Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
Genesis 2:1-2 NIV
“There is one pause in music of which the untrained singer does not know the value-the pause; it is not the cessation of the music: it is a part of it.”
-Springs in the Valley, L.B. Cowman
Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”~Mark 6:31 (NIV)
The mats were laid out across the room. Chatter began to cease as a sense of expectation fell into place. Each of us began to prepare our little space of holy ground and settle onto our mats. Our instructor closed the door, began the music, and sat before us in silence. As her gaze fell across the room she smiled warmly and welcomed us all, then she invited us to simply sit and breathe.
This is what I had expected from my first yoga class. What I had not expected was how challenging it was to sit still and breathe. I found my brain and my body at war, fighting to see who would win my attention – the thoughts racing through my head at Earnhardt speed or the breath aching to rise and fall in a soft, unrushed way?
As an introvert I spend a lot of time cultivating pause into the rhythm of my life. But I’m an introvert living a Type A life, hence the yoga journey. Smile.
The art of Sabbath-keeping encompasses much more than merely taking a break or an afternoon off. There is more to learning the rhythm of rest than a week-long cruise or relaxing with a hot stone massage.
The rest that God enters into on Day 7 of the Creation Story is more about our soul catching up with our body, rather than the other way around.
The lesson that waters the dry land of our souls is that in order to be more fruitful, more centered, more grounded, more productive, we must rest.
We must rest.
Rest is essential to creativity, purposeful productivity, and renewal of the resources from which the former and latter spring forth. Sabbath is a rhythm of death and resurrection. Death to labor, new life from rest.
“Creation’s outward profusion of life is rooted in its inner capacity for rest and renewal...So is creativity related to stillness...Creativity without rest and productivity without renewal leads to an exhaustion of inner resources.”
~J. Philip Newell, The Book of Creation
When it comes to carving out time for rest, you’ll need a large chisel and a hefty mallet, because rest is something the West knows not of. It doesn’t come natural. It’s not the American way. You’ll need to be just as intentional as your Creator Father, in order to lay aside all you carry, and all you feel responsible for, in order to place it in His care for a day, or perhaps a season, and truly rest.
Know what else you will need? Trust.
“So now you see how the Creator swept into being the spangled heavens, the earth, and all their hosts in six days. On the seventh day—with the canvas of the cosmos completed—
God paused from His labor and rested.
Thus God blessed day seven and made it special—an open time for pause and restoration, a sacred zone of Sabbath-keeping, because God rested from all the work He had done in creation that day.”
~Genesis 2 (The Voice)
Looking at Genesis 2:2 closer, we notice that God didn’t just take a day off because He was tired. He didn’t take a day off because that’s what you do when you’ve been working hard for six days straight. There was a purposefulness in His act of rest.
“...God rested from all the work He had done in creation that day.”
~Genesis 2:3 (The Voice)
Tension lies at the heart of the Sabbath.
It is a day of rest, but not one always easily taken. From how much labor should we rest? Is there to be no cooking? No yard work? No errands? Do we nap? Do we go for a walk? Should we put away our phones? Have no entertainment? Not go shopping?
While the answers to these questions (assuming there are hard and fast answers to be had) are valid, they are not the crux of the matter. As always God looks at the heart, the intention.
The better questions are, “Father, why do I struggle to rest from labor?” Or “Where I am seeking rest in something other than You?”
The cessation of labor, the pause of Sabbath, shows us the cracks in our belief in God. It shows us the places we deify our own success and our own importance. When we don’t build in these pauses, we are prone to believe that our success is a direct result of the control we have over our lives. We may find ourselves hyper-vigilant about maintaining that control, staying on top of everything at all times, lest we rest and lose it all.
Continuing in linear pursuit with no stops along the journey guarantees us inevitable burnout and unavoidable exhaustion. We simply were not created to function well without rest: body, soul, mind, and spirit. Perchance it is trusting Father enough to close our eyes to the urgent that enables us to bear the Imago Dei best. Like Father, like Child.
“For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning [to Me] and resting [in Me] you shall be saved; in quietness and in [trusting] confidence shall be your strength. But you would not..”
Isaiah 30:15 (AMPC)
Returning to Father through the gift of Sabbath and resting in Him leads to the salvation we seek from the cacophony of anxiety, stress, worry, and work-exhaustion we experience. Allowing ourselves—body, soul, and mind—to be quiet and confidently trusting He can hold it all together for those moments, is where we find the strength. Crucial strength to enter back into the mundane, the trials, the deadlines, the never-ending to-do lists with a renewed attitude and spirit.
But there’s a caveat to this all. And it’s found in four small words at the end of the verse.
“But you would not.”
There it is once again: the tension of the Sabbath.
Creator God comes to us with the remedy for our sickness and we won’t accept it. We know it has healing properties, we know even creation requires it to survive, to thrive. We’ve even read Jesus the God-man, participated in rest, but we say “no thanks” just the same.
How cunning, how crafty, of the Enemy of our soul and God, to tempt us to once again pursue our own Divinity by refusing to rest. How like the Author of Confusion to tempt us to feel guilt or shame for accepting the gift of God’s holy rest of Sabbath. A gift meant to deliver something to us we rarely feel: delight.
We find ourselves today in the Holy Season. A season of anticipation and beauty. Simple in its meaning and yet frenetic in its reality in the Western world. Often the month passes and we are more exhausted than rested. There’s more noise, than quiet. More debt, than prosperity. More deck the halls, than silent nights.
How do we stop the Polar Express from feeling like a bullet train zooming through our season of Advent?
We take out the chisel of God’s Word in Genesis 2 and we hit it hard with the mallet of prayer and we ask our Father to help us carve out time to be still, to rest, to Sabbath. It is His will for us to experience this gift. He will answer that prayer. Let Him show you how. Return to Him, rest in Him. Find strength in quiet and trust. Embrace the delight of Sabbath and of the Silent Night.
“Eternal One: If because of the Sabbath you set aside your own pursuits and pleasure,
and you honor the Sabbath and sanctify that day by leaving it to and for the Eternal—
If you speak of Sabbath-delight but avoid speaking idle words,
and refuse to get caught up and busy with your interests and concerns—
Then you will discover joy such as only the Eternal can give.
And I will raise you high and make your reach as wide as the earth,
And you will live on all that I promised to Jacob,
your ancestor, the heart of Israel.
The Eternal One said these very things.”
Isaiah 58:13-14 (VOICE)