Pursuing Sabbath Rest

Sabbath is about refreshment through connection with God, others, and self. 

PursuingSabbathThroughout the years I’ve struggled with the ten commandment of keeping the Sabbath.  Early in my Christian walk I didn’t understand why God didn’t want us to do anything on the Sabbath.  I felt like I was on a time-out looking at a blank corner.  As I was raising children, I didn’t know how it would be possible to not work.  Does everyone just not eat one day a week?  Even after my children left the nest, I have wondered what is the point of doing nothing?

It’s only been in the last couple of years that I have realized it’s not about doing nothing.  The point of it really isn’t even making sure I don’t do any ‘work’ by making sure I don’t lift a finger.   It’s about refreshment through connection with God, others, and self.  I can be so task-oriented that I lose my connections throughout the week. Sabbath is an opportunity to become renewed.  When God sat down on the seventh day, He looked over all that he had created and saw that it was good.  There was enjoyment and satisfaction.  Sabbath is a gift, not a rule.

As I began pursuing refreshment through connections, I found myself easily distracted by left-over undone tasks from the week.  My mind often went blank trying to think of those things that I enjoy doing when faced with a mountain of dishes or emails needing to be returned.

One of the things that has really helped me to pursue refreshment has been to make a Sabbath Task List to ‘get accomplished.’  Now, I know what you are thinking… “this lady is neurotic.”   Well, it’s true…I am.  But I have to work with what I got.  The reality is: I am a full-blooded, task-oriented, goal-driven American and I need to do what helps me the most to ‘accomplish’ rest.  I realize this would not work for some, but it does work for me.  And maybe, if you are a full-blooded, task-oriented, goal-driven American, it might help you as well.

Here’s what my ‘task-list’ includes:

Worship at church (and throughout the day)
Take a nap
Read an extra chapter
Sit in the Jacuzzi
Find a Scripture to meditate on for the week
Take a walk outside and breathe fresh air
Do something artistic
Call extended family members
Message my head (takes only a couple of minutes but oh so sweet!)
Celebration lunch or dinner with friends
Play a game (with another human not on electronics)
Write a hand-written note to someone I love
Take an inventory of the week (the good, the hard and the messy that I need to amend)

My list is not so much of a ‘task’ list as it is a reminder of the things that refresh my soul.  I often can’t get to doing everything on my list and that’s alright.  I have pursued refreshment and connection and at the end of the day I am satisfied.

Trusting Outcomes or Trusting God

When bad things happen, it doesn’t mean God isn’t powerful…or He is useless…or He’s mad…or doesn’t love us.

Trusting Outcomes or Trusting God
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

Recently, I’ve talked with several people who have dealt with anxiety or control issues.  As we are talking about the need to let go of control and to trust God, they will say something to this affect:

“I guess I need to trust God that my friend will forgive me.”

“I need to trust God that my mother won’t have cancer.”

“I need to trust God that my kids will be safe.”

“I’m trusting God to meet all my (perceived) needs.”

“I need to trust God that everything will be o.k.”

The problem is that this is “trusting” God with an expectation that He will do what we think is best. This is trusting for the outcome.  And, if God doesn’t do what we think is best, then we are tempted to think He doesn’t love us…or He’s useless to us…or He can’t be all that powerful.  It can also be an issue of trying to manipulate God.  It can lead to, “If God doesn’t do what I want, then I’ll be mad and give Him the cold shoulder.  I’ll go into depression and leave the church because He can’t be ‘trusted’.”

It can also lead to anger because we think “I’ve done my part of the bargain of trusting and God hasn’t kept His part of giving me what I trusted Him for.”  This is still an issue of trying to be in control.

Powerless and Fearful

If we leave it at “I need to trust God” without an expected outcome, it can leave us feeling powerless and fearful.  Much of what I do in counseling is to help people separate my part, their part, and God’s part.  It’s tempting when dealing with anxiety or control issues, to try to do God and other people’s parts.  When we come to recognize that I am responsible to do my part and not to do other parts, we retain the right kind of power.

