Break for Silence

A coworker asked me if I had plans for the weekend.

“Well,” I said, “my husband is going out of town, so I’ve made it my goal to not speak to anyone for the entire weekend.”

She laughed and said, “I get it.”

Now, I might’ve been being a little dramatic. After all, I did speak to one of my kids for a few minutes. I did visit with two members of my health team, and, ok, I did talk to my dog, Chester, while I was brushing him out.

Otherwise, silence.

Ok, not exactly. I did listen to some music and my daily Bible reading, and I, of course, watched a few episodes of Queer Eye, but otherwise, I’ve been quiet.

Right now the only sound I can hear is the clicking of the laptop keys and the sound of Chester’s breath going in and out.

I’ve paid the bills, worked on two writing projects, pulled some dead matter out of the almost done garden, and dragged all my clothing and shoes to the living room for a sort and purge while I watched Michigan State football.

Other than the two health appointments and the kick-off time of 4pm, I’ve been pretty oblivious to the clock. I’m so still and chillaxed that I’m sitting here with nothing to write about except how still and chillaxed I am.

We need this, don’t we? We need a morning to wake up, write down three pages of what’s first on our minds, do thirty minutes of restorative yoga, process the latest with our therapist, and allow a trained professional to assess the alignment and strains in our bodies and put them all right again.

We need a slow walk on a cool morning, a cup of hot tea, and a golden retriever lying at our feet while we do the things that have been set aside. We need the windows thrown open, the taste of fresh-picked tomatoes, and a couple low-key projects that can be finished in a an hour or two.

The world’s been yelling at us all week long about what it needs from us, and before we head back to it, we could really use some time to rest, to recover, to remember who we are and what is important to us –how we like to spend our time, what kinds of things make us feel healthy and whole.

You might have a different strategy — you might recover by surrounding yourself with people, by reading a book or taking a nap, by cooking a gourmet meal or going for an extra long run. You might want to watch the game in a sports bar or a crowded stadium or you might prefer hiking a mountain alone. You might want to sleep ’til noon or dance ’til midnight.

Whatever it is that restores you, that fills you up, that heals you — take the time to do it.

Our lives are so busy, and the demands on us are great. We manage so many responsibilities and process so much information. We need to give ourselves time to recover, to be still, to be silent.

And that’s all I have to say on the subject.

I’ve used up my quota of words for the day.

The apostles then rendezvoused with Jesus and reported on all that they had done and taught. Jesus said, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest.” For there was constant coming and going. They didn’t even have time to eat.

Mark 6: 30-31

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Blessing upon blessing

I was standing in a local thrift shop sorting through 50-cent coffee cups. My husband had asked me to grab a half-dozen or so for his office so that college students who come in to grab coffee can take one ‘to-go’. I visit this section often — not only to stock the student life office, but also to replace the many cups that I break or absent-mindedly leave in my path. I was picking out some sturdy looking cups for the students when a beautiful floral pattern caught my eye — it was a little small for my taste, but it was so lovely I decided to put it in the basket with the others and make it my own. Only when I got to the cash register did I realize that it had scripture written on the inside of the rim.

….one blessing after another…

Sometime in the months since I brought it home, I made an un-official decision that this cup will be for special circumstances only. It’s not to be carried out the door in the morning rush, clutched through rush hour traffic, and plunked on my desk at work. No, this cup is for the lingering pondering cuppa. It’s for sipping while sitting and savoring. It’s an object of beauty that I’ll use when I need a little encouragement, a little healing, a little celebration, a little recognition of the grace that has poured out one blessing after another.

I’ve got it in my hand right now.

I’m by myself in my little house by the river for 48 hours of self-imposed solitary confinement. My husband is out of town, so I am seizing the opportunity to be quiet, forget about the clock, take care of a couple tasks, make a few long-overdue phone calls, and spend some time reflecting.

Regular doses of solitude heal and restore me.

