When Harvard Discovered the Sabbath

I was struck by a headline that came across my Twitter feed on Monday.

According to the Harvard Business Review, the key to being happy and not becoming a grump at work is to have a life outside of it.

The article was written by Ran Zilca, the Chief Data Science Officer at Happify. That there is a website called Happify is certainly a topic for someone to explore.

The idea that the key to happiness comes from realizing that there is more to life than work isn’t a new one. The work that God has given us, as significant as it is, doesn’t define our life.

Instead, as Luke Timothy Johnson taught us in Introduction to the New Testament, the Bible’s view on work-life balance isn’t that nuanced – regardless of your job your primary vocation is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Period.

According to Zilca, overworked and overwhelmed workers who haven’t been able to experience a life outside of the one their employers create for them showed much lower levels of gratitude than others.

In sum, being chained to your desk isn’t the best way to become a grateful person.

Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote about this all the way back in 1951: “This is our constant problem – how to live with people and remain free, how to live with things and remain independent.”

The research reminds us that Sabbath is as important today as it has ever been – no matter where or how we work.

In Exodus 20 God gives us the command to the Sabbath: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work…For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.”

The Sabbath isn’t just about taking a break from work. No, we are commanded to take a break because that is what God did, in resting on the seventh day of creation. After all, if God can take a break who are we to say that we can’t?

But it is more than that. In obeying God’s command to observe the Sabbath we realize that despite what we tell ourselves the world will go on just fine without us. By taking a 24-hour break from the constant cycle to produce, we create the space for our souls and our bodies to become renewed. In ignoring the foreman’s whistle we are reminded that what we have isn’t of our own making but instead is the gift of the God who loves us more than we can imagine.

Sabbath helps us discover the way God’s love expresses itself in providing for us. We remember all the ways we have been taken care of and we allow God to teach us and show us again the particulars of grace and mercy.

In short, Sabbath teaches us how to become grateful for all we have been given. We experience gratitude by remembering all we have received from God. We become thankful by recalling all the ways God made a way for us. We experience renewal by recounting all the undeserved gifts that have been dropped into our laps.

This is what Heschel reminds us in the definitive book on Sabbath, appropriately titled, The Sabbath: “The world was brought into being in the six days of creation, yet its survival depends upon the holiness of the seventh day.”

The same could be said for us. Our ability to experience real life depends on our ability to turn our business off. The first step to experiencing contentment is realizing joy doesn’t come from our paychecks. We were created for more than work and life is about so much more than promotions earned or tasked completed.

Whether you trust new data or old wisdom, the lesson seems to be the same. Put your phone away, leave your calendar in your desk and rest and revel in real life.

 

 

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More Than Work: Losing The Idol of Busy and Finding Grace in Rest

Fridays are the most difficult days of my week. Fridays are also my day off.

Sundays aren’t really days of rest for preachers – as friends in church are so kind to remind me, this is the only day I work all week.

And Saturdays, well between the Gunners, the Vols and the honey-do list that awaits, there’s not a lot of Spirit-infused rest happening then either.

And so Friday it is – the day of rest, the day of ease, the day of Sabbath, and the day of doing the mental gymnastics it takes to try to make myself avoid work.

I’ve read the books – HeschelDawnBarton. I can tell you why Sabbath matters, how it is one of the most important spiritual disciplines for us busy people, what it has to say to us achievers and why those of us tempted to self-validation require its correction that the world’s existence actually doesn’t depend on us.

And yet as I roll out of bed on Friday mornings, I know it won’t be long before I begin to hear work’s siren call.

There’s always more to be done – the phone call to be made, the essay to write, the place in that sermon that could be a lot better. There’s the theology book that’s been sitting on my shelf for months, if not years, that I need to read, and actually want to read.

I’m reminded of that visit that needs to be made, the person to be seen, lonely and desperate for connection, demanding the church, and by extension me, to provide it. There’s the community leader I’ve been trying to connect with, the planning crying out to begin and all the people whose expectations I would be a lot closer to meeting if I could put in just one more day.

Good, important and faithful things they all are. But on Fridays they are distractions from what matters, and they are more than that – invitations to idolatry and opportunities to ignore what God wants to do in and through me.

One of the most important things God wants to do with us on the Sabbath is to provide the space to help us deal with all the things that are keeping us disconnected with God and one another.  Work becomes a distraction and noble things become objects to faithfulness when we allow them to take up the space in our minds, souls and lives that God wants to use to transform us.

To avoid the call of work is to avoid the things that will prevent me from noticing and dealing with the anxieties and insecurities that are keeping me from becoming the person and living the life that God wants for me. It is only by avoiding these distractions that we can come to grips with the truth that all our attempts to build towers of self-justification and achievement have come crashing down.