Focusing on ‘my part’ leads to peace.  My part is to make amends and ask for forgiveness, even though I can’t expect forgiveness.  My part is to take care of myself by eating right and taking care of my body, and I still may get cancer.  My part is to take precautions in protecting my children, and I still may miss a danger sign.  My part is working and spending money faithfully, but may end up with medical bills.  My part is to make decisions for myself and let other’s make their decisions.

The fear comes because if we can’t control a particular outcome, then we believe we just have to let all the bad stuff happen.  But just because we can’t control an outcome, doesn’t mean we don’t have a part to play.

Trusting When Bad Things Happen

Here’s the truth: bad things happen.  Rejection happens.  Catastrophe’s happen.  Death happens. And when bad things happen, it doesn’t mean God isn’t powerful…or He is useless…or He’s mad…or doesn’t love us.  It doesn’t mean we have to like it or we can’t grieve.  It also doesn’t give us the right to control others.

When bad things happen, scripture says He is with us.  Scripture says that when we trust Him with the bad, He will turn it for good (Rom. 8:28).  If we trust in everything being o.k., it will lead to a life of disillusionment or a life of control to make sure it will be o.k.  To ‘trust’ means we let go of God’s part and other people’s part and accept the responsibility of our part (Gal. 6:7-10).  We receive both the good and the bad (Job 2:10).  We let go of control, by receiving from the hand of the Father, His presence with us (Ps. 23:4).


A God of Rest

The God of the Bible is not a taskmaster.

A God of Rest
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

I remember the day clearly…my alarm clock started blaring after what seemed like only minutes after my head hitting the pillow.  Annoyed, I looked up to see that, in fact, seven hours had vanished and a new day had begun.  I hit the snooze button and began to catalog the events of the coming day.  I began to organize each item on the to-do list in my head in the most productive order possible.  If I had coffee, then checked email, and then exercised I could be done in 55 min.  But if I exercised first, then had coffee and then checked email I might be more awake and therefore shave off a good five minutes of email time.  After cataloging my entire day this way (before landing on the floor) I suddenly realized that I couldn’t work harder, faster, or smarter and I would still be further behind at the end of the day than when I started.  Depression started to set in, but I clearly didn’t have time to deal with that so off I went.  It ended up being true too.  At the end of the day, I was further behind than when I started and depressed.

Now, to top this off, not only was I getting further and further behind, there were all sorts of expectations I felt were on me that never even got on to the to-do list.  In this, I seemed to have a nagging sense that I wasn’t quite enough.   I wasn’t thin enough, involved enough, smart enough, or spiritual enough.  I didn’t write a book, change my household decorations every season, have my family in matching outfits for family pictures, or preserve my struggling wanna-be garden.  Every night I would fall into bed steeped in depression because I hadn’t been enough.  Something was wrong with this picture!

I began to wonder if God was a taskmaster and never satisfied with me.  Was He really “calling” me to all of this?  The things on my to-do list were not bad.  In fact, for the most part, they ran the gamut from daily necessities to really great endeavors.  And clearly, if someone else would deal with all of these tasks, I could easily fill my schedule over with other amazing things to do.  I suddenly realized that perhaps it was not God giving me my daily to-do list, but maybe I was putting more on my to-do list than God had for me.

As I looked at my entire life, I realized I had been running at this speed since I was about thirteen years old.  Perplexed, I began to wonder if the problem was not God’s but rather my problem…(don’t laugh).  I needed to come to terms with my striving, and the reasons for it.  I don’t think I was looking for my “personal identity” in my accomplishments, though that is always a possibility.  There certainly was a strong measure of self-sufficiency in the mix.  I wanted to ‘have my act together’ whether the world noticed or not.  I wanted to handle life, get it right, and be a “good Christian.”  More than wanting to succeed, I really just didn’t want to fail.  But when life did fail in epic proportions, striving and self-sufficiency were right there to take it to the next level of escapism.  At one point in my life, to escape tremendous emotional pain, I worked a full-time job and four part time jobs for a total of about 75 hours a week.  Can you say, ‘crazy?’  At this point I was living under a taskmaster.  My work wasn’t good, it was enslaving.  I was saving myself through self-sufficiency.  I thought I could master my problems.  I could manage it.