So what have I done so far? I’ve practiced yoga, done some writing, read a few chapters in Michelle Obama’s Becoming, slept until I woke up — twice! — and watched six episodes of Queer Eye (a delightful show with a message of healing and hope).

I’ve done some cleaning and organizing, paid some bills, folded some laundry, and worked on a puzzle. I’ve spoken at length to both of my parents and to my parents-in-law. I’ve eaten when I’ve been hungry, lounged on the couch in yoga pants, and sipped several cups of tea.

My dog has been following me from room to room, plunking down wherever I plunk, and occasionally standing in front of me, staring me down, until I remember that it is time to walk around the yard.

It’s on these kinds of days, when the agenda is fluid and my expectations for productivity are low, that tucked away thoughts and feelings jangle loose. I’ve poured a lovely cup of tea to enjoy while I observe them.

I’ve been thinking about the visit I had with my breakfast club girls last week. We got together to celebrate my recent birthday; they showered me with gifts and treated me to dinner. As we chatted and laughed, I was struck by the contrast between this birthday celebration and the one we had last year, when I’d been been buried in grief and had cried as they’d leaned into my pain. This year, I was filled with gratitude for their partnership in my suffering, for their unconditional love, and for willingness to acknowledge and celebrate my blessings.

I’m also looking back at my weekend away with one hundred or so pastors’ wives. I pulled out my notes this morning and remembered our time in Bible study where we sat around tables using pens and colored pencils to draw visual reminders of what we were learning. I heard our voices singing together — both in worship and in fun. I saw friends who I only see at this conference, smiling and saying, “We missed you last year!” I felt the compassion of a soul sister who pulled me aside, probed gently, and let me share just a bit; she bore some pain with me and then shared in my gratitude.

I’m scrolling through thoughts of dinner with my godparents, laughing with friends until my sides hurt, and car rides with new and old friends. I’m relishing in the realization that unlike the last time I gathered with these women, I didn’t need rest breaks, or pain medication — not even when I stayed up way past my bedtime.

Blessing upon blessing upon blessing.

I’m spending this weekend alone so that I can reflect on these blessings. I said no to a few people (probably disappointing at least a couple) and chose solitude. And because I did, I’ve had the time to notice each of these jangly thoughts as they’ve settled down beside me. I’ve had opportunity to look closely at how I’ve been blessed, and I am now restored so that I can step away from my solitude.

It’s a new way — a new rhythm.

Toward the end of the soldiering years, I remember my husband, who was also trying to slow his pace and find a different way, telling me about a rhythm of sabbath. The idea was to pause daily, weekly, and yearly — to intentionally plan for space to pause. I remember thinking, “That’d be nice, dear, but you do see that I’m busy here, don’t you?”

And somehow, after almost five years in this little house by the river, we have joined this rhythm. Each day the two of us wake up in the dark — before we see our people or do our things — we each take a time of reading, writing, reflection, and intentional movement. On Sundays we extend this rhythm by continuing on to worship with our community. Each year, we’ve miraculously been able to get away for a week or two alone to put our phones on silent, to forget about the clock, and to read, write, reflect, and rest.

This is one more realization that just floated down and snuggled in next to me. I never would have believed we could live this way, and here we are.

I’m going to make another cup of tea and savor every last moment of this solitude, this sanctuary, this sabbath. This in itself is one more blessing.

Ten out of ten would recommend.

Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.

Mark 6:31

Fallow [fal-oh] adj.

I remember as a little girl trying to wrap my mind around the concept of letting a field go fallow — the practice of letting a field rest for a season or more so that its fertility — its ability to be productive — could be restored.

The idea that we would let a field — a piece of dirt — “rest” seemed weird to me.  I mean, why wouldn’t a farmer want to keep planting that field every opportunity he had so that he could reap the highest yield?

It’s a concept I have a hard time applying to farming and to my own life.  I struggle to give myself a break from productivity — just imagine what I could be accomplishing in the time that I might be resting!

