We begin our brief exp!oration of sabbath with its best-known component: rest. God remembers we are dust (Psalm 193:14). We are the ones who forget it. In a world of machines, we try to act like machines. We pay high prices for violating our humanity–excessive stress, physical illness, and superficial relationships, to name a few. Instead of this, God calls us to rest.
During a time of fatigue born of burnout, Henri Nouwen took a sabbatical to Peru. He lived with those who worked daily to advocate for the poor. He saw the intensity of their words and deeds. But he also saw something else. In addition to Sunday (when they worshipped), they also made Thursdays a sabbath day. They packed lunches and headed for the hills (literally) where they ate, visited, played guitars, sang, and danced. Nouwen’s hosts made it clear to him that their ability to endure in their work was connected to their commitment to enjoy their leisure. Their witness made a profound impact on him.
E. Stanley Jones, himself given to the excess of activity, also said, “The one who is available to everyone will soon be no good to anyone.” In addition to a weekly sabbath, he included daily withdrawals in his spiritual formation.
For many of us, it is a hallelujah moment to realize that the God who tells us to do good, includes these words in his command, “Do good to yourself.” That’s sabbath–that’s rest. Self-care is an indispensable element in the practice of the better.