What I have learned since then is that the God of the Bible is not a taskmaster.  He has good work for us to do, but He isn’t a taskmaster.  In fact, when I looked to Scripture what I see is He is a God of rest.  From the beginning, He created a day of rest each week.   He called it The Sabbath, and commanded everyone to rest.  And when you look at the feasts the Israelites were instructed to have, they were often commanded to rest.  That strikes me kind of funny that they would need to be told, “stop working…step away from the work.”  If you think about it, all other god’s of the universe are enslaving gods. But our God gives us work that He calls good and then gives us rest.

When It’s Hard to Believe

I wondered why I was having such a difficult time believing I couldn’t do this.

When It's Hard To Believe
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

Once again, I was sitting at a computer trying to figure out how to get a video to play from the internet, through a projector and onto the screen.  Seemed to me that this should be a simple task.  But I’ve struggled with this more than once. And, if I’m going to be honest, I’ve probably struggled with it a dozen times.

So, I contacted our amazing, can-do-anything-on-a-computer tech guy with, “I realize I’ve probably asked you this before, and I think I know the answer, I’m just having a hard time believing the answer.  Is there no possible way to play a video from  the internet, through our program, onto the screen in the multi-purpose room?”  His answer was “nope.”

I sat there for a few minutes trying to wrap my mind around his answer.  Really?  In the 21st century, when computers can do ANYTHING, I can’t do this?  I wondered why I was having such a difficult time believing I couldn’t do this.

And then it dawned on me.  I’m having a hard time accepting “nope” because I don’t want to believe it.  I WANT to play this video for an audience on a particular night.  I want this computer, this little intangible, life-sucking thing, to do what I want it to do.

And then all the connections started to make sense.  This is why someone has a hard time believing how their spouse’s brooding, cold-shoulder is devastating their family.  This is why a person may have a hard time owning their resentment and hatred for their spouse.  This is why a parent can’t wrap their minds around the fact that their teenaged child is making (poor) decisions on their own and they can’t control them anymore.  And this is why an adult child can’t stop trying to please a destructive parent.  There are reasons we hold on to what we hold on to.  If we believed it, we’d have to stop trying to make something happen.  We would need to stop trying to suck love out of someone who can’t give it.  And it hurts to let go of what we want.   

In letting go of my little computer struggle I found freedom.  Freedom to not try to come up with ways to get it done and freedom to find alternative solutions.   I can’t make the computer do what it’s not capable of doing.  When I was able to accept the reality of my situation, I was able to stop spinning in circles and move forward.  

Making Life-Long Changes

Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

Do you find yourself thinking, “I should exercise more”, feel the pressure from a friend to eat better, or recognize how a habit is hurting your life?  Do you feel guilt knowing your harsh temper or controlling cold-shoulder are wrong?  You might want to be different, but the motivations of ‘should’, ‘pressure’, or guilt will not usually see you through to lasting change.

Many of the people I work with want to make changes in their life but they are stuck.  According to statisticbrain.com, only 9.2% of people who set New Year’s resolutions believe they are successful in reaching their goals.  Here are three things that can help you be a part of the 9.2%.

Find the Right Motivation

Move toward something you desire, rather than away from something that you don’t want. Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) said it this way, “The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one.”  In other words, in order for change to be possible, a deeper ‘want’ must be found.

Being thin or achieving athletic ability have never been motivators for me to exercise.  I look at others who are in shape and I want that…but apparently not enough.  The truth is I love to sit more than I want to be thin or in shape.  It’s not that I’m lazy as I can find all sorts of things to keep myself working hard right there in a chair.   But I do love comfort.  So, in order to get in shape, I had to find a different motivator.  For me, I want health more than I want comfort.  I want to be walking on my own in my 80’s.  I want to live life cancer-free and exercise increases that likelihood greatly.  I want to keep my mind and think clearly as long as I live.  These are the things I think about in the morning when I’m super comfy on my couch with a good book and a cup of coffee in my hand.

This works with less tangible concepts as well.  When dealing with anxiety, stress, and control I felt there was no way I could let go of those things.  So, instead of letting go, I moved toward living in rest.  As daily anxiety grew, my thoughts moved toward finding peace.