For the past three months or so I’ve allowed this blog to sit fallow.  I taught three classes this past semester — three different classes which means three different preparations. It took a lot of my mental energy and my time to process and package all the content that my students consumed (or didn’t consume as the case may be). I thought about my blog from time to time, but I reasoned, this just isn’t the time.  You’ll get back to it.  I wouldn’t say it was an intentional choice to let my blog go fallow, but I am reaping the benefits just the same. Over the past week or so while I was finalizing grades, finishing my Christmas shopping, and tying up other loose ends, I kept thinking, pretty soon, pretty soon you are going to be able to blog! 

In my excitement to begin my personal writing again, I’ve been considering some unusual ideas for what to write about and how to write about it. Maybe I could change the blog’s layout.  Maybe I’d like to play around with a series — a participatory series in which I use another platform to allow readers to dabble with my topics and try their own hands at blogging. Where were these ideas coming from? Why hadn’t I considered them before? Perhaps taking a break from production had allowed my mind a chance to restore.

The practice of letting fields go fallow is not too different from giving ourselves a rest through the practice of sabbath.  Sabbath, by design, is a scheduled break from our labor.  A pause in productivity.  An opportunity for our lives to have a chance at restoration.

[I’m not very good at observing a sabbath.]

Historically, sabbath has been observed one day a week — maybe Saturday, maybe Sunday.  Perhaps it originates from creation wherein God rested on the sabbath day.  It is echoed in the story of the Israelites who gathered manna six days a week, but not on the seventh.  The Ten Commandments also mention the sabbath with the admonition to “Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.”  It’s a model and a mandate intended for our benefit.  It’s a reminder, “Guys, take a break. Remember that it’s God who created you, who provides for your needs, and who will sustain you. Sit down.  Take a break.  Let your body have a chance for restoration.”

And here I am folding a load of laundry, running to get my groceries, wrapping my Christmas presents, and even disinfecting the bathroom floor.  Why wouldn’t I want to keep busy so that I can reap the highest yield?

I’m missing the point.

Again.

On Sunday afternoon, after a morning of (gosh, I hate to admit this) grocery shopping and worship, I came home and entered my students’ final grades into the online portal.  Then, I crocheted while I got caught up on old episodes of Call the Midwife.  That’s my idea of a sabbath, guys.  I’m often willing to give myself a pause, but a whole day?  Come on.

And two weeks ago, when my husband and I were discussing the fact that I did not have a teaching contract for this semester, we agreed that perhaps I should keep my semester open so that I can catch my breath and allow some space for restoration.  I posted my grades on Sunday, and today — Tuesday — I went on an interview.  Sigh.

I am telling you: I push back against this concept of letting myself “go fallow” — of letting myself practice the sabbath.  Why? Perhaps I’m afraid.  Perhaps I don’t fully trust that God created me, sustains me, and will provide for every eventuality.  Perhaps I think of myself more highly than I ought — that I’m the only one who can meet that student’s need or answer that email or edit that paper.  Or perhaps I don’t want to be confronted with the thoughts and feelings that might surface if I take some time to be still.

Perhaps all of those possibilities are true.

Over the years, I have found one way to embrace the stillness — writing.  So, after this season of letting my blog go fallow, I am re-engaging.  I am going to turn over some soil, plant some seeds, and see what grows.  I might explore some of my fears and some of my feelings.  I might also invite you to have some fun.

Join me?

 

Leviticus 25:3-4

For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.

 

Thoughts on a Sabbath

I’m sitting at the corner table in The Common Cup, the coffee house located in the basement of the church building where our congregation meets.  I often sit here in the mornings when my husband, a pastor, preaches two services on a Sunday morning. I like the dedicated time to think, grade papers, or write before I go upstairs for the second service.  The baristas brew me an extra strong pot of English Breakfast and I sip on it while I sit listening to quiet worship music and working on whatever is in front of me.

