal sabbath (Sunday for most Christians) is to gather together with other Christians to worship God, hear teaching from Scripture, etc. However, I don’t believe that is all that sabbath is about. I think in some ways sabbath is fundamentally about ceasing from from things we feel afraid to cease from and moving towards relationships (with each other, ourselves and God).
I have seen over the years that regardless of one’s background or current context there are emotional experiences that we all share in common as part of being human. One of the negative emotions that we all struggle with is fear. The details of what we fear or what we feel afraid about vary greatly, but the emotional experience is shared by all of us. Whether we fear loss, or failure, or bad things happening to us, or any number of other variations, we all have to deal with fear, consciously and/or unconsciously. It is ultimately this fear that can make ceasing from some things (not just the classic laboring in a job) very difficult and threatening.
I think that sabbath rest is about our walking through our fear in order to come to a place of rest, peace and joy on the other side. In its simplest form this can be taking one day out of seven to break from normal labors, or coming home for dinner instead of working overtime, or relaxing over lunch instead of working through it. But as Jesus illustrated to the Pharisees, there is more to this than just doing or not doing.2 Essentially, sabbath as a daily practice is intended for our benefit. Maybe God’s prescribing it is a little bit like when parents prescribe a consistent bed time for their children (who definitely need their sleep!). Contrary to how I sometimes felt growing up, sabbath as a day of rest and as a daily periodic resting is likewise for our benefit.
So it is all well and good that facing our fears of ceasing (from whatever we feel afraid to cease from) and walking through our fears to come to peace on the other side is actually for our benefit; but what does this mean for us when it is hard to cease from something, when the fear feels too big? This is why I think that sabbath is fundamentally about ceasing from something and moving towards relationships: because we often cannot do the ceasing alone.
We need others with us along the way
And therein we find the strength to cease
And therein we find connection–
In the walking alongside of another
And they walking along side of us
Together we walk through our fears
And together we come to peace.
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