Learn to Foster Desire

Sometimes you can foster a desire because you know you ‘should’.  But here’s the rub…you might want to want something, but the reality is you don’t want it bad enough…yet.  In order to foster the desire, you can read articles, talk with people, find stats, or place pictures of your desired change all around your house.

I have done several things in my attempt to foster a desire to live healthy. I watched a fifteen-hour video on living healthy.  I periodically scan the internet to find answers to my questions.  I hang out at the local health food store.  And when I need an extra boost, I call my sister who is always an encouragement to me in healthy living.

Baby Steps

The number one reason people fail in making life-long changes is making the goals too big to start off with.  Big goals are great, but they must be tempered with baby steps along the way.   For instance, when you start off exercising by going to the gym an hour a day, chances are it will last only 3-4 days.  That might be what you eventually want to do in your life, it’s just not the starting point. Rather, start with a minimum goal that you know you can attain…say 5 minutes a day.   If after you have attained the minimum and you want to exercise longer, you have that option.  But you can be considered a success when you have done the minimum.

My motto is ‘No Goal Too Small’.  When I started to practice living in rest, I started with doing certain activities like shopping and cleaning with an attitude of peace and joy.  Instead of reacting, I began to determine my emotional state of being.  As I gained success at bringing peace into these activities, I began to understand what peace felt like and was then able to pull it into other areas in my life.

Have a Role Model

Who is excellent in the area you want to grow?  Having a role model is very helpful when you get in a tough situation.  Thinking to yourself, ‘What would Jane do in this situation’, can be quite helpful.  It can even be a fictional character, but if you know them it’s a great opportunity to ask them for help.

Discovering the desire that actually motivates you, taking baby steps and having a vision of where how you want to be are fundamental in achieving life-long change.  What changes do you want in your life?  What is one baby step you can take toward that change? Who can you look to as a role model?

In The Waiting

By nature I am not a patient person.  I am a multi-tasker, over achiever, who gets the job done.  I am not particularly artistic because good art takes time to create.  I don’t play a musical instrument because I didn’t want to practice…I wanted to play.  Slow computers can drive me crazy and I hope no one secretly video tapes me behind someone going under the speed limit.  So you can see that waiting has never really been my thing.

‘They’ say that God’s timing is perfect, but (seriously) I think He likes cliffhangers.  I like order and planning and everything to go smoothly.  He loves to come through at the last second when everyone is in a panic.  I like intent, design, control and the feeling of being successful.  He likes it when we have no other option but needing to be rescued.

Through lesson after lesson after lesson, the Lord has taught me that He has something for me in the waiting.  He doesn’t actually like to see me panicked.  He has a gift to give me that I could not receive if we simply arrived.  So I’ve learned (or perhaps am still learning) to turn my focus while I am waiting to see what the gift is that He has for me.

When we were financially struggling because of debt, I kept wondering why God  didn’t just poof it away.  I mean, I could have won the lottery or something.  But during those years, I learned the valuable lesson of enjoying a life of living in simplicity.  I learned how to be thankful for small things and how to enjoy this moment, this very moment, that doesn’t have the desired thing.  These are things that can’t be taken from me now that I own them, regardless of our financial situation.

Change comes hard for me.  I can want change, and want to change, I can even make plans to change, but the actually changing takes a great amount of time and effort.  What I want is to make a plan and have it done.  But it has been the journey of change that has deepened my walk with God, I have seen my dependency on self, and built relationship with others.  These things would not have developed if things changed according to my plan.

But waiting in the unknown is probably the worst for me; waiting for medical answers, work answers, family responses.  Ug!  I want answers.  They feel like pieces of a puzzle and once I have an answer I can put the puzzle together and ‘figure it out’. In other words, I can live in self-reliance instead of rest.  But waiting for answers has probably been the best training ground for learning to live in rest.  God knows the answer and my stewing about it doesn’t bring the answer any sooner.  I have learned to receive His peace, that peace which surpasses understanding, only through waiting.

When I keep my eyes looking for the gift God has for me in the waiting, instead of on the desire itself, I see a whole world of gifts available to me; gifts that I would miss if I didn’t choose to receive them while I’m waiting.