Today, I don’t really have any work.  I finished teaching a summer course on Friday.  I don’t start teaching again for almost a full month.  Yes, I have plans and syllabi to write.  Yes, I have grade books to set up. I have plenty of work for the week ahead of me, but today I am resting.  I am resting from duties to spend my day blogging, reading, puzzling, and breathing.

I highly recommend it — this kind of resting.  I do realize that many of you have determined to observe a Sabbath every week.  You regularly take a day to turn away from work to rest for a full day.  I mean, it’s Biblical.  However, it’s been a difficult concept for me to wrap my brain around.  For a long time, the concept of Sabbath felt like an obligation rather than an opportunity.  I have felt guilty for not taking a Sabbath rather than thankful to have one.

Perhaps you can relate.  My husband and I have long been church workers.  Making Sunday a Sabbath is a challenge for church workers.  How do you find rest on a day when you have a sermon to preach, lessons to present, needs to respond to, and expectations to meet?  Some church workers manage to do it; I’ve never gotten the hang of it.

Or, perhaps your weeks are so full with work and family obligations that taking a full day to rest simply seems impossible.  So many of my weekend days have been crammed full of grocery shopping, laundry, house keeping, errand running, and catching up.  Some of you manage to do all of those tasks and still find room for a Sabbath rest; again, I haven’t really figured it out.

Even now, when I am no longer working full time, I still struggle to keep a day completely free from ‘work’.  I usually slip in a little bit of grading, a little bit of editing, a smidge of house work, or a trip to the grocery store.

However, one thing my chronic illness has taught me is this — our bodies (at least my body) need time to recover, time to heal, time to restore, time to prepare for what is next.  If I power through, if I fail to rest, fail to take consistent breaks, my body often shuts itself down and mandates a day or two of bed rest.  This has happened over and over again; I am starting to get the message.  If I preemptively take a Sabbath, as God’s Word has recommended, then I don’t crash as often.

Not only do our bodies need consistent breaks from work, but also our minds, our spirits, our souls. On Friday, after five weeks of teaching a composition class, I got caught in a rain storm — twice.  I was soaked to the skin, but I was determined to run a few errands before I went home.  I was tired before I started, but I pressed on. I stopped at four different places before I considered going home.  I was hungry.  I was exhausted.  I was cranky.  Instead of taking consistent rest during the five weeks of teaching, I had tutored; I had taken weekend trips;  I had pushed myself to my limits.  Later Friday night when my husband got home from a business trip, I really wanted to welcome him back, but my fatigued, depleted spirit was edgy.  My tone was sharp.  My glance was surly.

We expect a lot from ourselves.  We push ourselves to do just one more thing — one more email, one more errand, one more social engagement.  But guys, what we really need so that we can more fully experience our lives — fully engage with the people in front of us, fully care for the people we love, fully attend to our work — is regular time to recover.

It’s funny, I was writing this post this morning at church.  I saw my computer draining of battery, but I thought, I can probably finish before it runs out.  I couldn’t.  My screen went black, so I had to rest from my blog about resting.

I went to worship.  I chatted with friends after.  My husband and I stopped at the grocery on the way home. (Insert eye roll here.) We ate some lunch, then I worked on my puzzle while listening to a book on tape.

Since it was time for my afternoon tea, I grabbed my laptop, moved outside to the patio, and sat in my reclining lawn chair to finish my musings.  It’s after 4pm and I truly have rested from work most of the day (if you overlook the groceries). My aspirations for the rest of the day?  Right now they include staying on this lawn chair a little longer.  I haven’t thought beyond that.

I could get used to this.

Leviticus 23:3

“‘There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the Lord.

Catch phrases, re-visit

This post, first written in April 2016 and revised in March 2019, might resonate with you if you just can’t stop trying to go it alone.

