Monday, December 13, 2010

[Some rambling reflections:] Sabbath, fear, trust, humility

From the last page of this article in Veritas Riff about Christian politicians and sex scandals:
"Practicing Sabbath rest is one way of exercising humility, but we do it very, very poorly in this country."
I've never thought about it that way. Sabbath as tithe, Sabbath as discipline, Sabbath as a fast, Sabbath as simply following a rule; Sabbath as gift and blessing, Sabbath as "joy-day" (in John Ortberg's parlance); Sabbath as breaking the bonds of putting faith in work and achievement, even Sabbath as an exercise in trusting God, which comes closer. But not Sabbath as an act of humility.

My relationship to the Sabbath has gone through a lot of different phases. When I was little, I never thought about it. Then there was a long period where I fasted from novels on Sunday (though I didn't think of it as fasting, at the time). Then I went through a phase where I tried to get all my homework done on Friday and if necessary Saturday; then some time after getting to Stony Brook, I started counting the day of rest as being from sunset Saturday to sunset Sunday, with the result that I would end up staying up really late Sunday to get homework done. I was keeping the Sabbath rigidly, in a practice that was still good but definitely tainted by a mix of fear and pride.

Then my attitude changed a lot, because I was absorbing the truth of my freedom in Christ. I think I was reading Hearing God and maybe also Celebration of Discipline or Into the Depths of God, all of which discuss listening to the Spirit instead of being tightly and mindlessly bound by rituals (which is what my personality drives me to). No longer knowing how to motivate Sabbath-keeping, I stopped altogether.

Then I went to IVCF's missions conference, Urbana, and read Mudhouse Sabbath, which talks about how the Jewish Sabbath is a day of celebration and community and good eating (not of austerity and fasting and constraint, as in traditional Protestant practice). That was an eye-opener, and it built the bridge in my mind between the teaching I've heard about taking a "joy day" and the Bible's descriptions of the Sabbath.

Lately I haven't been consciously practicing a day of rest. I have effectively been keeping a day of rest from work, because I spend almost all weekend with O., talking and reading and eating and cooking and sometimes watching movies (and last weekend, our (dating) anniversary, going to the Guggenheim and being enthralled by Kandinsky's colors). But I hesitate to call that time a Sabbath because it's not time devoted to God per se. Moreover, I'm not sure I can even call it a day of simple rest, because this semester, Saturday has often brought some emotional stress. Relationships are not about work, but they do require work. (So many intense conversations: sorting things out, finding out how much fear colors my emotional experience.)

Trusting God: that theme keeps coming back this semester. Trust and fear, the opposites that push me back and forth. I'm afraid of judgment, afraid of failure, afraid of being a bad person--and so I keep the Sabbath as an attempted good work. Or: I trust God to take care of my work, I trust God to know what's best for me, I trust God to give me good gifts--and I keep the Sabbath as an act of intimacy with my Father in heaven.

If anxiety is really about arrogance ("this has to happen my way, and what if it doesn't?" in Oswald Chambers' model), is there an element of pride in all my fear? Is my fear the fruit of trusting my own understanding rather than God's revelation? Maybe all trust is predicated on humility. To trust someone else, even God, is to submit myself to their reasoning and decisions, to believe they know and speak the truth. To trust God means to believe His statements about Who He is ("the gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness"), rather than believing the lies about Him that my own faulty understanding spews forth.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very good to read Jen. I've been thinking about Sabbath too, can't wait to talk to you more about it in person : )