Today, I’m waiting for the weather to warm up so I can plan a trip to complete a project so that I can plan an event.  I can’t answer people’s questions about when the event will be until the project is completed.  But I’m choosing to enjoy the beautiful 10-degree day with ice clinging to every nook and cranny, with a focus of what I can do today.  Today I will live in rest and receive the gift of His presence with me.  And I expect it will be a glorious and enjoyable day.

What are you waiting for?  What gift can you receive while you are waiting?  May God give you a gift today as you wait on Him.

Perfectly Imperfect

1 Tim. 6:6 But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.  Scripture calls to us to be content with our wages (Luke 3:4), with our weaknesses, insults, distresses, persecutions, and difficulties (2 Cor. 12:10), with food and covering (1 Tim. 6:8), with the stuff we have (Heb. 13:5), and in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in (1 Tim. 6:6).

However, we live in a culture of ‘not enough’.  It screams to me in a thousand ways that not only are the things I own and the things I do not enough, but neither am I ‘not enough’.  I must conquer mountains and achieve meaning.  I should have the ability to be like the Energizer Bunny and keep going and going and going and…

Desire is a core element of humanity.  When we stop desiring, longing, wanting, and dreaming we become numb.  So what does it mean to be content?  How do I live in contentment in the midst of  ‘desire’?  Discontentment breed things like jealousy, anxiety, resentment, depression, striving, exhaustion, and anger.  But discontentment also leads me to working, solving problems, and finding solutions.  So, how do I balance discontentment with contentment?

I am learning that the journey of longing can wonderfully co-exist with contentment.  It starts with thankfulness.  I am to be thankful for the beauty around me, for my limitations, my time, my abilities, and my story.  I am learning to dream big not with an attitude of dissatisfaction but with an attitude of ‘how cool would it be if this happened.’  I move toward good not away from frustration.  It is good to work and to work hard toward growth, change, solutions, and resolution.

The problem becomes what do I do with hard and bad, which often lead me into dissatisfaction and frustration.  Hard and bad are not the same things.  Hard is just hard; illness, financial setbacks, time limitations, weather, problems, my past, etc.  Sometimes hard are the choices other people make.  Hard are the things in life that we can’t change…we must bear them.  Bad is wrong, evil, and sin.  We should come against bad with both love and truth.  We are to stand against both our own sin and the sins of others as they affect us.  Learning to divide hard (things I must bear) and bad (things I must stand against in love and truth) is helpful when I consider how I am to be content.  I am not to be content with evil, but I am to be content with the hard that I cannot change.

So, what if I decided to just be content today?  That would not only include the things I own, it would also include things like my abilities, my education, my weight, my twenty-four hours today, and the hard.  I can also look at my husband as though his abilities, education, and personality are enough.  And of course, my children (the ones I’m supposed to correct, remind, and train) are just where they should be.  We live as the perfectly imperfect.

Looking at today through this new lens of contentment (the perfectly imperfect) has radical implications.  It means that at the end of the day I have done enough, even though my task list is still undone.  It says, ‘my past (my story) with all of it’s twists and turns, hardships and trials, sins and sufferings, is just that…my story and God is with me.”   It declares the pain and hardship of my journey is a part of my growth as a human.  It doesn’t long for another day or another dollar.  It hopes for tomorrow, but declares, ‘I am right where I am and it is good.’

As you are reading this, take a moment to close your eyes and be satisfied in this moment.  The place where you are sitting, the clothes you have on, your family status, your friendships, your responsibilities, your abilities, your waist line, the blemish on your chin, etc.  What does this feel like?  Is your head screaming, ‘No, no this isn’t satisfactory?   I’m not at the perfect weight, my task list too great, I want more, my story is ugly, and I certainly don’t want my current trial.’  Hush the voice.  Being content doesn’t mean we don’t dream or have desire or disappointment.  It also doesn’t mean we don’t need healing.  We recognize every loss or imperfection as a longing of heaven; a longing for Eden.    Contentment simply means today…God is with me and I am thankful.  Instead of living in a mode of frustration and disappointment, I release these to the Giver of Life and it brings satisfaction.  I am enough.  I am thankful.  My world is perfectly imperfect.  My soul rests.