On the shelf in the room next door is a caterpillar. Not a real caterpillar, I hasten to add. A wind-up caterpillar, a segmented little creature that once wound up, will squirm its way across the surface. It will keep on squirming until the mechanism unwinds entirely. Then it staggers to a halt. If something gets in its way, it won’t stop moving until it has wound down. It will simply squirm on the spot, headbutting at the obstacle until somebody moves it out of the way.
Sometimes I think we live in a wind-up world. In this Western culture of ours, at least, we tend to keep going until we cannot keep going, keep trying until there is nothing left to try. Rest becomes just another thing on the To Do List – a necessity we need to do at some point, but only when we really have to. It’s not that we don’t want to do it. It just becomes harder and harder to justify as the tasks line up in our minds.
What fascinates me about the institution of Sabbath under the Old Covenant is that part of the reason for it is compassionate. It’s not about a list of things that you should do on the Sabbath. It’s about resting yourself and your household and (touchingly) your animals. Those who have no choice when they work are given the guarantee of a day off. Those who have had no rights are given this right. The right to rest.
I do not keep Sabbath, not in the Old Covenant sense. And the idea of Sunday becoming a Sabbath equivalent is not particularly feasible in our household – Sunday is a busy day, Sunday is a working day. Sunday is a day for worshipping God, for teaching about God, for focusing on God. Sunday is good. But Sunday is not like Sabbath. Not for us, and not in fact for many Christians. I cannot shove Sunday into a Sabbath mould. Sunday is Resurrection Day, the day when the early church chose to remember the great Third Day Spectacular that was Jesus Christ rising from the dead. I like that. Sunday is Resurrection Day.
So, instead of keeping the Old Covenant Sabbath day, we follow the principle of Sabbath. Which is great. Except sometimes we get so cluttered up in life that our principles get a bit muddled and lost and, rather too often, postponed.
One problem I find is that it’s not just about physical rest but turning off our minds. This will apply more to some people than others! Some of us have naturally busy minds – be it because we are feeding off the other busy-ness of our lives, because we’re worriers, or simply because we’re creative and thoughts form entire paragraphs in minutes. And we can’t switch off. Our minds become like that caterpillar, squirming and head butting at what ever obstacle stands in its way.
Because I suffer from Chronic Fatigue (M.E) I have a routine of scheduled rests which I do my best to follow – three half hour stopping points throughout the day, where I lie down, do nothing and allow my body to recharge. I’m quite good at following this rule on a physical level, but my mind is another story. I whir away, my thoughts tumbling, until at some point I remember – I’m not supposed to be doing this. I’m supposed to be giving myself the right to rest – mentally as well as physically.
There are of course various exercises you can do to relax yourself, but I find these lack permanence for me and my chaotic mind. In the end, there’s only one possible thing I can do – and it’s so often the last thing. So often the last thing. I go to the Lord of the Sabbath himself. How we squirm away sometimes! No. No. Must. Keep. Going. Forgetting that the burdens we place on ourselves are unnecessary. We refuse to believe this. We assume we must do all that we do. But what if we couldn’t? We need to continually look at our lives and ask ourselves: is this really helpful/necessary/important?
Amid the clutter of my thoughts, I go to the Lord of the Sabbath himself. For I admit, sometimes I lose control of my own mind. I’ve wound it up, and now it won’t wind down. There’s no switch-off. It’s out of my capability. I know, amid my struggles and my thoughts – yes even the good ones- amid my tasks and my ideas – yes even the good ones – I have been given a certain amount of energy in the day. I need to look away from the To Do List in my head, even just for a few minutes. (If you don’t have five minutes, you need to look seriously at what you are doing with your day.)
Because the principle of Sabbath rest holds firm. We need rest – for body, soul and mind. We have been created to need rest. Rest is created for us. We have been given the right to rest. And to get good at rest, we need to practise it.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.