What better way to revive my blog, than revisiting my long-running series discussing Mark Buchanan’s book The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath. If you missed the previous parts, here is a link to Part 9, or you can start at the beginning with Part 1.
We left off (long ago) with Chapter 6. Chapter 7 is titled Losing My Religion: Stopping Legalism. Buchanan begins by talking about the way that southern Ontario feels like home, even though it has never been his home. His parents are from there, and he has visited often and it is thick with relatives. Even after years away, going back feels like home, full of people he feels like he has always known, despite not knowing them that well in reality. Buchanan then connects this to his idea of Sabbath.
Sabbath is the stranger you’ve always known. It’s the place of homecoming you’ve rarely or never visited, but you’ve been missing forever. You recognize it the moment you set your eyes on it.
Life is too often a whirl of busyness. We are striving to gain, to possess, to succeed. Life streams by at high speed. Yet it is often when we finally allow ourselves to stop and relax that we realize how much we really prefer that! Yet we are disconnected from it. We claim to like the simple life of vacation. Living out of a suitcase worth of clothing, kicking up our feet with a good book, and just generally slowing down. However much we may claim to love this, and whine about returning to work, we always seem to come back. Why? Generally so that we can continue to work crazy hours trying to accumulate more stuff, better stuff, bigger stuff. Much of it the same stuff we were so glad to leave behind before. Doesn’t it seem a little odd?
So what keeps us from really achieving Sabbath more regularly, rather than simply taking a “vacation” once or twice a year? Why don’t we make time for the kind of kick-your-feet-up relaxation we claim to love? Why don’t we make time to sit back and spend time with God daily, or even achieve a deep connection weekly? Buchanan cites two things that make true Sabbath more an idea we talk about than a place we spend quality time: busyness and legalism.
Busyness distracts our focus from busyness to other “important” things. Legalism distracts us from true Sabbath by making us think about how we are doing it instead of simply doing it and focusing on God. In Buchanan’s words:
Legalism is the reduction of life to mere technicalities. It substitutes code for conscience, ritual for worship, rectitude for holiness, morality for purity. … For the longest while I felt a smug pleasure in sitting in judgement of these legalists. And then I realized I was one of them. At the very least, I was keeping score of their keeping score. But … it was much deeper than that.
If our Sabbath keeping becomes formulaic, it ceases to be Sabbath. Sabbath is about rest. It is about spending time allowing the Spirit to re-create our souls. It is not competitive, as legalism tends to make it. Legalism creates a check-list that we can try to accomplish and “win”. Sabbath is about my relationship with God, not about doing anything better than you. As Buchanan notes, the instructions on Sabbath are generally not formulaic. Don’t work. Rest. Celebrate. Remember. Well, what do you mean “don’t work”, God? We’re never really told. Sure, the Pharisees were pretty “helpful” with their long list of legalistic rules, but Jesus pretty much ignored most of them. If we are truly attempting to focus on God during our Sabbath, I think we can trust the Spirit to reveal to us when we are getting out of focus. If you really love to commune with God while mowing the lawn, I would guess that it probably isn’t work for you. If you curse at the weeds and moan about the annoying kids next door and their baseballs that fly into your yard, that is work, and likely shouldn’t be a part of your Sabbath (unless God wants you to do it and pray for the neighbor kids and speak to you about your heart.
Sabbath is deeply personal. God also likes to adapt it as we go, at least in my experience. I think He is intentional about preventing us from getting into a rut of thinking we have the formula figured out. Maybe that is just for me, since I tend to like formulae, but I suspect not. Sometimes Sabbath means no school work. Other times, I think some school work is fine, as long as it doesn’t take my focus off of the One I am supposed to be focusing on during that time. Sabbath is good and refreshing precisely because it breaks up the formulaic nature of most of my life. It also teaches me flexibility that is deeply needed in a job that has so much “free” time that can be used in so many productive ways, but can also be interrupted by students and colleagues stopping by at unexpected times.
Lord, help me to learn to follow Your lead in my life. Both in Sabbath, as well as in all of time. I love You, and trust You in this dance that I so often try to turn into a march with You. Dancing with You seems more dangerous. I know I might slip, or miss Your cues. I know, though, that dancing with you is so much more exciting and rewarding, and fulfills and enlivens me in ways that marching with You never could. I need this so badly. Draw me more fully to You. Thank You for helping me to learn to operate in the ways that You created me for. I love living the exciting life You have designed for me. Amen