Shabbat and Learning to Let Go

Shabbat and Learning to Let Go

This last week has been pretty normal. We traveled to and from Austin, I baptized an individual I was studying with, and I was the guest preacher at a local congregation last Sunday morning. In the last week I had three different ministry meetings with people outside the congregation, spent a couple of hours with pastoral care visits and phone calls, prepped for our Wednesday night worship time, exchanged a couple dozen emails with various individuals, researched and wrote my upcoming sermon, compiled demographic and attendance information for our congregation and presented it to our leadership team, and continued trying to make inroads for ministry at a local university. Over the course of the weekend we cleaned our house, realized our dog had picked up fleas and cleaned it again, cleaned out our garage to make room for a new freezer we had purchased, washed six or seven loads of laundry, and prepared for the arrival of our new baby. On Sunday I preached, interacted with various members, prepared for VBS, and handled a variety of tasks through the course of the evening. That schedule doesn’t include the time I spent simply being with my family, or exercising, or commuting to and from our house to work, working out, working in the yard, or the dozens of other mundane tasks that we accomplish throughout the week. The last week was pretty normal for me … and that is pretty insane! I have always been a person who likes to stay busy. I have a hard time sitting still. If I have “downtime” I feel the need to make it more productive. Even when I do slow down my mind continues racing with all of the things that need to be accomplished.

And if you are impressed by all of that, then you might have the same case of “hurry sickness” that I do. Alan Fadling describes hurry sickness as the need to be constantly busy, to rush from one thing to another, or to “swim in the shallows” of life. Fadling confesses on the first page of his book,

I’m a recovering speed addict — and I don’t mean the drug … In fact, there is little incentive out there to slow down. And the pace in the church doesn’t seem all that different from the pace in the world around us. [1]

For many of us, busyness as a virtue. The more we have to do, the more important and holier we feel. In an article he wrote for the New York Times in 2012, author Tim Kreider talks about how he once saw busyness as a virtue in his own life. He felt this obsessive need to always have something to work on or do:

For the first time I was able to tell people, with a straight face, that I was “too busy” to do this or that thing they wanted me to do. I could see why people enjoy this complaint; it makes you feel important, sought-after and put-upon. Except that I hate actually being busy. Every morning my in-box was full of e-mails asking me to do things I did not want to do or presenting me with problems that I now had to solve. [2]

It makes you feel important … until you feel overwhelmed!

We hurry and we worry. We fret about time, yet fill our schedules with more to do. We complain about not having a free weekend, but we often secretly enjoy having a lot to do to distract us from other parts of life. Many of us (myself included) often think of “busyness” as a spiritual practice; the more we do the better we can feel about our day. Productivity has become our priority.

But is busyness next to godliness? Gen 1:1-2:3 tells a story of great productivity. God takes a world tohu wavohu and begins to speak it into order and being, creating light, ordering the cosmos, separating waters, creating dry ground, and then filling his creation. But then Genesis tells us something very important:

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Gen 2:1-3)

God, creator of the universe, stopped to rest. Not because he had to but because he chose to. God took a day off, then he called it holy! His creation was called “good” and “very good,” but it was his rest that he sanctified.

If God took a day off, who am I to say I have too much to do? Am I more important than God? Yes, I have sermons to write and Bible classes to prep and pastoral care visits that need to be made. There are always more phone calls, more emails, more meetings. There is no end to the number of ministries that could be begun, individuals whose lives might be touched, and new activities to create that might be a blessing. But who am I to deny the holiness of God?

The Sabbath becomes the foundational element of Jewish religion. Judaism is built around a rhythm of work and worship. The Sabbath became a foundational element of the Torah. As God began to instruct them in his expectations, he started with, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” [3] So … have no other gods before me. Don’t make any idols to worship or to take my place. Remember that my name is holy, so treat it with reverence. And then the next command:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. [4]

The people of Israel celebrated the Sabbath because God celebrated a Sabbath. God ceased from his activities; who are we to do anything less? If God stopped … then we should too. This is a day dedicated “to the Lord your God.” It is a day blessed by God and made holy. And it is interesting that the discussion about Sabbath comes right after a discussion of idols, because time/productivity/busyness has become our idol.

So, how can we cease from our idolatry and begin to make rest a priority? I believe we have to take on the ancient practice of shabbat, Sabbath. This “gracious permission” from God is a blessed gift of liberating rest, in which God is honored and peace is permitted. We can use synonyms like retreat, downtime, renewal, recreation, getting away, peace and quiet … but the significance is the same. Sabbath allows us to break from the daily grind and the demands on our lives and become fully present to God, ourselves, and others.

So, I have a challenge for you this week. I would like for you to commit to carving out space for rest. In your calendar or daily planner or app or whatever else you use, I want you to schedule an “UN-SCHEDULE.” Set aside time, whether it is 30 minutes or 3 hours or an afternoon or a whole day. You know what you have on your plate, and I want you to commit to something you think you will actually do. During that time reflect on the words of the psalmist: “Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” [5]

May God bless you as you seek to be more like him and REST!


[1] Alan Fadling, An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013).


[3] Exod 20:2.

[4] Exod 20:8-11.

[5] Ps 116:7.

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