I posted recently some thoughts on rest. Since that is such a strong biblical theme, I thought a few more thoughts on the matter might be well placed. Of course, my writing on rest is akin to the 300 pound sports reporter writing on tennis – it is something he observes from afar but doesn’t do very well himself.
The subject of ‘rest’ invites us to think about the biblical idea of Sabbath. But for some of us, “Sabbath” does not speak of rest but of restriction. Laura Ingalls Wilder in her book Little House in the Big Woods recounts what Sundays were like for her as a little girl.
“On Sundays Mary and Laura must not run or shout or be noisy in their play. Mary could not sew on her nine-patch quilt, and Laura could not knit on the tiny mittens she was making for Baby Carrie. They might look quietly at their paper dolls, but they must not make anything new for them. They were not allowed to sew on doll clothes, not even with pins.
“They must sit quietly and listen while Ma read Bible stories to them, or stories about lions and tigers and white bears from Pa’s big green book, The Wonders of the Animal World. They might look at pictures, and they might hold their rag dolls nicely and talk to them. But there was nothing else they could do.”
Some of you are familiar with such restrictions and you understand clearly the reaction of the impetuous Laura:
“One Sunday after supper she could not bear it any longer. She began to play with Jack, and in a few minutes she was running and shouting. Pa told her to sit in her chair and be quiet, but when Laura sat down she began to cry and kick the chair with her heels.
“‘I hate Sunday!’ she said.”
I understand Laura’s frustration. I don’t think we were meant to hate Sunday.
But perhaps that has not been your experience and for you Sunday has never been different from any other day of the week. For you, perhaps for the majority of people today, though they have been given no reason to HATE Sunday, they’ve been given no reason to LOVE it either. In our swinging to extremes we have lost the spirit of the Sabbath captured by Isaiah when he commands us to
…call the sabbath a delight… (Isaiah 58:13)
In that text, Isaiah mentions some restrictions that should attend the Sabbath. But the restrictions, oddly, are mean to make the Sabbath delightful. What we have done is to focus on restrictions as if Sabbath is about restrictions. We rebel against restrictions because we do not consider what the restrictions are for.
If we have, as I think we have, lost the ability to rest, to be silent, to be still, to reflect, to think, to meditate, to pray, or even to have conversation with each other, it is because we have allowed busyness to crowd such needful activities our of our lives. We may say that we want to do any one of these things, but we are simply too busy. And so large chunks of human delight are cast aside because other things, more noisy and clamorous things, get in our way.
Into this reality God invites us to Sabbath rest. To put aside certain activities, so that we can in fact, be renewed in body and spirit. The restrictions always have a purpose, an end, a good goal. As a fellow student in college challenged me, “What if God gave us the commandments because he loves us and knows what we need?”
What if. What if, one day in seven, we denied ourselves Netflix or the NFL or the lawn or the grocery shopping? What if we put those things on another day and set aside one day for the things that get crowded out of every other day? What if we devote that day to worship, to loving others, to sitting in a quiet place, to prayer, to reading the Bible, to reading books that feed the soul? What if?
What if we saw that the reasons we do not do certain things on a Sunday are so that we might do other, more important but less urgent things? That changes the meaning of the restrictions.
We say that we don’t have time to pray, we don’t have time to read, we don’t have time to write letters to our kids, we don’t have time to think. And we don’t. But we can, if we were to see that God has commanded us to take one day in seven to turn our attention to the things that matter to him and are needful to us. Maybe he does, in fact, want us to rest?
I’m not calling for a return to Laura’s world. But I do want us to consider what we might be missing if we neglect the discipline of rest.