From Pastor Kenny's Desk
September 2, 2018
The apostles came back to Jesus and reported all that they had done and taught. Jesus said to them, “Come away by yourselves to someplace more remote, and rest awhile.” For there were many people coming and going, and the apostles hadn’t had time to eat. So they went away in a boat to a deserted area.
~ Mark 6:30-32
Rest. A break from all the hustle, bustle and activity of life. Rest. A chance to renew, to stop, to slow down. Rest. An end of work, if only for a little while. Rest. An opportunity to stop doing and simply “be.” Rest.
What a beautiful word!
So much is packed into Jesus' simple invitation. This week I have been surprised at my own very strong reaction to it. The only thing I can explain it by is that I have filled my life … for years I suspect but especially the present … with so much activity, so much work, so many obligations that the very idea of rest is enough to grip my entire being. Don't get me wrong or misunderstand: this isn't a complaint. I love my life and would rather be busy than not. It's more an observation that somewhere in all the wonderful activity of being a pastor, and my personal desire and commitment to do my best to make a positive impact in other’s lives … and all the other things that make up a blessedly hectic life … there are days when I think I've forgotten how to rest.
And I suspect that I'm not alone.
I was struck this past week by a study out of UCLA (reported in the Boston Globe and pointed out to me by the wonderfully eclectic site Boing Boing ) observing the typical week of thirty-two middle class families in the Los Angeles area … and yes, I did feel a tad homesick. The idea was to take a detailed snapshot of American family life in the 21st century. The results, according to one researcher, were "disheartening." So consumed
with working, collecting, amassing, and generally "getting ahead," they actually spent very little time together enjoying what they were working for. As reported by the Globe, Jeanne E. Arnold, lead author and a professor of anthropology at UCLA, share her particular dismay at how little time family members spent outside: "Something like 50 of the 64 parents in our study never stepped outside in the course of about a week," she said. "When they gave us tours of their house they'd say, 'Here's the backyard, I don't have time to go there.' They were working a lot at home. Leisure time was spent in front of the TV or at the computer."
In other words … they don’t have … or take … or have forgotten how to … or don’t make it a priority to have … time to rest.
We're familiar with the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy. But usually we interpret that in light of … a negative reaction to commandments or the assumption that Sabbath means church. I can clearly remember a seminary professor discussing this - she was known for regularly pointing out this commandment … or even better, teaching … this verse would have been unbelievably good news to people who were recently slaves whose time was never their own and who never, ever had a guaranteed period of rest. "Wait a minute," they would say, "You mean we get to rest? We even have to rest? Glory Hallelujah!"
I have a hunch that more and more of us find ourselves in a place not all that different from the Egypt where the ancient Hebrews languished. Except, for many, our slavery is self-constructed, self-imposed, and therefore far more difficult to detect or overcome. Many are enslaved to notions of success, and therefore put few limits on work. We are enslaved to ideas about the possibility of a better life … thinking we need to acquire more stuff to be truly happy. We can be enslaved to the belief that the only thing that will bring contentment is more … more money, more space in our homes, more cars, more things to put on our resumes or in our closets, more … more ... more! And the list could go on and on and on! Go ahead, name that thing you've fallen prey to wanting more of. And such levels of wanting, quite frankly, don't permit much time for anything but work.
With this in mind, listen again to Jesus simple invitation to Come away by yourselves to someplace more remote, and rest awhile. This is not just an invitation to take an afternoon off or go on vacation … though those are important … this is an invitation to loosen our shackles and climb out of the cages we've constructed from a culturally-fed belief that more is the ticket to happiness and that work is the ticket to more.
Psalm 23 comes to mind: "God you are my shepherd. I want nothing more." While we tend to focus so strongly on the powerful imagery of the first half of the verse, that imagery simply makes no sense apart from the second half of the verse. Because God is my shepherd, that is, I shall not want … because I trust God for my good … I shall not cave in to the loud noise of my culture enticing me to want and want and want at every turn and intersection of my life. Remembering God has promised to take care of me, I will get off the treadmill of work and accumulation so that I can rest, and notice the abundance, and blessings I already have rather than feeding the insanity of thinking an attitude of more will make anyone happy or bring fulfillment.
I think that's the key thing about Sabbath rest … it invites a chance to step back and stand apart from all the things that usually drive and consume us that we might detect God's presence and blessing and instead experience a sense of contentment … and give thanks.
But that's hard to do. No wonder the Psalmist says quite honestly that the God doesn't simply invite rest but rather confesses that God "makes me lie down in green pastures." We are a people that desperately needs rest yet resists it. And yet the Lord commands it.
So, the question is: what will you do with your need for rest? What would it mean to explore the slavery we call success and the rat race we call the better life. How much time do you spend hanging out relaxing with others … or enjoy being outside in nature enjoying and marveling at the beauty of God’s creation … or even enjoying, really enjoying, all the things you’ve worked so hard to attain. Remember that God desires more for us than work. Living a life of faith … abundant life … doesn't consist of merely more and more and more … with God abundant isn't a quantitative term but a qualitative one.
So, I invite you to consider one thing you will not do this week: one evening away from your computer or turning off your cell phone … gasp! … one appointment you will refuse to make, etc.
Instead what one thing will you actually do in order to rest: one walk you will take enjoying the beauty of trees and the sky or sharing it with a friend or spouse, one game you will play with a friend, one opportunity you will take to sit, alone or with others, not in front of the television but simply to contemplate your blessings and abundance … my hunch is you will go to bed feeling content and grateful rather than exhausted and burned-out.
Finally, ask yourself what ways you will continue to develop a habit of Sabbath rest? How can … or will … you give the desire for more to God and grab Jesus invitation for rest? It may not be as easy as you think … many of us may have to give up some of the destructive yet oddly attractive habits we've acquired … but who knows, along with what we lose we may just find our lives again. Truth is, as valuable and important as our work is, trust me, you'll do it better and enjoy it more if you take some moments for Sabbath rest.