Making room for the Sabbath: balancing work and playWhere's the Faith? Thursday, March 21st, 2013
Social Chaos: Where's the Faith?
You are cordially invited to join me in celebrating my birthday at The Center – Tuesday, April 2, 6:30 p.m. Only $20 for dinner and dessert catered by Babbo’s Restaurant. All proceeds benefit the outreach of MCC – our Community Church!
Have you ever tried to rest, unplugging from all your electronic devices and screens, spending an intentional day delighting in the beauty all around us? It’s a nice thought – and it’s difficult.
We are busy and there are distractions everywhere. I can take my day off, and I really try to honor my day off, and I can have the best intentions of setting the whole day apart to enjoy the blessings that God has given me. But then as the day goes on, thoughts about work, and conversations, and tasks I need to get done around the house start popping into my head. The demands and distractions around me try to get my attention and distract me from any attempt to find holiness. Can you identify with this?
When I’m trying to have an intentional Sabbath rest unto God, there are times when I almost feel in a panic. “How can I relax when I have all this work to do?” “Why did I say yes to that commitment at this time?” “Oh yeah, I need to get back to that person about what we talked about two weeks ago.” “I had something I was going to do, now, where did I put that stuff?” “How can I expect to get everything done on my to do list this week, it really would be easier if I did some of it today?” Then I start to think, “Oh no, now I’m not doing Sabbath well.” Ahhhh!
It’s endless. If you’re like me, the flow of work we can imagine doing, is always going to be greater than our ability to actually do it. One of the things about Sabbath-keeping is that it has to be an intentional decision. Nothing in our 24/7 world is going to allow it just to happen. We have to make it happen or it won’t happen at all.
Keeping the Sabbath means that we will choose to play, choose to rest, choose to cease our attempts to try and control everything and do everything in our lives, choose to trust that God provides all we need, in spite of the never ending flow of things that rush in at us from all sides. And, keeping the Sabbath means we also choose not to feel guilty about it.
Here’s one way to look at it. Making the choice to play, relax and enjoy the Sabbath one day a week is like building a wall of protection around you – and that wall holds things in your life at bay, like insulation. It’s like having an army of guardian angels around you, shielding you, protecting you from things that would sap your energy if you let it.
When you are in the habit of Sabbath-keeping, you begin to have a different perspective; you can see the life you’ve been given more clearly. There is space – holy space – and I believe holy space to play in while you’re there.
Theologian Eugene Peterson says, “Sabbath is uncluttered time and space in which we can distance ourselves from our own activity long enough to see what God is doing.” In this time and space you can take a breath and honestly answer the question in the reading, “What gain have the workers from their toil?” For some reason, Dolly Parton’s song, “Working 9-5” pops into my head.
“What do I really get for all of my hard work?” If the answer to this question is more hard work, more headaches, more stress, then maybe it’s time to reassess what you’re attempting to do.
A Sabbath day allows you to take an inventory of what God is doing in your life. You have a chance (space) to see those relationships that bring meaning and joy. You think of those people who bring you life and enrichment. You can take an inventory of the people you’re actually surrounding yourself with.
Another thing the Sabbath day allows you to do is to find the time for things you might otherwise never have time for. Maybe you love to play an instrument, but don’t usually have time for it. You dust it off and, wow, you’re making music like you did a long time ago! Maybe you spend 60 hours a week inside a building or a cubicle and yearn for a walk on the beach or a bike ride along some trails. Sabbath-keeping allows you do to those things.
But more important than anything, God’s design of the Sabbath helps us to balance work with play. God doesn’t always want us to take ourselves so seriously. Really! As I’ve been told before, lighten up!
There are a lot of strange and bizarre stories in the Bible that give us glimpses of God’s sense of humor. In the book of Numbers there’s a story about a guy named Balaam. He often took himself too seriously. He was once ordered by the king of Moab to come and curse the Israelites. (They were arriving from their 40 years journey in the wilderness.) At first Balaam refused, because he had listened to God. But after being asked several times, he finally gives in and goes with the king’s messengers. His one condition is that he will only do what God tells him to do. The problem is that he is so sure of his work – and going to do it no matter what – that he doesn’t see God’s angels who keep showing up to stop him from going any further.
He doesn’t see them, but his donkey that he’s riding does. When the donkey sees the angels, she first runs off the path, then she tries to scrape him off her back against a wall, and then she finally lies down, refusing to go another step. Each time, Balaam gets angry and hits the donkey.
That’s when God’s sense of humor comes in (and I believe compassion for the donkey.) God gives the donkey the ability to talk. She shoots back at him saying, “What have I done to you that you hit me three times?” (This is better than Shrek!)
He replies, “You made me look like a fool.” To which the donkey replies, “You’ve ridden me your whole life, have I ever done anything like this before?” Balaam admits, “No.” Now who’s the fool? It’s so crazy, you just have to laugh!
Balaam finds himself arguing with his donkey, and in the end, he is outwitted by her and loses the argument! He was so sure he was in control that he didn’t pick up on the fact that God was trying to do a new thing right there in front of him. And God would use a talking donkey to make this happen. Has that ever happened to you? Not that a donkey has talked back to you, but that a person you least expected to bring wisdom to a situation does just that?
Sometimes we need to just stop and smile … better yet, let out a chuckle or an outright belly laugh. Relying on some humor and light heartedness could be just the thing that is needed to get unstuck.
There is a wonder and openness to God that is available when we just slow down; when we choose to play in the world once in a while, rather than work so hard and take ourselves so seriously that we come to believe our entire world depends only on us.
Let me share a story with you, a true story that took place in a Catholic School in Michigan where someone on staff used to be a teacher. Every year the school put on a production and each class was responsible for their own skit. So the first graders were up and since they were the first ones part of their skit and part of their greeting to everyone was that they were to come up on stage carrying the letters spelling HELLO. When the children came up carrying the letters, the little girl carrying the O went to the wrong end of the line, and people burst out laughing. And the nun who was the first grade teacher was mortified. Here she thought she had everything in control, and one misplaced letter can shatter the illusion that we are in control and the most important person at that moment!
Without holy play to balance our work, things get fuzzy – they get out of focus. Reality gets distorted and we think we’re all that and a bag of chips and our own sense of the space we take up in the world gets larger and larger. Maybe that’s why John the Baptist told his followers, “[Christ] must increase, but I must decrease.”
No matter what our work is, being an accountant, educating the next generation, caring for the sickest people or developing the next technological breakthrough in supercomputing, answering the telephone or making sure that people from all walks of life feel welcome in our faith community, these efforts alone can all be chalked up to chasing after the wind.
If our work is the only way we define ourselves, we join Balaam in making ourselves the fool. Without making Sabbath time, where we delight in what God has done and is doing in the world, we will lose our sense that God is the source of our lives and our passions and the source of all of our blessings.
Sabbath rest and play is like rebooting your computer or tablet when it starts doing wacky things.
Sabbath-keeping recalibrates reality, making it possible for us to see the value of our work (whatever we do for a living) as a small part of the greater work of God. Amen.
Rev. Dan Koeshall is the senior pastor at The Metropolitan Community Church (The Met), 2633 Denver Street, San Diego, California, themetchurch.org. Services every Sunday at 9 and 11 a.m.
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