Recently, I wrote about how Jennifer Rothschild’s Hosea pointed out that I am ‘bent on turning’ away from God. Now, Priscilla Shirer has told me to “resist the urge to continue”.  Let me see if I can unpack what this phrase means to me.

I’ve spent significant white space in this blog discussing my ‘soldiering years’ — my long period of working hard and believing that I was tackling all of life’s challenges on my own, thank you very much. Although I was removed from that life of self-sufficiency by my chronic illness, the pattern of striving is deep in my DNA and hard to leave behind. I still try to turn back to that old way of living, filling my days with work and achievement in order to convince myself that I have control over my life. Even though I have been given this opportunity to live a life that has a slower pace, fewer demands, and plenty of time to take care of myself, connect with God, and care for the people around me, I still am bent on turning back to the familiar — soldiering.

Now, sure, it looks a little different than it once did. Instead of power walking down the hall in an a-line skirt and heels intimidating poor little freshmen into tucking in their shirts and getting to class on time, I now wear comfortable clothes and sensible shoes and typically move at a much slower pace as I work with and encourage one student at a time. However, the underlying drive is the same — a need to be busy, to prove my worth, to make myself useful, to be in control.

It’s a rhythm that has felt comfortable to me for quite a while. Although I don’t always like working as hard as I do, the rhythm makes me feel safe. It assures me. It’s a way I’ve come to know.

Priscilla Shirer in Breathe: Making Room for the Sabbath, recalls that the Israelites, too, had found a rhythm that was familiar during their 400 years of slavery in Egypt. They had worked hard and long under the fearsome watch of the taskmaster. They had labored in the heat with very little rest their whole lives. You might think it would be easy to leave all that behind and live according to the commands God gave them, but old habits die hard. Perhaps one of the hardest challenges for the Israelites (and for me) was believing that God would provide for all of their needs even if they took time to rest.

Shirer points out that God did provide the Israelites with enough manna for each day — their ‘daily bread’. They were to collect only what they would eat that day, and not try to store up extra. They were to trust that the next day He would provide again. But you know, they hadn’t had plenty to eat in a long time, so they figured it would be wasteful to throw the extra away. They kept it and woke up the next day to find it rotten and worm-infested. They were given a double portion on the sixth day so that they could observe the sabbath on the seventh. Regardless, some of those Israelites still went out on the sabbath looking for manna, but they didn’t find any. They didn’t find any because they didn’t need any;  God had already provided plenty.

Silly Israelites.

Cricket — cricket.

Yeah, I’m silly, too.

All that time I was soldiering away, God had already provided for all our needs. Even though I might like to think that I somehow made the life of my family healthier, stronger, or more provided-for, I was really in all my soldiering making our experience as a family worse. I was overlooking God’s provision. I was failing to take a sabbath. I was forgetting to turn to Him with all my needs. And even though sometimes I got a glimpse at what was happening, I couldn’t resist the urge to continue. My pattern was comfortable. It felt safe. Putting down my weapons, falling to my knees, and admitting my helplessness before God was, at that time, out of the question.

It’s still tempting for me to believe that admitting my helplessness before God is out of the question. But guys, shouldn’t it be out of the question for me not to admit my helplessness before God?

It’s got to be.

It’s got to be out of the question for me to think that I can possibly work hard enough to make myself useful, to prove my own worth, or to be in control. It’s got to be beyond my imagination that I would think that I know more than God or that I am above the need for a sabbath. It’s got to be completely ludicrous for me to believe for one minute that I can do anything at all that God hasn’t already done for me.

It’s got to be.

And yet, I’m bent on turning…turning back to that old life, that old comfortable way. I’m just like the Israelites. So, when I see myself turning, and I almost always do, I’ve got an opportunity to resist the urge to continue.  I can stop dead in my tracks as I’m heading back to Egypt. I can say to myself, “Really? You wanna go back there?”

