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by Meg Jenista
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God… For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Exodus 20:8-11
“God saw all that he had made and it was very good.” Genesis 1:31
God is on a roll. God is on a six-day winning streak. Firing on all cylinders. Making this. It’s good. Making that. It’s good. Boom, boom, boom. I can’t speak for you but when I’m (very rarely) in that kind of space, in the middle of good work, my impulse is to keep going. Why would I rest if I’m not burned out? Why would I rest if I’m not tired. Why would I rest if I have strength and power and ingenuity to keep going?
So then why did God stop? Why did God survey a six-day marathon of epic goodness and go, “Yup. That’s good. I think I’ll stop now.” God wasn’t burned out. God wasn’t tired. God still had all the strength, power, and ingenuity to keep going. Why in the world does God stop? And what does it mean to say God rested?
In an interview with one of my favorite current thinkers about well-being, Brene Brown, she says this: “One of the things that I found was the importance of rest and play, and the willingness to let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth.”
Brown is not the only one taking a renewed interest in something akin to Sabbath rest. But so many contemporary articles on the theme end up circling back around to anecdotes or statistics about how taking time away from the productivity rat-race, in fact, makes people more productive in the long run. That may well be true. But do you see what that does?
It sets the value of rest in terms of its service to productivity. It commends time away because it serves the greater purpose of productivity. So that rest is valid because it honors productivity.
Brown calls out this relentless chase of productivity, “there’s no stopping and celebrating or acknowledging the accomplishment of anything. Instead of feeling pride or recognition, what everyone is instead made to feel is, ‘Thank God, I can get to the next thing on my list.’”
Recently, as I was going through a difficult time, a friend gently suggested “You’re only human. You’re a person and that’s okay.” My immediate response was defensiveness, “Why are you saying such mean things to me right now?” The Sabbath is a gift, reminding us that we are creatures. To believe ourselves anything other than creatures is inevitably to do violence to ourselves and to others.
“Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” By resting, God holy-fies the day. Our delight, our rest, our telling the truth about God and about ourselves is holiness. By resting we are made holy. So, for heaven’s sake, go take a nap!
Meg Jenista is the pastor of DC Christian Reformed Church in Washington, DC.