Last night at Youth we took a break. For almost two hours we did nothing but talk, eat pizza and play volleyball. There was a Lenten lesson written, the practice of fasting to discuss, which would have segued neatly into setting up our next big event and service project, 30 Hour Famine. But instead we didn’t.
As a church and as a Youth ministry we talk a lot about Sabbath. It is a frequent theme of Sunday school lessons, bible studies and youth discussions. But last night I realized that, even if no one else will, we have to put our money where our mouths collectively are on the importance and immediacy of God’s rest.
Our Youth are coming off of a busy week in church life alone, with two Missions fundraisers in a week span, spending not only extra time at church but also outside work preparing for our Talent Show fundraiser, promoting the event and selling tickets. All of this on top of the usual madness of school, homework, tests, soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, chorus, ACT, SAT, AP, College Prep, piano recitals, guitar lessons, track, swimming, eating, breathing and sleeping. Oftentimes with a distinct lack of the latter.
There are always more lessons to teach. God and Scripture and Life go on and on and there is always more to learn and discover, always one more adventure to go on, one more service project to do. Sabbath can’t wait till everything else is finished. It’s no longer Sabbath then (it will also never happen).
Even if no one else will, the church has to demonstrate to youth and young adults that a good and holy life contains a balance of work and rest. It means sometimes we get one less lesson here or there. One less chance to discuss and grow and all the important things we try to cultivate in our Youth Group times. But that’s the point. To answer God’s call to rest will sometimes mean leaving things unfinished. Maybe a little less polished, a little less perfect. It will mean leaving some doors closed and some opportunities unanswered.
But if we never learn to say no we will grow into a kind of slavery to work. If we can never say no then all the good things in our lives, like work and relationships, hobbies or even worship and service to our communities, can rise up and consume us. The tiniest bite at a time.
So even if everything else won’t or can’t stop to rest, we will. Because no matter what we say or teach what we fail to demonstrate in our church life is not real. If we burden ourselves, drives ourselves to the edge of exhaustion for one more lesson, even on Sabbath, we are still failing to truly teach.
31God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
2Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and the seas and skies and everything that creeps, crawls, lopes, swims and soars upon them. For six days God engages in the greatest work that has ever been, shaping the formless swirling nothingness into the living Creation. For six days great walls of water are shoved aside, mountains rise, stars move, life is breathed into dust and the living plants and animals spring up from the ground.
And then. God rests. After six days of noise and movement and effort, the Creation goes silent as God rests.
8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9For six days you shall labour and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
12 Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13For six days you shall labour and do all your work. 14But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. 15Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
I was not a great student. I would often, through laziness, trap myself in cycles of exhaustion and anxiety. I’d procrastinate instead of doing work, being conscious the whole time that I had something important hanging over my head. So I’d go out with friends, watch TV, play games etc. but never really enjoy them like I wanted to because my to-do list hung over my head. Then when something absolutely had to be done I had to work on it 24/7 as hard as I could because otherwise it wouldn’t get finished. It was not fun. And it was exhausting. I found myself napping all the time because I was always either stressed or sleep deprived. I was going week after week with no structure.
Life without structure starts to fray and come apart at the edges. This is why we often talk about Sabbath as a rhythm. It’s not just a day for rest but a way of organizing time every day, all week. We have a time for rest because we also have time for work. So when we work we truly work and when we rest we truly rest. God separated land and sky and sea. God separated day and night. And finally God separated work from rest. Even Jesus who critiqued the Pharisees for their corruption of Sabbath, affirmed the importance of it and often rested away from the crowds (and if you think you’ve got something so important to do you can’t rest ask if it’s more important than the ministry of Jesus).
Though it might not seem like it when you look at it now, life is only going to get harder to keep organized. There will always be more to do. There will always be one more thing. One more assignment. One more project. You can bury yourself in a pile of just one more. But unlike Egypt which forced endless toil on its people and its foreigners God gives His people rest. Doesn’t just give it but demands it.
And that’s important. It reminds us that God is bigger than all the works we can pile up. There are greater things in the world than stuff, grades, jobs and evaluations. God reminds us that we have other priorities. It’s no coincidence that God immediately moves from you keep the Sabbath to also all those around you. When we are willing to exploit ourselves with endless work we lose sight of the damage we can do to other people when we demand the same.
So how do you integrate Sabbath in your life? Does it mean worship? Does it mean rest? Or silence? Or stillness? Well it means all of those things. When we try and order our disordered lives there isn’t a simple one size fits all. But we are called to begin.
Find a little way that to live Sabbath every week.
Designate a homework free day. (But get it done the rest of the week!)
Or take a few hours one day a week to read a good book.
Set aside a few moments each day to do a devotional or read your bible.
Start to stake out some Sabbath in your world. Show priorities. Find a rhythm for your life.
We’ll come back to Sabbath in a couple of months and hit it again in a big way. So between now and then try to start finding little places for Sabbath in your life.