I can choose to admit to myself that all my soldiering was a façade on a frightened little girl who didn’t believe that her Father had gladly given her the kingdom. But He has, guys, He has gladly given us His kingdom.

I think it’s time I learned to resist the urge to continue.

Luke 12:32

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

Re-thinking Sabbath

Yesterday, after having missed two weeks of my Bible study, I returned. While I was gone, the battalion had finished the study on Hosea and had transitioned to Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe: making room for sabbath.  

I joined the study already in progress, so I’m a little behind.  I tried to skim and engage during yesterday’s gathering, but I kept feeling like I was missing out because I hadn’t read every word from the start.

So, today I sat down and turned to page one.

But before I tell you what I found, let me rewind a bit and tell you what I have thought about the sabbath during these first fifty years of my life.

Many of the women yesterday resonated with my first understanding of sabbath.  “Sabbath means going to church. Every Sunday. Without fail.” Going to church is an excellent practice.  I am all for gathering in community, hearing the word of God, uniting in prayer and song, and devoting a regular portion of my week to public worship.  However, sabbath is not church attendance. 

I have also understood sabbath to mean an absence of work. This has Biblical grounds, of course, and traditional significance.  Many people, for centuries, have observed the sabbath by refraining from work.  Again, I fully support this notion.  I think it is healthy and even godly to find a rhythm in which we regularly cease toiling.  However, the sabbath is about much more than just the absence of work. 

So, I’ve started my definition of sabbath by telling you what it is not. Why? Because that is where I am starting.  I am acknowledging that my previous understandings of this word were limited and not exactly what God modeled for us when He “rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done.”  Nor do they line up with the heart of God behind the third commandment to “remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.”

I’m starting with what sabbath is not, deleting my previous notions to make room for a new understanding.  I am feeling a need to do this because the very word ‘sabbath’ is weighted for me.  It is weighted with feelings of obligation, neglect, and guilt.  Somewhere deep inside me is the belief that if I were a better Christian, I would trust God enough to take a whole day every week to rest in Him.  This belief is scripturally illustrated in the story of the Israelites who were told to gather manna six days out of the week.  God provided a double-portion for them on the sixth day so that they would not have to gather manna on the seventh day.  See, they didn’t have to work and still God provided.  Should I not learn from the Israelites and ‘go and do likewise’.

We have to be careful when we start down that path, because even in our attempts to do good, we can reduce sabbath to a rule or requirement.

Also planted deeply inside me is the belief that I am not healthy if I don’t give myself one day a week to rest and recover from my labors.  Haven’t you heard people say, “even God rested on the seventh day.”  They are intentionally, or unintentionally, suggesting that if I refuse to rest on the seventh day I am somehow elevating myself above God — “I don’t need rest.”

Well, of course I need rest.  And of course I should trust God.  But after reading the first sixteen pages of Priscilla Shirer’s study, I jotted down my response to a question and I surprised myself.  After leading me through the Genesis account and some thoughts from a Jewish scholar regarding the sabbath, the study asked me: “how is the concept of rest more than simply stopping an activity? How is rest a positive, created thing rather than a negative cessation of activity?” Before I knew what was happening I wrote: “It’s a destination rather than a requirement. It’s a capstone, not recovery.”

Whoa.

That’s the kind of stuff that will sit you down and make you think for a minute.  God created for six days straight, so that He could appreciate all that He had created on the seventh.  His rest was the capstone of His creation — the finale of his well-spent week. He put the sabbath in our commandments, not to require our worship, but to protect His rhythm.  Why? Because His rhythm is good. All that He created was good.

Why, oh why, do I push against what God has created to be good?  Because, as I learned in the book of Hosea, I am bent on turning….turning to my own ways, to what I believe to be best for me, rather that what God knows is best for me.

Are you bent on turning, too?  “Have no fear, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you His kingdom.” And in his kingdom, my friends, He has provided a sabbath rest.

Re-think it with me, won’t you?

 

Hebrews 4:9

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God