Monday, September 25, 2023

An Unpopular Command

God is famous for having given us ten commandments to follow, ten simple rules that God believes will help us establish a life not just of righteousness, but of goodness. And for the most part, the list seems doable. Almost naturally doable in most cases. 

For example, I have never coveted my neighbor's donkey. (I have admired it, but never coveted it.) 

Seriously, though, most of us would not consider killing someone else. Most of us would not consider stealing. Most of us at least acknowledge that we are meant to honor our parents. (This gets complicated when parent actions are not necessarily worth honoring, and it makes the line really hard. I will also confess that our current culture seems to applaud rejecting parents as all horrible and trauma-inducing. That makes me sad.) But the point is - the commandments make sense, and we can follow many of them without even thinking too hard about it. 

But one that we seem to struggle with comes actually very early in the list - it's rest. God commands us to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy by resting

Rest is not a word that comes naturally in our culture. The lives we live are packed full from one minute to the next, and it's hard for any of us to squeeze a breath in edgewise. This is only all the more true in our constantly-connected world, where we hold our primary communication devices in the palm of our hands even when we're not communicating with anyone. It's no wonder that we're answering work emails off-the-clock, interrupting our dinners to respond to that friend, stopping in the middle of the grocery store to search for the answer to that question that we had. Our lives are constant, or so it seems, and we have almost completely lost the art of rest. 

When we talk about rest, I'm not talking about a quick nap in the middle of the day to recharge our juices or a full eight hours of sleep at night, although those things can definitely be part of it. I'm talking about slowing down and unplugging for long enough that we can feel the actual stillness in the depth of our soul and take one breath, even one breath, that isn't hurried into the next one. 

God actually gives two reasons in the Bible for our rest, but both are in remembrance of Him. When He first gives the commandment, it centers on the seventh day of creation, when God Himself rested because everything was "very good." This is the one we usually go back to when we talk about Sabbath and rest. But later, when God repeats the commandment to rest, He says it is because He led His people out of slavery in Egypt and brought them into the Promised Land. In other words, we rest because we aren't slaves any more. (Except, of course, that we have made ourselves slaves again to the world that we live in.) Slaves don't get rest; children of God do. 

Still, we're tempted to think that rest is less important than the other things God commands us to do. We tend to think that it's a little more optional, that rest is something that we do when we need it and we're thankful to God that it is there as an option, but in the meantime, we continue to go, go, go, go, go. IT's the same way we talk to the doctor when he prescribes a medication for something we think we ought to be able to will ourselves through - we don't want the medicine, thank you anyway. We'll get through this without it. 

So, too, we say that we'll get through our lives without rest. But...we don't. 

We are one of the most exhausted, depressed, anxious, worn-out, worn-down, defeated generations to have ever walked the planet, and one big reason for that is because we are a generation who just doesn't rest any more. We don't let things go on without us. We don't believe the world can spin unless we are running in the hamster wheel. We think others will think less of us if we insist on rest, as if we are weak or something. Or fragile. So we're paying the price for our lack of rest and instead, we're talking about all of these other things, trying to find solutions to our exhaustion, depression, anxiety, wornness, defeat. 

But the answer is simple, and God's been telling us all along: it's rest. 

Let's talk about rest, then. 

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