The heavy snow that recently fell in our area brought surprising gifts: the requirement (and permission) to step away for a few days from routine busyness, to have longer stretches of uninterrupted time to read and to think, and to rest without irrational guilt over not doing what we “should” be doing.
Icy driveways, slick sidewalks, dangerous parking lots and impassible roads did for many of us what wisdom too infrequently does: They created the conditions for Sabbath.
Of course, having the conditions for Sabbath isn’t necessarily the same thing as experiencing it.
For years, I have joked about my being a workaholic, and I’ve known that it is the sort of addiction that gains applause from our results-focused and productivity-obsessed culture.
I know, however, that the corrosive effects of an inability to disengage from work aren’t actually funny.
Those effects include diminished physical and emotional health; it’s not finally possible, in my view, to separate them.
Our bodies register our thoughts and feelings, and our thoughts and feelings show up in somatic symptoms.
There are reasons why we have back trouble when we feel we’re carrying “the weight of the world,” why our stomachs churn when we swallow our anger, and why our heads throb when our minds are jammed with seemingly insoluble and pressing problems.
The command and invitation to observe Sabbath appears in two versions in the Hebrew Scriptures.
In Exodus, the rationale for Sabbath-keeping is that God rested; in other words, God stopped to savor creation and to sing rhythm and harmony into the world.
In Deuteronomy, the reason for Sabbath is that the people of Israel were no longer slaves as they had been in Egypt.
Their liberating God had set them free from the oppressive demand always to work, day after day without end, and never to rest.
The question from Exodus, we must and may ask is this: If God ceases work in order to luxuriate in joy, who are we so rarely to stop? Do I think my activity is more important to the world than God’s? Have I somehow made work a god instead of God?
The question from Deuteronomy is this: Why do we persist in treating ourselves as slaves? I think it’s because, deep down, many of us have acquiesced to the fearful lie that our worth is inseparably bound up with our work. It’s an insidious form of bondage.
It’s no surprise, then, that our minds labor overtime and our hearts find it hard to rest, even when we’re not “at work.”
Our smart devices, which are such useful tools, can also enable our addiction to doing.
Some of us have developed, as the now-familiar acronym names it, FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out, which might actually be the fear of disappearing – of being overlooked and disregarded.
If we’re not always in the game, how long will it be before “they” cut us from the team?
So, we almost compulsively check (and post) Facebook newsfeeds, Twitter and Instagram accounts, email and text messages. We’re at work, in so many ways, wherever we are.
Resistance to Sabbath and anxiety about silence come from the ways they make it impossible to avoid our hearing from inner lives.
We hear more directly than we want to hear from harsh voices that drive us. Detox isn’t easy.
I know, both from too rare experience and from my trust in the fierce tenderness of God, that there is a deeper and truer and more loving voice: the voice that calls us children and invites us to play, which says we are friends and invites us to pray, and which reminds us that we are “beings” far more than doings and encourages us to rest.
Guy Sayles is a consultant with the Center for Healthy Churches, an assistant professor of religion at Mars Hill University, an adjunct professor at Gardner-Webb Divinity School and a board member of the Baptist Center for Ethics. A version of this article first appeared on his website, From the Intersection, and is used with permission.