Why We Don’t Experience True Rest


imagesMy wife and I noticed when we moved to Southern California in 2001 just how busy people were. With nice weather for most of the year, people have difficulty slowing down and resting. Our life in Colorado had a naturally built in mechanism to slow down called “winter”. What’s shocked us a bit since moving to the midwest is that people wrestle with rest here as well. Last night, I asked our young adult small group why summer felt busier than the rest of the year. The answer was, “we’re trying to squeeze in everything that we want to do while the weather is nice!”

Sabbath means far more then just a day off. The word for sabbath in Hebrew is shabbat and it means “to cease from”. It’s connected to the word, shalom, which means “peace”. When I was in Jerusalem, weekly shabbat was introduced with sirens going off throughout the city announcing that it’s time to knock off! Shalom is not just an absence of noise and activity but a peace that is deep restorative wholeness. Why is this kind of rest so elusive? We are so like Kramer in Seinfeld who takes thirty minute naps every 4-5 hours because he thinks that’s the height of productivity!

A few thoughts. First, when God created in Genesis, the seventh day is declared to be “holy”. In other words, God declared time as something set apart to be something special and mean something special. For the Jew it was a reminder that there is a day set apart to remember God’s creative work ceased with humanity as the pinnacle! Frankly for us though, in the busyness of life, time doesn’t feel holy. In my economy, time feels like something to be used to get “stuff done”. It has a purpose but it’s only related to tasks or accomplishing something. That’s why I wish I had more time… to accomplish more that I’ve been meaning to get to or to get caught up!

Second, sabbath is a time where God commands His people to rest. But what is this rest and what are we to rest from? We are to rest from the incessant (or obsessive) desire to get ahead or get caught up. In other words, sabbath is a reminder in the form of time that there are certain things “under the surface” that drive my behavior. What drives us to keep working and stay busy? Is it the feeling that I’m important? Is it accomplishing something to prove to others, God, or myself? Is it to maintain a standard of living? In other words, when God commands His people to rest, it’s not just physically slowing down. There is a physical rest that we all need, but more importantly there is a rest that we need that’s underneath it all; the rest to cease from the drive to keep performing!

I don’t think I’m wrong about this but you and I will never accomplish all that we need to get done. Why does it feel like the days are a bottomless pit of activities that can never be finished? Why does it feel like my checklist never is completed? Why can’t I seem to disconnect from all the work that has to get done? Work reminds me of my finiteness, my limitedness and I don’t like that. Yet, I can’t be what people want me to be, I can’t please everyone, I can’t do it all, Through it all though I insist that somehow I am infinite and can keep at it and do even more (that’s the picture of how absurd we are)! The realization of my finiteness in intended to shock me into the reality that there is something underneath it all that drives me and if I don’t rest from that, I will never get deep soul rest.

Judith Shulevitz, in her insightful article in the New York Times, recounted that, as a Jew, Shabbat had lost its meaning. However, the result was it created a neurotic aching inside of her that actually led her back to the ancient practice. She wrote, in her experience of Shabbat once again, “the machinery of self-censorship shut down, too, stilling the inner murmur of self-reproach”(Shulevitz article). Can I ask you, what is that self-reproach (disapproval/disappointment) that causes you to be endlessly busy?

In Luke 6, Jesus addressed the Pharisees who took Him to task for allowing His disciples to break the Sabbath laws laid out in the Halakah. Jesus didn’t say, “Now that I’m here the Sabbath is irrelevant”. He simply said that the Sabbath was intended, and is still in force, because there’s a deeper rest that you and I need. Everything that we need for deep soul rest is found in Him as He is who the Sabbath laws point to.

Sabbath is more than just showing up to church. It’s to remind us of the greater rest available (Heb. 4:9-10). Regularly periodic rest tells us that there is an ultimate rest that is the answer to the seemingly unending murmuring of our heart. Sabbath is to regularly cease from trying to get ahead, to cease from using work to tell us who we are, to cease from the absurdity that I can provide for my own needs the more I work. As we cease from this we re-enact that as God was completely satisfied with His work so He is satisfied with His work of salvation in our lives (Gen. 2:2; Exodus 20:8-11). We re-enact the story that just as the Israelites experienced true freedom from slavery in Egypt, so we experience true freedom from sin through the One who suffered in our place (Deut. 5:12-15; 2 Cor. 5:21).

Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28-30). Christ is the ultimate Rest that our soul needs. There is more to talk about in terms of specific activities and practices that go along but this understanding is foundational to combat being so driven in life with little margin to experience God meaningfully and grow in our faith. I know it’s early in the week, but Shabbat Shalom!

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