When we live into the rest God gives us in Sabbath we come to more fully understand our own sin and the damage it is leveling in our lives. When we take the time to sit with ourselves and with God we begin, maybe for the first time, to realize who we really are, all the ways we are missing the life we really want and where in our lives we need to invite God’s grace in so we can discover a better way.

Serious Stuff

I am always stunned in reading Exodus at the seriousness with which God takes Sabbath – both the keeping of it and especially the breaking of it. While we find Sabbath optional, God finds it non-negotiable. To make sure none of us miss the point, when God is giving Moses the rules for life in the Covenant, right in the middle of them is that those who break Sabbath are subject to death.

Why is God so serious about Sabbath?  There are plenty of things to take serious – murder, theft, adultery, lying, racism, violence – and on and on we could go. That not resting would be a crime that gets you executed seems particularly odd to those of us who live in a culture that so effectively blurs the borders between work and non-work.

I can’t say for certain why this is.  After all, I wast there. But I think one of the reasons God is so serious about Sabbath is because transformation requires rest. We can’t repent and experience change without dealing with ourselves. And we can’t deal with ourselves unless we first stop to figure out just where and why we need grace in the first place.

It’s a crazy thing, but one I am finally beginning to learn – work, even the good and holy work of church, can be an idol. And the work of spiritual change begins with rest.

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Survival Guide: Four Strategies For Thriving in a Summer of Discontent

The counter in the fellowship hall serves as the de facto water cooler in my church. It is the place where we talk shop – where the teenagers inform me of my latest fashion missteps, where the old men taunt me with ghost stories about the Cubs’ impending collapse (not going to happen this year), and where everyone seems to want to find anything to talk about but the upcoming election.

A study of our zip code would lead you to assume that we are a pretty reliable voting bloc for the Republicans, but we’ve got some blue dots in an otherwise solidly red district. In some cases, blue and red even manage to live under the same roof.

None of us are political or cultural experts, but we have come to agree on one thing – we are dreading the summer.  With both major party’s candidates sporting higher negative ratings than any in recent memory, we are battening the hatches and preparing ourselves for a summer of negavity, a prolonged season of personal attacks, and a stretch where locating hope and inspiration will require an exhaustive search.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Christian call to resistance.  Although the easy access to information and the daily drumbeat of analysis and criticism won’t make it easy, it is possible to resist the trap our broken political culture wants to set for us.  It is possible, even in an election year, to love God, love people and shine God’s light in a hurting world all while keeping your sanity.

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Here are four practices that can help us do just that.  I’m going to do my best to embrace them. You might find them helpful too.

  1. Seeing God’s People: Although the candidates and their teams will segment people by voting bloc, zip code, priority issues and other data points, we know that for God everyone is funneled into another category – people God created and loves unconditionally. No matter how strongly we might disagree with someone or think they are wrong about the direction of the country, God thought enough of that person to send Christ to die for them.  When we keep that in mind, it becomes a lot harder to divide people in ways that are sinful and reject the words of Genesis – that male and female, God created them in God’s image.
  2. Citizenship Matters: Although I vote in a particular state and county, in my baptism I received a citizenship in another country and a charge to serve another kingdom – the kingdom of God. That citizenship and that commissioning come with a higher purpose and higher stakes than those of any interest group or political party. In short, the most important commitment I will ever make is to become a follower of Jesus Christ.  If we can remember that, we can avoid the temptation to forget our life’s purpose and the One who is the true source of our hope and salvation.photo-1456409977730-84bb5dbf5503
  3. Thy Will Be Done: One of the implications of Incarnation, that in Jesus God became human, is that God cares about what happens in the world.  For God so loved the world, John 3:16 begins.  As Christians, regardless of our political preferences, we believe in a different kind of politics that leads us to pray in every part of life that God’s will be done. Although we do take the election seriously and we do earnestly study the candidates and make the best choice we can, our ultimate prayer is that these events would reflect and bring about God’s will for our families, our nation and the world.  After all, Paul reminds us in Romans 13 that political rulers and authorities are ultimately servants of God, and the Bible is full of examples where God uses secular rulers and authorities to achieve God’s purpose and mission. 
  4. Tuning Out: God called us to work for six days and on the seventh day rest.  Citizenship isn’t for wimps – it requires us to pay attention, to grapple with issues and leaders, and to listen and talk with wise friends about the kind of leadership we need.  Like life, sometimes citizenship can be overwhelming. That’s where sabbath comes in. The practice of sabbath – resting from the drumbeat of the process – can restore perspective, provide needed rest, and remind us of the truth Christians believe about any aspect of the world – that God is still God and we are still not. Sabbath isn’t just a day apart, but is a way of life. We can practice sabbath and receive holy rest by letting go of things that are consuming us – our phones, our fears and in this season even our politics. So, eat lunch with a friend, enjoy a good book, or go for a walk in the woods.  In short, do whatever you need to do to relax. You can take a break, it will be OK. Sabbath is God’s way of reconnecting with us and healing what ails us.
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The Lessons: February 2016

There is so much out there to learn, all we have to do is open our eyes and ears and pay attention.  Here are a few things I learned in a Leap Year February.

