By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
I have been thinking a lot about the Sabbath lately. Over the summer, I was invited to work on a speaker event at my children’s school. We invited MaryAnn McKibben-Dana, the author of Sabbath in the Suburbs, to speak to parents and teachers. McKibben-Dana’s book describes the year when her family set aside a day every week to observe the Sabbath. The book got me thinking about different ways of viewing the Sabbath. Sabbath observances do not need to be like those described by Laura Ingalls Wilder: sitting on a hard bench, reading the Bible, and listening to lengthy sermons. With my mind open to a broader interpretation of the Sabbath, I started to consider whether I ever prioritized making time and space for peace, connection, and renewal.
I am told that Sabbath literally means to stop. But how can I possibly stop? There is work to do, laundry, grocery shopping, help with homework, coach the volleyball team, cook dinner, get ready for visitors, rehearse with the choir, don’t forget to exercise, plan the block party, buy food for the hungry, write the email, purchase the presents, plan the parent get-together . . . it’s a 24-7 cycle of non-stop activity. All of it is important. And I’m as efficient as I can be. But it’s never done. If I stop, something will be left undone.
But, if I never stop, something else will be left undone. In order to hear God in our lives, we need to listen. Sabbath allows the space and quiet to focus on how God is guiding us, to see God in our midst, to feel at peace. When we rush, we miss so much, including the appreciation for all of the good things in our lives. If we inhale our food, we don’t really appreciate each bite, and we can’t savor the richness of the flavors and the complexity of textures we might experience if we slowed and focused. Similarly, if we rush through life, we can miss the beauty surrounding us, the touch of angels, the majesty and awe of the richness of our blessings.
So, I have been looking for ways to inject the discipline of a full stop into my life. My expectations are low – I don’t envision an entire DAY of Sabbath. I am content to seek glimpses of truth, moments of meaning, and a quick splash-on-the-face type of refreshment. Morning meditation? Evening prayers? A mid-day walk?
Advent calls us to watch, to prepare. But maybe the first step is to stop. I have concluded that if I wait until my work is done to stop, my Sabbath will never happen. Sabbath will only happen for me if it becomes a priority, something to write on the calendar and put at the top of the list. The chores can wait, because it is more important to who I am to provide the quiet space for God to be centered in my life.
The Genesis creation story is striking because of all that God created, but also because God came to a full stop and rested. It seems appropriate that our Advent waiting and watching begins with stopping to listen.
Members of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Alexandria have written these Advent devotions. Scripture passages are taken from readings for the Jesse Tree, depicting the genealogy of Jesus.