Rest: Leaving the Land Alone

Lately I’ve been contemplating a sabbatical, the strange option in my job to take three months of restorative rest from the day to day responsibilities of caring for souls. In our hurried world, this feels so out of the ordinary and strange that I’m a bit embarrassed its an option.

Who couldn’t use three months to restore their soul in our world these days?

But I have this option and I’m figuring out if I should take it. If I take it, when do I take it? Also I must talk through that time with someone beforehand which is a good idea because taking 3 months away could be difficult. That’s like 3 months of being unmoored from a central part of my every day life…for what purpose?

The last thing I want is heightened anxiety for three months because I can’t figure out how to rest!

I looked back at some key passages today about rest because rest was a big part of what God’s people were to do after they came out of Egypt and oppression. I guess rest wasn’t really a part of their enslavement because it sure was hard for them too.

How fitting that candles, illuminating lights, are part of ushering in Sabbath rest for God’s people…

In fact they never really did rest the way God told them to and God had such a problem with it that he forced them to go on a long trip to a foreign, deserty place to rest for the few decades worth of Saturdays they missed.

But it wasn’t only Saturdays, one day a week, they were to rest. Every seventh year, God’s people were supposed to just… not farm the land. That is stunning. They trusted God to provide a double crop on the 6th year. Then, that seventh year they trusted God to provide enough from what came up on its own to feed them until the next year’s crops came to harvest.

Not surprising that they mostly failed to live that out. It’s pretty radical.

As I think about sabbatical for myself, I anticipate disorientation, doubt, identity crisis, and anxiety. I also expect surprise, identity formation, and trust to build as I notice the budding of new growth from richer soil of belonging to Christ rather than performance for Him.

It seems somewhat wrong to plan a sabbatical or feel that it needs to produce something. Isn’t that antithetical to the true meaning of sabbath rest? To just be?

But I can imagine my B.C. self standing in my fields that I chose not to work looking over at my neighbors fields all neatly furrowed and planted…and feeling mightily tempted to grab my plow.

To rest is so counter-cultural that I need support and encouragement to stand firm in waiting and trusting God to provide. I am most needy for Him to provide my identity apart from my usefulness and productivity in this world. Instead of seeing planning a sabbatical as striving to make rest productive, maybe it is more that I need to cultivate my heart and time for rest, knowing my heart will gaze upon the striving of the world and be tempted to define myself again on my usefulness.

Expecting new growth to happen in the sabbatical waiting is truly different than striving to produce that growth.

As my book mentor Eugene Peterson says,

“Maybe if they [pastors] would all go into the wilderness for three months, not read their emails, announce a moratorium on all conventions and conferences, take a deep, long, prayerful time of doing nothing–maybe some equilibrium might return.” (Letters to a Young Pastor, 140)

By equilibrium, he means a groundedness that is not rushing to fix every crisis while missing the opportunities right before us. To be present in the life and people God has for us in the every day is what Eugene senses that we miss when we do not take sabbath rests.

As I write, I realize I’m sensing the value of the gift of sabbatical rest more and more. Coincidentally, we are approaching 7 years in our current ministry assignment…

What is it about the number seven!?

I’m curious to know from my readers, what struggles do you experience with rest? How does rest provoke your soul?