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  1. Families Still Work: It is easy to get depressed when day after day we hear the drumbeat of the ills of the American family.  If you ever need a break, just go to a Cub Scout meeting.  We sponsor scouts at our church and last week I attended the annual Blue and Gold Banquet.  There were awards and announcements and even a dessert contest to judge (this is a rough job after all) – but more than that there were parents and grandparents and neighbors and volunteers loving, serving, encouraging and nurturing the children of our community.  It is enough to make a cynic smile.
  2. Facebook is Trumpbook: I’ve been following the Presidential election pretty closely the past few weeks, but even if I wasn’t, I couldn’t avoid it. That’s because my Facebook feed is filled with Donald Trump – serious news, funny memes, exasperation that he is still winning and how to tips on moving to Canada. He is everywhere. It is an important conversation, and one I know the church has to be involved in, but sometimes you just want to see pictures of dogs, the latest exploits of your nephews, and posts on how awesome the 2016 Cubs are going to be. Speaking of…
  3. Baseball is Going to be Fun: It’s fun to be excited about the baseball season again.  My North Siders have been in rebuild mode ever since, well maybe 1908, but this year might, maybe, don’t want to say it, be shaping up to be a fun year. Rizzo, Schwarber, and Bryant plus Zobrist and Heyward – it has the potential to be really good. It is enough even to force me to do something I’ve never had to do before – cheer for John Lackey. Fandom makes you do strange things.  Being you know, nine hours away from the Friendly Confines, we don’t get to go to too many games, but we’re going to make sure we can watch plenty through MLB TV.  After all, anybody can have a rough 100 years.
  4. Joy is in the Small Things: It sounds like pink text from a Hallmark card, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.  We’ve had a good month at church.  Not the stuff of major headlines – although we’ve had a couple of those – but the stuff of slow and steady progress that comes from small wins.  The kingdom breaks in to people’s lives in fits and starts, and it has been fun to celebrate the victories with some of my new friends and community.  (Sometimes it happens at Waffle House.) There will be setbacks and struggles, there always are. But one of the lessons I am trying to remind myself is that if I can learn to pay attention to the details, small and ordinary, I’ll be able to spot God doing the work that makes a difference in the lives of people.
  5. Rest or Else: The most important thing I’ve learned this month is that rest matters.  However I name it – burning the candle at both ends, running myself ragged, not enough hours in the day or days in the week – it has been one of those seasons in life. And this season has worn me out. There has been plenty to do, a lot of very good and gratifying work, but it finally caught up with me in February. The catching up reminded me what I’ve known for a long time – Sabbath matters.  There is a God, and that God is not me, and so the world will keep turning even if I take a day off to watch it work. So today I am resting, reading, watching House of Cards and letting the world go by without me. I imagine it will all work out just fine. Hopefully, I’ll get better at doing that more often.  Whatever is going on in your world, enjoy rest and take care of yourself my friends.

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That’s not my selfie, but it looks like what I needed.

I found a lot of good stuff on the Internet in February. Here are a few of the best.

Pages: To Pray and to Love, Roberta Bondi: I’m reading this with some folks in my church right now.  It is really hard to beat wisdom from the Desert Mothers and Fathers in teaching us how to pray and reconnect with God.

Links:

Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me, Kate Bowler: A powerful reflection on the true nature of blessing and how you can still be blessed when the news you get from your doctor sucks.

Why This Election Makes Me Hate the Word Evangelical, Russell Moore: The president of the Southern Baptist political arm on how this election is damaging and twisting the word and the movement.

Pod: The guys at Homebrewed Christianity posted this interview with Walter Brueggemann on the fidelity of God and the real challenge of discipleship in our economic and political life.  It is so, so good – I’m still trying to figure out what to make of it.

Ipod: Magic Hour, Aoife O’Donovan.  Anyone who sings with Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz is going to be in my playlist.  Such a great voice. Enjoy.

Driving Badly: I’ve been writing in February on some ways that we get distracted and lose our way in faith.  If you missed them, you can read about the dangers of Noticing the Wrong Things, Being an Analytical Jerk, and Worshiping Your Twin.

Thanks so much for reading.  I am so grateful for all of you, and, in the words of The Donald, let’s make March great!

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