I have spent much of my life examining how a Sabbath pause refreshes me for another productive week. I measured what I gave up on Sabbath Day in reference to how much better I would feel afterward. I wanted a Band-Aid to my exhaustion rather than a healthy life. What I am finding is that Sabbath is more than a good nap. Sabbath is a pause that is life-changing. Rather than trying to parse out how “worky” preaching or leading a Bible study is, or what exactly constitutes a good work that is Sabbath worthy, I am pursuing a fuller pause. “Sabbath is not simply the pause that refreshes. It is the pause that transforms…Sabbath is an invitation to receptivity, and acknowledgement that what is needed is given and need not be seized.”1 Sabbath is an invitation into a life-changing posture of restfulness.
Restlessness vs. Restfulness
Restlessness. We experience it during the long, dark night of worry and concern. We live it through days of being preoccupied with a problem that we just cannot seem to fix. We fight it during seasons of boredom in which life simply does not offer engaging opportunities. Restfulness is the antithesis to restlessness. Restfulness is also God’s design for healthy living. Restlessness might be a cultural phenomenon today, but it is nothing new. The Israelites knew all about restlessness. We see throughout Scripture how they would serve various gods that demanded never ending activity and costly service. They chronically gave up the restful-ness offered by God to obtain a counterfeit benefit offered by another nation’s gods. The ten commandments contain a call to the Israelites to stay away from the gods of Egypt that they had left behind. They were to follow God and put away any sort of idol. And yet, they dreamed of returning to Egypt. They desired to go back to the land where they had no rest, increasing burdens, and a constant need to produce. We are not much different.
Source of Restlessness
The Israelites wanted to get back to making bricks in Egypt because they forgot about the exodus.2 Despite the cost, there was security in going back to the system that they were used to. Likewise, we are addicted to making bricks in life. We become consumed by outproducing the number of bricks that others generate. We try to produce more parenting bricks by having our kids involved in more activities than their peers. We try to outproduce bricks vocationally by pouring on the extra effort to win accolades and achievement. We try to produce more churchy bricks by getting more people in the pews and other awe-inspiring metrics. We agonize over our social media bricks getting the recognition that they deserve. Afterall, we are just as witty and happy as our friends.
Our brick producing leads to anxiousness. We are anxious that we will not have as many bricks produced as our peers. We worry that our bricks will not be as flawless as our friends. We multi-task in an effort to keep up the brick-making pace. We become so enamored with making bricks that we no longer even recognize our restlessness and unhealthy living.
Take this restlessness quiz to establish your own level of restlessness.
- Am I able to be physically still for an extended period of time without reflecting on work or family concerns?
- Am I willing to be quiet for at least as long as I speak in a conversation?
- Am I able to remain calm when there are concerning circumstances building in my life?
- Do I need to keep my schedule full of activities to avoid boredom?3
We swim in a society that is full of restlessness yet deficient of restfulness. Our collective restlessness is not part of God’s design for healthy living, but without intentionality, it is where you and I consistently live our lives. Sabbath is a weekly practice that breaks us free from restlessness. Sabbath welcomes us into practices and behaviors that reframe our experience away from constant brick making.
A Different Sabbath Metric
Sabbath is definitely an opportunity to pause and be refreshed. But, if I structure the Sabbath only around that metric, I miss out on the fullness of God’s invitation to rest. So now, when I am asked to do good on Sabbath, I am agonizing less over how worky it feels, and give far more attention to how it contributes to Sabbath restfulness. Here are three metrics that I am finding helpful in living out a transforming Sabbath:
- What are behaviors on Sabbath that generate the anxiousness and worry of brick making? When I specifically name these, I am able to better know what to say no to.
- What are life-giving practices that I thrive in doing on Sabbath? I do not need to agonize over these opportunities when they arise—I can pre-decide saying yes to these opportunities.4
- What are ways that I prepare for Sabbath worship with my church family where I am most open to receive reminders of our exodus from sin?5 Rather than showing up with the hustle and bustle of brick making, I can prepare with restful practices.
Sabbath is not simply an individual spectator experience. Our churches provide a beautiful context for fully orbed restfulness that occurs in community. We remember and experience transformation with our church family. We encourage one another in healthy living.
Together, we multiply rest.
1 Brueggemann, Walter. 2017. Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
3 The ‘quiz’ builds from the definition found at https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/restlessness
4 Brueggemann, 2017.
5 Deuteronomy 5:15