One year of intentional Sabbath rest. Forty-six almost-weekly worship walks. Twelve months into the discipline, what are the benefits and the challenges of Sabbath?
I chewed on this question today on the anniversary of my first Sabbath hike, intentionally taking the same trail that I walked in late October last year as a rookie Sabbath-keeper (recent discoverers of this blog can learn how I started this journey by reading my first post from last April). Rice Canyon was drier and warmer today than it was a year ago, but it was a good place to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned from a new discipline that has led me to turn hiking trails across Southern California into places of worship (the pictures are a random selection of some of my favorites from the year – click to see them full-sized).
More Mary, Less Martha
I don’t know how many times I’ve taught the passage from Luke 10 where two sisters have very different reactions to the presence of Jesus in their home. Martha is busy serving the crowd, while Mary sits at the feet of Christ and gives Him her full attention. When Martha asks Jesus to rebuke her sister and send her away to help, He declines by saying “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” I generally taught this passage by confessing my own busy-ness, and inviting others to join me in trying to become more like Mary and less like Martha. Sadly, my application of the text didn’t change much over the years, because I didn’t change much over the years.
I won’t be able to teach that passage the same way anymore. Sabbath rest has given me regular opportunities to spend extended time at the feet of Christ. Finally, I have become more like Mary, and less like Martha! I’m intentionally choosing what the Lord referred to as “the good portion” – and it feels really, really good!
Greater Discipline Elsewhere
When I was a kid, we swung two bats before going up to hit in a baseball game. The idea was to make the single bat feel lighter and easier to swing when we got to the plate.
Sabbath has become the “second bat” of my spiritual disciplines. Carving out weekly time to walk with God has made the rest of my walk with God come more easily. I read the Bible cover-to-cover last year, and am ahead of schedule to do so again this year – I’ve never been very good at that, so this is huge progress! I’ve noticed growth in other areas of self-discipline across the board – I haven’t “arrived,” but I’ve definitely grown.
I make a point of talking about Sabbath with my missionary colleagues, and received this e-mail after a recent visit to some friends in South America: “I don’t know anyone who has recently expressed to me their delight in the LORD like you were able to do that day at our home.” Isaiah 58:13-14 promises that delight in the Sabbath leads to delight in the Lord, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I am finding greater delight in Him, and I’m glad that it’s noticeable.
Assuming a 5-mile average distance, my 46 hikes this year have covered around 230 miles – by means of perspective for Southern Californians, that’s the distance from my home in Santa Clarita to the California/Nevada border. There are clear health benefits to that level of exercise, and I’m enjoying them.
But it’s not just the hiking. My wife has become a keeper of home-based Sabbaths, and has shown marked improvement in some health issues that have dominated our lives since she was in a car accident over ten years ago. There is a definite connection between our physical, spiritual and emotional health – progress in one area can splash over into the others.
Rest matters – it really does. Rest brings health on many levels. God knows that, and it’s one reason He calls us to it.
Lest I give the impression that Sabbath is easy, let’s take a quick look at the challenges on the other side of the coin.
Keeping it fresh
Israel got tired of manna, so it should be no surprise that Sabbath rest can become stale. Routine is the enemy of refreshment, and over time the best of habits can lose their edge. Creativity is needed, and I have begun tweaking my approach to Sabbath in order to keep it fresh.
Keeping it honest
Some Sabbaths don’t get to a very “Sabbathy” place – it’s OK, and even healthy, to recognize that. The nice thing is, you get to try again a week later!
Keeping it free
There is a Pharisee in me that tries to reduce Sabbath to a list of rules and regulations. I hate him, and wish he would go away. But until he does, I need to resist my tendency to build a cage around a practice that ought to be free to soar.
I’m committed to another year of the diligent pursuit of Sabbath rest. No, that’s too weak. I plan to embed this discipline into my schedule for the rest of my life. If the first year is an indication of what’s ahead, I can’t wait to see where this trail goes!