My name is Laura, and I am grateful believer in Jesus Christ, learning to live loved by Him, and I struggle with an addiction…an addiction to busyness. It took me a long time to admit this. In fact, for most of my life I would have never entertained the thought this could possibly be true. If you asked me about the frantic pace of my life, I would have told you that I just loved my job and all the other activities that fill my time. If doing it all meant that my sleep or my health or even my relationships suffered…well…that was fine…because it was all just that meaningful to me. Plus, people were always applauding me for being so “committed” and such a “hard worker”…so why would I want to slow down?
However, a couple of summer’s ago, something happened that gave me a reality check. I had done something that is always very difficult for me: I had taken off a few days from work. Maybe you struggle with doing that too. There’s always a million reasons not to step away, right? But I had actually done it, and on this one day in particular, I realized that I was going to have four whole hours all by myself with absolutely nothing to do. My son Lincoln was going to a half-day preschool and my husband Jeremy was going to work. I honestly had no idea how to handle this situation, so I asked my friends for some advice. As we were running along early that morning, one friend said, “You should go right home, put your pajamas back on, sit on the couch and NOT DO ANYTHING.” My other friend spoke up and said, “You should grab a book and head out to a coffee shop to just sit and read.” Those sounded like some pretty good ideas, but do you know what I did instead? I panicked! The closer I got back to home the more I could feel the anxiety rising inside me, so I dialed up my mother-in-law as fast as I could and invented something to do: “Let’s go shopping around town!” I said. Now…did I have something to shop for? No. Did I buy anything that day? Nope…nada. Do I even like to shop? Not at all! But by doing so, here’s what I had successfully done: I had gotten my busyness fix. I had avoided slowing down one bit.
I was kind of proud of myself for having managed that, but as the day wore on, this nagging question kept churning in my mind: Why? Why do I have to be busy all time? Why do I always have to be on the go? Why can’t I just slow down and rest? Why? Why? Why? And as the question turned over and over again in my mind, I began to see more clearly that this really was a pattern in my life. The last time I had taken time off from work, I had painted almost every room in my house. When we had gone on vacation back in the fall, I had suddenly felt this need to reorganize all the files on my laptop while at the beach, and any Saturday my family doesn’t have plans on the calendar, I anxiously wake them up with the question, “What are we going TO DO today?” Go…go…go. Work…work…work. Achieve…achieve…achieve.
I have a feeling I am not the only person who struggles with this. Recent studies have found that we–Americans–are working longer hours than any time since statistics have been kept in history and that compared to all the other industrialized nations in the world, we are presently working longer than anyone else. On top of our long hours, employees are only taking half of their allocated vacation time and 15% are taking no vacation at all. Then, in the little time that is left over—we have families and relationships to nurture, homes and bodies to maintain, and lessons and sporting events to attend. As an entire culture, we are overworked, overbooked, and overwhelmed.
It’s no wonder that when someone asks us “How are you?” one of our most common answers is that one little word: BUSY. On the surface, when we say that it sounds like a complaint–like we really wish that that wasn’t the case. But can we be honest here? For most of us, that response “BUSY” is just a boast in disguise, because we live in a time and place that has mottos like: winners never quit, leaders never rest, and we can sleep when we are dead. We live in a time and a place where exhaustion is a status symbol and where productivity not only determines our net-worth, but our self-worth as well.
That’s why we feel so guilty when we find ourselves with nothing to do. That’s why aimless activities nearly give us an anxiety attack, or at least that’s what I realized about myself when I couldn’t slow down for even a four hour stint that summer day. When I finally came to God asking Him that hard but important question—WHY?–I really didn’t like what I heard back. I tried to tell Him that it was just because I had too much to do, but deep in my spirit what I heard Him saying back to me–with such gentleness and grace—was this: “No, Laura, the reason you can’t slowdown is because you have too much you are trying to PROVE.” And (of course) He was right. Somewhere along the line I had bought into the lie that rest was my enemy, because if I wasn’t producing, how could I validate my value? If I wasn’t pleasing, how could I earn my worth? If I wasn’t performing, how could I confirm that I was somebody to the watching world? I was running myself ragged because I thought I had to make something of myself, when the truth of the matter was: I had already been made.
