Fridays are the most difficult days of my week. Fridays are also my day off.
Sundays aren’t really days of rest for preachers – as friends in church are so kind to remind me, this is the only day I work all week.
And Saturdays, well between the Gunners, the Vols and the honey-do list that awaits, there’s not a lot of Spirit-infused rest happening then either.
And so Friday it is – the day of rest, the day of ease, the day of Sabbath, and the day of doing the mental gymnastics it takes to try to make myself avoid work.
I’ve read the books – Heschel, Dawn, Barton. I can tell you why Sabbath matters, how it is one of the most important spiritual disciplines for us busy people, what it has to say to us achievers and why those of us tempted to self-validation require its correction that the world’s existence actually doesn’t depend on us.
And yet as I roll out of bed on Friday mornings, I know it won’t be long before I begin to hear work’s siren call.
There’s always more to be done – the phone call to be made, the essay to write, the place in that sermon that could be a lot better. There’s the theology book that’s been sitting on my shelf for months, if not years, that I need to read, and actually want to read.
I’m reminded of that visit that needs to be made, the person to be seen, lonely and desperate for connection, demanding the church, and by extension me, to provide it. There’s the community leader I’ve been trying to connect with, the planning crying out to begin and all the people whose expectations I would be a lot closer to meeting if I could put in just one more day.
Good, important and faithful things they all are. But on Fridays they are distractions from what matters, and they are more than that – invitations to idolatry and opportunities to ignore what God wants to do in and through me.
One of the most important things God wants to do with us on the Sabbath is to provide the space to help us deal with all the things that are keeping us disconnected with God and one another. Work becomes a distraction and noble things become objects to faithfulness when we allow them to take up the space in our minds, souls and lives that God wants to use to transform us.
To avoid the call of work is to avoid the things that will prevent me from noticing and dealing with the anxieties and insecurities that are keeping me from becoming the person and living the life that God wants for me. It is only by avoiding these distractions that we can come to grips with the truth that all our attempts to build towers of self-justification and achievement have come crashing down.
When we live into the rest God gives us in Sabbath we come to more fully understand our own sin and the damage it is leveling in our lives. When we take the time to sit with ourselves and with God we begin, maybe for the first time, to realize who we really are, all the ways we are missing the life we really want and where in our lives we need to invite God’s grace in so we can discover a better way.
I am always stunned in reading Exodus at the seriousness with which God takes Sabbath – both the keeping of it and especially the breaking of it. While we find Sabbath optional, God finds it non-negotiable. To make sure none of us miss the point, when God is giving Moses the rules for life in the Covenant, right in the middle of them is that those who break Sabbath are subject to death.
Why is God so serious about Sabbath? There are plenty of things to take serious – murder, theft, adultery, lying, racism, violence – and on and on we could go. That not resting would be a crime that gets you executed seems particularly odd to those of us who live in a culture that so effectively blurs the borders between work and non-work.
I can’t say for certain why this is. After all, I wast there. But I think one of the reasons God is so serious about Sabbath is because transformation requires rest. We can’t repent and experience change without dealing with ourselves. And we can’t deal with ourselves unless we first stop to figure out just where and why we need grace in the first place.
It’s a crazy thing, but one I am finally beginning to learn – work, even the good and holy work of church, can be an idol. And the work of spiritual change begins with rest.