In my last article (CC, Sept. 25) I had the audacity to suggest that when it comes to finding deep rest (or a Sabbath rest, to use the Bible’s own word), vacations don’t cut it, but real Sabbaths do. To call us back to deep rest, I reminded us that God uses almost twice as many words (in the NIV) to impress the fourth commandment upon us than he does in the remaining six altogether, and, far more significantly, uses his own example of resting on his seventh day as the pattern for ours. In his resting, he demonstrated four practices for us to imitate: finishing our work, savoring our accomplishments, total 24 hours ceasing and finally, separating out the 7th day as a holy day. Next, I want to ponder his second practice: savoring his accomplishments. Scripture puts it like this: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1: 31). That is how he entered into his rest.
This is something most of us moderns hardly take the time to do. Look back? Savor what you’ve done? Who has time for that? Who even thinks of that? Especially on our days off! We’re just glad to be away from the scene of the grind.
So let me begin with a story. We met for breakfast, I and my friend, a highly paid professional in a tough line of work: lawyering! His phone lay next to his plate. His eyes darted toward it frequently as we munched on our muffins. I could tell he was preoccupied and I asked him, “Don’t you ever give yourself a break from that thing?”
“I can’t,” he replied; “in fact, I can’t afford to.”
“When do you ever rest?” I probed.
“Well,” he said, “I try to rest on the weekends but . . .”
I waited. “But what?” Then he opened a glimpse into his uptight world I’ve never forgotten:
“I never get a full weekend of rest because already on Sunday afternoons, right around 3 pm, every week, it starts,” he continued. “This tightness in my gut; I can just feel the pressure rising. The stuff waiting for me in my office on Monday morning starts forcing its way into my mind, and from that point on, I’m toast. I can forget about getting any more rest.”
“In other words,” I gently teased, “you actually show up at the office about 17 hours before your body gets there?”
“You’re not kidding!” he moaned. I suspect my friend has plenty of company. Our driven hearts are forever pushing us forward, even to the point that we are so focused on what lies ahead, Monday pushes itself up into our Sundays, as unbidden as acid reflux, and as sour.
From anxiety to celebration
Not so the Trinity! As God entered into his rest, this is the exercise he went through at the end of the sixth day: He looked backward. He surveyed his workmanship. He paused to delight over it. He admired the beauty of Eve, marveled at the masculinity of Adam. He saw all with his all-seeing eye and rejoiced over every one of his works. That’s the exercise God himself went through as he entered his rest. He studied what he had done, and celebrated it. In fact, he ended every day savoring what he had done on that particular day, but at the end of the sixth day, he savored the whole panorama of his creativity, from the light he created on the first day to the light-clothed humans he created on the sixth, and he rejoiced over all his works (Ps. 104: 31).
The second key to entering a place of deep rest calls us to imitate God and look back, savoring all that he enabled us to do during the previous six days. The doctor looks back in her imagination upon the faces of the patients she has treated. The waitress, the customers she has served. The trucker, the loads he delivered. The teacher, the lessons his students learned. Looking back moves the soul from anxiety to celebration as it disciplines itself to survey the beauty of a steady stream of accomplishments, each a trophy to the God who was right there empowering us every step of the way. This simple exercise has immense power to lay a soul down into deep rest by stiff-arming the intrusions of future “undones” as it relishes the joys of past “dones.” For what the soul is doing at such moments is supercharging itself with wonder and gratitude at the remarkable faithfulness of God who was right there with us during every moment of those six days past, ensuring that so much went well, once again.
I wonder sometimes if my neighbors might think I’m nuts. Like all good citizens of Lynden, Washington, I edge, trim and mow my lawn faithfully every Saturday to perfect what’s known as a “Lynden Lawn.” It’s a rite around here. When finished, I stow my equipment and then do something which, if they are watching, might suggest to them I’m a little “off.” I take a good 10 minutes and just walk around my lawn, and yes, frankly, I admire what I and my equipment have just achieved! I marvel at the sharp edges around the flower beds and savor the smells of newly mown turf. Odd? No. Like God? Yes.
Now God did something in this that is crucial to being able to rest. He affirmed his work as valuable; he gave it worth. He savored its beauty. He celebrated his accomplishment. The three persons of the trinity rejoiced in what they had made, rejoiced in their workmanship. They stopped, turned around (unlike the other six days which were all forward-looking, this was backward-looking; from all the undone work ahead to the finished work behind), looked back, and they delighted in their finished work.
Do you ever do that at the end of your work week? Your day of rest begins by looking back. Let’s say you deliver and pick up mail. Do you ever think back to all the people you serve every week by bringing them their mail? Think of the hundreds of people who, every week, find something in their mailbox they have just been waiting for – and you brought it to them. Now that is something to savor, to celebrate.
Most of us try not to think about our work on our days off. Not God. God entered his sabbath by ruminating, savoring, delighting in what he had just done. One of the key elements of deep rest is savoring a sense of accomplishment. This is what shelters us from the tyranny of future tasks charging in and infecting our rest. You rest when you learn to resist the feeling of, “Oh, there is so much I have yet to do” (which is very true for all of us) but think instead: “But look at what we have managed to accomplish.” We are so driven by the demands of the future that we have forgotten to pause and take delight in the regular accumulation of the accomplishments of our lives.
Recovering from vacation Part I