This week’s 7 fast is from stress. Have we ever considered that we over-consume stress and anxiety? The truth is that we do. I (we?) make choices that increase my stress and diminish my ability to keep any type of Sabbath in my life. I make these bad choices when I try to fit one more errand in before an appointment – increasing my rush and being late. I make these bad choices when I say yes to things that I know I should say no to. I make these bad choices when I fill my calendar up with so many things that I get stressed just looking at it.
I mentioned in Encountering Sabbath about the reflection I have been doing on Sabbath over the last seven months and how I have experienced it in different ways. The sacred pauses that 7 is calling us to this week are exactly that.
Do your work in six days. But on the seventh day you should rest so that your ox and donkey may rest, and even the child of your female slave and the immigrant may be refreshed. – Exodus 23:12 (CEB)
In Sabbath as Resistance: Saying NO to the Culture of Now, Walter Brueggemann stages his own mutiny against excess. In the chapter on resisting anxiety, Brueggemann reflects on the Ten Commandments. Many of us have probably heard that the Ten Commandments have two parts: relationship with God (1-4) and relationship with others (5-10). Brueggemann sees the 4th commandment – to honor the Sabbath – as the hinge-point. Essentially our relationship with others is dependent on our obedience in keeping the Sabbath: “The odd insistence of the God of Sinai is to counter anxious productivity with committed neighborliness.” (Brueggemann, 28)
The Sabbath allows us to resist anxiety and the requirements of the world to do more, be more, make more, and spend more. This resistance frees us to reduce our anxiety and, as a result, love both God and neighbor more fully.
Sabbath allows us to love.
I had a wake up a call on this a few years ago when I was too busy to take a meal to a friend. What type of Christian life was I living if I couldn’t even cook a double meal as I feed my family to take half to someone else? As a young mother working full-time, I knew that I was giving my best self to my clients and coworkers. I was tired when I got home. I often worked some (or a lot) on the weekends, and so there WAS NO TIME for anything else. My family (and God) got the leftovers.
During this time, I had a client that was an hour from my house. I commuted there one to four times a week. I began to use the drive down to pray (you can pray out loud in the car, other people will just think your singing with the radio) or to podcast sermons. On the way home, I would listen to podcasts or the radio – or sit in silence. This time was an important transition between work and home. On days when I was on the phone during the commute, this loss of reflection time increased my anxiety. I wouldn’t have called it Sabbath then, but that’s exactly what it was.
Be careful to obey everything that I have said to you. Don’t call on the names of other gods. Don’t even mention them. – Exodus 23:13 (CEB)
Brueggemann adds this commentary:
“The ‘other gods’ are agents and occasions of anxiety. But we, by discipline, by resolve, by baptism, by Eucharist, and by passion resist such seductions. In so doing we stand alongside the creator in whose image we are made. By the end of six days God had done all that was necessary for creation…so have we!” (Brueggemann, 33)
We’re often big on rules – especially in the Church – but I know I pick the ones that I want to obey. They aren’t always just the easy ones, but it often just comes down to “want to.” Why isn’t Sabbath a command we want to keep? Why are we so resistant to rest? Why do we perpetuate the lie that there just isn’t enough time? Why do we include work in our God-image but not rest?
Paul offers another viewpoint on Sabbath and the resistance to anxiety:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:4-7 (NIV)
Paul issues three commands: rejoice, don’t be anxious, pray. But I think this is just another reminder that we are to keep the Sabbath. Keeping Sabbath means that we make time to rejoice, that we let go of our anxiety by doing less, and offer whatever anxiety is left in prayer to God. In return, God offers to guard our hearts and minds by filling us with peace as we go back into our every day world.
I don’t know about you, but I want to trade my anxiety for peace.
(De-)Stress week has begun! My commitments are to pause four times a day in prayer (more on this next time), and to engage in at least one Sabbath activity each day. It’s not 7 things, but this is also a two-week chapter since we won’t meet this Saturday. Two of us are running a half marathon, and we decided it was most important for all of us to be there (and we could probably use a two-week fast from stress). If it was Food week, however…