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Rest is a faithful practice

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. 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.


It is a thorn in my side to remember that Rest is one of our commandments (the fourth one out of ten to be exact). I tend to like the idea of the Sabbath, but in execution I'm woefully ill-equipped and un-practiced-- there are dishes to be washed, plants to be repotted, emails to be replied to, even blog posts and newsletter articles to write (!!) and I can scarcely imagine what I would do if I were to do nothing. But even further, there is something unsettling to me about the concept of idleness--attractive for sure, but also unsettling. And never before have my shortcomings in the area of Rest felt more like a liability than during this weird, tense, tired year.

We have always had a high tolerance in our culture for busyness, especially in 2021, especially in the shadow of a major university, in the long shadow of D.C. And in the midst of pandemic and political tensions and uncertain climate patterns, our tanks are starting out half full, family and work and social commitments not withstanding. So many of the students and young adults that I'm talking to feel this fatigue in their arms and legs and in their bones and yet are asked to keep moving full steam ahead in their commitments, and I wonder if you (yes, you) are feeling the same way too.

Well, as much of a novice as I feel here, our faith does have something to say to us in the midst of our busyness, our fatigue. It must be asked what it means that God rested on the seventh day, not out of a great tiredness or because all He could do was sprawl on the couch. Our omnipotent God does not tire, but He does choose rest willingly. In God we see that Rest is not an unfortunate necessity but something holy and worthwhile.

In his book The Sabbath, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes that the Sabbath is a "foretaste of the heavenly banquet" and we will miss it (we won't recognize it) if we don't practice it in advance. In our present days, the Sabbath is balanced with six other days of working -- chores, schoolwork, career, projects, creating. We find these things meaningful (and rightly so!) but so often our time spent resting from our labors is haunted by them, held hostage by the items yet-remaining on our to-do lists or in scheming how to get a jumpstart on next week's projects. The challenge, offered us by Heschel, by God, by that seventh day of creation, is in believing that enough can be enough, and that rest is not the other side of the labor coin, but a faithful act unto itself.

What would it be like to imagine that you have done enough for today, for this week? What would enough feel like? What would it be like to imagine that there can be as much contentment in our abstention from labor, productivity, creation as there is in our enjoyment of labor? If Enough feels hard for you, where did you learn that from? Who taught you that enough wasn't enough?

What does it feel like to imagine that Heaven is the place where Enough-ness is the rule, rather than the exception?

Rome wasn't built in a day and it wasn't conquered in a day either. Our relationships with Rest have long been formed in us and it will take a long time to reform them, but how lucky that we are a Reformation people. Rest deserves our attention and our practice now more than ever, not simply because we need it (although we do) but because it is true and it is part and parcel of the life God calls us into. And thank God for that.

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