By: Jessica Dahl, Resonate Ellensburg
We are a culture obsessed with self-care. It is the buzzword widely promised as the missing key to a healthy, productive life. The self-care movement comes out of the reality that we are also a culture obsessed with work and achievement. In such a culture we swing frantically from one side of the pendulum to the other, often times spinning our wheels. We feel fruitless in our work on the brink of burnout, so we swing into self-care rituals involving “treat yo’self” shopping sprees, the latest exercise fads, and Netflix binges. When the pendulum inevitably swings back into work, we still feel empty and unenergized for the week ahead. We are a culture living for the weekends, but what if the way we’ve been taught to rest is actually depleting rather than refreshing us?
WHAT IS REST
Rest was originally God’s idea. In the Biblical account of the creation story, we see God form the world in six days, then “he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:2-3) This word for rest, shabath, means to cease, desist, put away, put an end to. Right away, God shows that even the most important person in the universe makes time for rest. We have no excuse.
When God is leading the Israelites through the desert from Egypt, yet again we see him make rest a priority. He gave them a covenant explaining how they were to act as his people. He mandated certain times of year for celebration and remembrance; times to cease from all work and labor.
Abraham Joshua Heschel breaks down the world of Sabbath into space, time, and things. He says that space and things rule our days in the natural world, and that redeeming our time is what we actually need in Sabbath rest. Rather than fill it with more places to go, or things we need, we need to fill that time with God himself and cease from the addiction to places and things.
“The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. We turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.” (Heschel, Sabbath)
HOW WE REST
1. Work From Rest Instead of Resting From Work
This distinction, made by author Mike Breen, shows us just how backwards our understanding of rest is. Rather than enter the cycle of work-burnout-crash that leads to forced retroactive rest, what if we obeyed God and laid down our unfinished work once a week, trusting him with our lives, showing both him and our hearts where our true worth and treasure lies?
Working from rest means we prioritize Him, then out of a heart that has found its deepest need met in God’s presence, we enter back into the world of labor full of energy. If we get it backwards, we are always running on empty, working for the weekend and barely scraping by in our jobs or studies. There is a better way, God tells us. Looking different from the world means working from the deep soul rest we find rather than living for the weekend. The world finds its functional savior in Friday, we find our true Savior in the presence of God.
2. Engage Instead of Disengage
Jesus said “come to me all you who are weary, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Sabbath is an active rest. It is engaging rather than disengaging.
The world tries to tell us that rest comes from checking out; disengaging with parties, alcohol, binge watching shows, all a distraction from the real world. All of us who have tried this know it does not lead to any sort of long term satisfaction. If anything it makes the anxiety of Monday approaching worse, knowing that problem at work is still waiting for you. God wants us to bring our work, our toils, our stress, and our anxiety to him and He will give us rest. When we enter the word of God, he will illuminate and bring peace to our world, to the real troubles and stress you have. Rather than distract you, the word of God engages your life when you engage it.
This is so different from most other mindsets and worldviews. Eastern thought tells you to empty your mind to find peace. Western thought tells you to distract yourself to find peace. The God of the Bible tells you to actively engage through prayer and reading of his word, and he will bring peace into those situations you would rather run from. Initially, this feels like work and is why so few of us actually make a habit of resting this way. Christians must learn that true, life-giving Sabbath rest comes with the discipline of prayer, reading, journaling, meditating, memorizing. These things are not more homework to avoid, they are actually the way to life.
3. Obey Instead of Burning Out
The work will never be done. Our jobs will constantly have problems that pop up at 5 pm as you leave the office. Homework and due dates bring the pressure around the clock and it is a choice to press pause. If you wait to rest until it is convenient or you feel you’re at a place you can press pause, that day will never come.
The Sabbath Rest is a command from God. It is an active choice to lay down the unfinished, important work to rest. It shows that we trust God to work when we are not. It stands as a countercultural protest against the striving and earning mentality of the world.
4. Rhythm-Based Sabbath instead of Legalistic Sabbath
Does a Sabbath need to be a whole day? Maybe. Rather than tell you exactly how to rest, the hope is to give you the heart behind Sabbath to make your own time. Only you know your heart and your work addiction (or Netflix addiction). Whether its a day or half a day, God is after our hearts. Make a schedule that plans out your Sabbath, commit to trust God with your rest, and stick to it no matter how busy or apathetic you get.
The ultimate self-care is taking yourself to the One who knows you, created you, and has life he wants to breathe back into you. So watch those movies with friends, do yoga class with the goats, put on those facemasks, but know that what your heart is actually looking for is found in the presence of God. Let’s show the world that God is better by being the most life-filled, well-rested, self-cared people out there.