This is the (slightly abridged) Integrative Learning Report that I wrote three months after I started that GLE I told you about last week.
SABBATH REST – Guided Learning Experience – Final Report – Autumn 2013
After making the seemingly momentous decision to study the concept and practice of Sabbath for this semester’s GLE, I almost immediately took something of a Sabbath. By which I mean my husband Paul and I went away for three days to the Middle-of-Nowhere, New Hampshire. This time away had already been planned, but it fit in very nicely as a kick-off to my study of holy rest. We had no internet, very little phone service, access to very few stores. We hiked, cooked together, read, and went to church together (which is a rare occurrence, even though we both go to church) and felt refreshed.
As I had committed to do, I examined a minimum of ten (I think it was really closer to thirty) passages about Sabbath, both prescriptive and illustrative, and including many more than three from the New Testament. I read The Sense of the Call (Marva Dawn), The Sabbath World (Judith Shulevitz), and Craig Blomberg’s essay on Sabbath for a book edited by Christopher J. Donato. I had an extended phone conversation with my brother, about Sabbath-keeping. I also spoke about Sabbath at length with both of my mentors and my colleagues in class. Along with the three-day time away mentioned above, Paul and I ended up dedicating most of our Sunday afternoons to experimenting with keeping a “half-Sabbath.” When it became clear that he was intentionally setting aside time to try this with me, I scrapped the solo-Sabbath experience, and rearranged my schedule to try to ensure my Sunday afternoons were as free as his were.
Sometimes, unfortunately, keeping a Sunday afternoon free was impossible, usually due to extended youth group activities after church. In one or two cases, Paul and I simply shifted our time of rest and reconnection to another weekend afternoon. In the case of this past weekend [before Christmas], even that was impossible. The best course of action then seemed to be to shrug and carry on, in hopes of more breathing space next weekend. Also, I opted not to have the conversation about Sabbath with my pastor; she has been understandably quite busy with getting established in her new position at our church, and the Christmas season hasn’t calmed things down for either of us, so I decided not to put more pressure on her at this time by engaging her in that conversation, although I hope at some point to be able to do so, partly out of my own curiosity. In any case, she seems as protective as she can be of her staff’s scheduled time off, so I have learned at least that much from her.
Insights and the Unexpected
Overall, this semester seems to have been a time of solidifying what I know intellectually about the grace of God and what it means to practice disciplines in light of that—disciplines I used to practice much more legalistically as a younger person. Regarding Sabbath in particular, I think I began the semester feeling stressed enough to know I needed Sabbath, but also stressed by the very idea that I needed Sabbath (and hadn’t taken any in about two years). Now, at the end of the term, I have a much better grasp of the truth that Jesus is my Sabbath, and that I don’t need to observe it simply to incur God’s favor. (This truth also helps me countenance the fact that, although I am now incorporating some version of Sabbath into my life, it is at this point merely “some version” and not even a full day.)
Probably the most striking realization I had around this was that, as Jesus fulfilled the sacrificial law by becoming a sacrifice Himself, it’s possible to say that He fulfilled the Sabbath (even became Sabbath) by “resting” in the grave on the literal Sabbath, after His crucifixion and before rising to newly empowered life on Sunday. Sabbath is thereby shown to be fulfilled. At the same time, it’s arguable that observing Sabbath in some form is an excellent way to embrace and celebrate that truth, and to move forward, “recharged,” into Christ-empowered life through the rest of the week. If Jesus is even infusing our resting, then Christian dedicated rest should be more restorative than any other kind.
I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to study Sabbath in more depth this term; I only wish I would have had the time and impetus to do so sooner. Sabbath (even when I’m not keeping it) has always been important to me; I can say that now maybe I understand it to be important less as an act of obedience (though I believe obedience is also important) and more as an act of trust and devotion—and also of actual need. I think this is already changing the way I approach my work, both at school and church. I feel less frantic (except maybe last weekend!) knowing that there is (usually) a regular period of pause in my week, and trusting that everything that needs doing will ultimately get done. Learning trust in God in this area will not only strengthen my faith in Him generally, but, I hope, also give me a more peaceful and restful approach to life even when I’m not “actively pausing.” I think this study will also help me to teach about Sabbath, should I ever have the opportunity to do so in future. At any rate, I’m more likely to look for opportunities to do so.
The discipline of setting time aside to rest affects every area of life and ministry, because almost all of those activities will cease during that time, which ensures that they don’t dominate, and also that I am giving and “re-giving” them over to God at that time. I can only imagine that ministry dedicated in that way will be enhanced, not as a function of quid pro quo, but because God wants us to give Him control of our lives and ministry in the first place. I am still learning to be conscious and intentional about this rededication, but I believe it can be a result of what I have learned here. I think that periodic rest will provide me with more energy and motivation to do the work that I am, in fact, called to do.
This GLE was hugely beneficial as interacting with God and others about this topic helped freed me from any sense of dread and obligation surrounding this discipline. At the same time, that freedom has not resulted in my deciding I don’t need to observe Sabbath at all. It has simply changed my perspective and what’s behind my desire for it. In future, I would certainly love to be able to have an entire day for Sabbath rest—and for worship, in the same spot on the space-time continuum as my husband. However, I guess some things do progress more slowly, and maybe this GLE is also teaching me to be more patient (restful) with process.
I certainly do intend to continue (though maybe not as concentratedly) to investigate this topic, and to experiment with the practice. Evidently I will still be reading about it during J-term at the very least—a term which from this vantage point looks to be shaping up into a perfect academic storm of unrestfulness. Simply trying to maintain what I learned this semester will probably be a challenging enough exercise next month. I suspect, however, that the timing of this GLE was no accident, and that I will continue pursuing Sabbath in Bible study, reading, and practice for years to come.