God created me, just like he created you and everything else in the entire universe. And from the very beginning of time, God has called us to REST in that reality: that He is God, and we are not; that He (not we) is the one who set all things into motion and that sustains them still; that He alone can truly complete and make this world, including you and me, into what we were meant to be. We don’t have to (and can’t) do it all on our own. We don’t have to continually work and work and work. We don’t have to constantly push and produce and prove; rather, we can REST in the TRUST that God is who He says He is and can do what He says He will do.
God gave the Israelites a very intentional way to practice this trust and find rest in Him. In the Ten Commandments, He called them to practice the Sabbath, saying in Exodus 20: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
God gave His people a rhythm to live into–a rhythm of work and rest, work and rest, work and rest. It was a rhythm that He Himself had modeled for them when He created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. God actually commanded His people to replicate this rhythm, but not for the reason you might expect. Not to earn his favor, not to give them just one more way to try to push and prove their value, but rather he gave them the practice of the Sabbath to be this life-giving way of making them distinct and different from everyone else. He gave them the Sabbath as a way of making it clear they belonged to the one true God…as a way of making them His light in the world.
This practice certainly did just that. It made them stand out. When the Romans conquered the Jewish people, they didn’t know what to think about this strange practice of theirs. Taking a day to rest? No other people they had ever conquered did such a thing, and so the Romans reacted in the same way that I think many of us fear others will respond if we deliberately and intentionally rest: with contempt. They accused the Jewish people of being lazy, slackers for not working all the time. However, this created an opportunity for the Jewish people to share the real reason they rested on that day: because they TRUSTED in the God who had made everything.
Friends, what if we gave rest a chance this Labor Day weekend? What if we gave it a small, little try as an expression of our trust in God? Imagine you have a blank calendar in front of you. Now…tell me…when is the last time your calendar has looked like that? Probably when you were walking it up to the check-out counter to purchase it! But for a brief moment, I want you to pretend with me. Pretend that this is your calendar–that somehow, someway your calendar has become completely cleared this weekend. You have no places to go or people to see. You have no demands or deadlines to meet. Are you with me? If so, consider this: What is the one thing that you find yourself desiring to do above all else? What is it that recharges you and brings you life? What is your heart longing for? What does rest look like for you? Is something coming to mind? If so, I want you to pay attention to that desire, because I have this sneaking suspicion that God has placed it there. Maybe the thing you most want to do is go fishing or sit down for a meal with your friends; maybe its reading a book or even curling up for a nap. I don’t know what it is for you. It’s probably something a little different for all of us, but now, this is what I want to challenge you to do: I want you to pick one day and one time that you are going to do that one thing this weekend. Create space for it–even if it is for just 15-20 minutes. Be realistic and start small, but when that day and time comes this weekend, STOP. Stop all your straining and striving. Stop all your producing and proving to do this one restful thing with God–trusting that the God who created the world and everything in it will be able to handle things just fine without you for a while and trusting that the God that made us is able to make more of us than we can ever make of ourselves.
Give yourself this chance to fall in love with Sabbath rest, and here is my guess: you will find yourself creating more and more time to enjoy this special time with God. Can you imagine if all of us did that? Talk about being the light of the world! I think we would stand out to be sure. People would see us and wonder, “Why aren’t they running around like crazy? Why aren’t they hustling to prove their worth? What makes them think that they can rest in the midst of this busy world?” And you and I would have the opportunity to explain, as Paul Escamilla has said, that “we are not everything, nor do we need to be”…Why? Because the same God that created the world and everything in it, also sent his Son Jesus to redeem and restore all things; and now, because of his life, death, and resurrection, we can be people who are no longer defined by what we do, but by who it is we belong to. We have nothing left to prove. We can REST in His goodness and faithfulness.