On a recent trip to the mountains I woke early on a Sunday morning and immediately began to wonder: What should I be doing today?
Then I remembered another Sunday asking a writer friend if they were writing that day. The reply: “No, I’m doing Sabbath!”
Why didn’t I think of that? And why are preachers sometimes among the most notorious Sabbath-breakers, working Sundays and most every other day?
In a Jan Karon Mitford novel one preacher admits to another, “My sermons are about as nourishing as cardboard.” His friend asks, “Are you too exhausted to run, and too scared to rest?”
Too exhausted to run? Too scared to rest? Why is it that when God rested on the seventh day to enjoy, we often find it so hard simply to stop?
Is it the way we’re wired? My daughter says, “Dad’s not a workaholic. He’s a thinkaholic. His brain doesn’t turn off.”
The world doesn’t stop
The world of course doesn’t stop just for us. My wife’s father was a dairy farmer. His cows didn’t know it was Sunday and had to be milked. Our obstetrician son-in-law can tell you that babies wouldn’t wait to come until Monday so he could sleep in. I realize that some overburdened readers would give anything just to have a free day or even a few free hours.
But aren’t we also part of a culture of “more”? Businesses want more customers. Churches – whether mega or mid or mini – want more members. The Observer wants more readers. And with our 24/7 nonstop media, we are always seduced into not missing a moment.
Of course God has made us as partners with him in building and developing his world. Ambition can be both holy and useful. And as long as there are starving children to feed, souls and bodies to be healed, families to care for, we can’t overdo compassion.
But when does “more” ever turn into “enough”?
Are we “too scared to stop,” so defined by what we do, that we are afraid to stop and look inside and maybe find what, nothing?
It would be good to heed Jesus’ story of the farmer who kept building bigger and bigger barns, hoping he’d eventually have enough. God commented, “You are foolish. This night your life will be required. Then who will get all these things you possess?” Or, we might add, that possess us?
‘Join a slower group’
Ten years ago I had both a heart attack and prostate cancer (and recovered fully from both). That summer I couldn’t travel much. I spent more time at home, reading, thinking, doing a painting of our backyard, enjoying time with Jeanie, often breathing the prayer, “Be still and know that I am God.”
At the end of that summer I think I knew myself, my wife, our home and the Lord better.
Here’s a poignant lament from the Bible: “The summer is past and we are not saved.” But half this summer is still remaining. We can fill it with more frantic activity, or stop – even for an hour or two if not a day – to pause, to breathe, to listen, to be.
On that recent Sunday when I woke early wondering what to do, we worshipped. I took a long drive through the hills with our dog, stopping often to take in the artistry of the mountains and skies. We strolled through a village craft show, stopping to chat with an artist also named Ford.
I remembered a young lawyer in Charlotte who came home late one day with a briefcase full of work to do, and sighed, “I can’t ever seem to catch up.” His 5-year old daughter said, “Daddy, why don’t you join a slower group?”
I have decided, at least for this summer, to join a slower group.
To do Sabbath.
And to be more useful, not useless.
Want to join?
Leighton Ford of Charlotte is a Presbyterian minister known internationally as preacher, writer and mentor.