For the weary and burdened

In 2007 I crashed through what I thought was the bottom of my proverbial barrel, the lowest point I could survive in life. Turns out there was a trap door that led to an even deeper, darker cellar. It was smaller, danker, more infested than any place I’d ever been. For a short while I honestly thought I would be trapped there forever. Shivering and cowering in the corner, jumping at every scurrying sound, I had absolutely no idea how to crawl out of that hole.

The thing about a time like that, a time when you are out of fight and can find no light, is that you really could be stuck there forever. I’ve met people with a hollow look in the eye, people who never recovered from smacking into the cement floor at the bottom of their barrel. I couldn’t find a way out, and I was too bruised and tired to make the trek had I seen one. Lucky for me Someone knew where I was, knew how to find me. He crawled through the muck and braved the insidiousness, lifted me off the ground, and carried me out.

One of the ways He did so was by guiding me into the idea of Sabbath rest. My rhythm looked something like: run hard all day every day for three months, hit a wall, create a cave in the apartment with phone off and lights low for a few days to recover, then open the door and hit the ground running. I repeated this cycle for over 10 years; in 2007 it failed me. No amount of retreating with a hot bath, glass (bottle?) of wine, or movies could begin to heal the wounds I received. I started seeing this idea of a holy day of rest showing up in books and Scripture, and felt a longing grow deep inside.

So I took a book on the subject, a Bible, a candle, and food for a week to a little hotel with a kitchen near Galena, IL. I spent the week sleeping, studying, doing yoga, and playing Speed Scrabble with a friend. I didn’t speak for hours at a time. I didn’t look at a single screen or play a note of music. Intellectually, I learned that the idea of keeping the Sabbath is rooted in two events: God resting after six days of creation and God delivering the nation of Israel from slavery to Egypt. It’s the only of the Ten Commandments Christians think no longer applies (I’m still not allowed to covet my neighbor’s ox or, you know, kill someone). It centers on the idea that God can handle things just fine without me, that if I take a day a week to rest IN HIM the earth will not in fact spin off its axis. For Hebrews, this was the day of great food, conversation with those physically closest to you, nature walks, and even sex for the married folk. But all of this was intended to focus on the goodness of God and His presence amongst His people.

See, the Sabbath isn’t about “taking a day for myself.” It’s not actually about bubble baths and hobbies and catching up on new releases. That’s rest of a sort, recreation even. But it’s not restorative to the soul. That kind of day off is focused on me recharging my batteries, so to speak. Sabbath is about reconnecting my soul to its Maker, slowing down enough to be present with the people surrounding me. It’s a day to enjoy all the good things He’s given me, to be thankful. You don’t pray prayers of petition or intercession on the Sabbath; it’s a day of gratitude, rejoicing.

I began ordering my week around keeping a Sabbath. Per Jewish custom, I made sure the house was clean, I was showered, and meals were prepared in advance. I began with a glass of wine, a candle, and a prayer. I invited people over in the afternoon to share a meal. I tried not to drive or spend money. I didn’t engage in creating, completing or producing anything – blog posts or teachings, meals or to-do lists. I ended with a cup of tea, a candle, and a prayer.

The first few months were really hard. Preparing for a day off was weirdly stressful. The week behind needed to be wrapped up, and there was no extra prep time for the week ahead. I spent a lot of time rushing around Saturday afternoon, cleaning and shopping and cooking. I got bored. I got cranky. But over time space opened up in my spirit. I became a calmer person. I found peace I hadn’t had before. As I poured myself into keeping a day holy, the dark prison I fell into became a more and more distant memory. My wounds were dressed, my fear began to subside, and I could see light again.

Recently the Lord, in His wisdom, has seen fit to flip over a rug to reveal that the trap door is still there. It’s still open just a crack. I haven’t fully emerged from that place, and it’s darkness still lurks in some very specific corners of my soul. So He’s reminding me of the lifeline He once provided, the idea of Sabbath. I’m still weary, and I’m still burdened, and Jesus is offering me rest. Somewhere along the way the Sabbath disappeared from my life. So I’m starting to think through my schedule, planning for a weekly time of holy withdrawal from the work of life. I miss the connection I felt with the Lord and the people in my life, with myself and the world around me. It’s amazing how much the Lord can accomplish if I’ll sit still, if I’ll lay myself and all the burdens I’m carrying at His feet.

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