It all started out innocently enough. Linda and I had decided that our lives were completely out of control. All we seemed to do was work. It felt like work was slowly killing us. We were going to make some changes. In true Webber fashion (which either cannonballs into the deep end forthwith or procrastinates until the pool has dried up by evaporation) we cannonballed right in—or at least I did. From now on we were going to be Sabbath keepers. If it was good enough for Jesus it was good enough for the Webbers.
We started one Saturday in September. We were going to stop, rest, do absolutely nothing and dedicate it to God. We made our extensive preparations: I preached a sermon on Sabbath the week before so that I thought I was an expert on Sabbath rest. Linda precooked meals. We decommissioned the TV and the phone. We even sanctimoniously roped our grandson Jacob into doing it with us. We knew that Jacob would make it more difficult for us. Ten-year-olds get bored awfully quick with doing nothing.
“I am bored,” I whined.
“It’s only nine in the morning, Grandpa,” said Jacob.
“I know, but maybe going for a little drive into the bush doesn’t qualify as work,” I said.
“Ya better ask God, Grandpa,” Jacob said.
“Right. I’ll check with Grandma,” I said.
God was doubtful and said it was probably not going to work. I, however, convinced His prophet that the only thing I would do was steer the truck and that she could come along just to make sure. Then I made a case for taking along Adelaide, our hunting dog, who could really use some exercise anyway. And if we take Addy along we had better take the shotgun, too. It was grouse season after all and one did not want to taint keeping the Sabbath by choosing to be unprepared for divine providence.
It was all going along champion until we drove through a grove of giant fir trees on to a long ago decommissioned landing. There, right in the middle of the old grassed-over landing was the butt log from a giant fir tree. It was about three feet in diameter, bone dry and exactly two stove lengths long.
“What ya going to do, Grandpa?” asked Jacob as I tumbled out the driver’s door. Seconds later I was attached to one end of the log grunting like an old bear. Not able to budge it, I flung open the tailgate of the pickup truck, grabbed my axe and began to bang away at the end of the log like a madman. After a dozen or so Herculean axe swings all I had accomplished was sinking the axe head into the end of the log so deep that I couldn’t budge it. I was panting and covered with sweat, stooped over with my elbows propping me up against my knees, when She Who Must Be Obeyed came around the truck with Jacob.
“Is this what you call Sabbath rest?” she asked. “You know we don’t need the extra firewood.”
“But it’s Douglas fir, love, the best kind of firewood,” I panted.
“If you grab that big branch and bash the axe head with it you might be able to wedge the axe in enough to split the log, Grandpa,” Jacob said, deftly changing sides in the Sabbath-keeping discussion.
I leapt for the big piece of fir branch and maniacally went after the axe head. Jacob grabbed another chunk of branch and provided syncopating blows. Soon we had beat the branches and ourselves to splinters.
“Get that big rock, Grandpa,” said Jacob.
“Get that bigger rock, Grandpa,” said Jacob, after I had shattered the first one against the axe head.
“Need gloves!” I panted, holding up my bruised hands.
Three hours later, we drove down our road with a nice little jag of firewood in the back of the pickup truck. “Nice little jag of firewood and I didn’t even have to work my power saw,” I said. “See how God blesses you when you keep His Sabbath.”
“Some Sabbath rest,” said Linda. “I don’t think you could rest if your life depended upon it.”
The kicker is, she is absolutely right and my life probably does depend upon it. Nearing the end of middle age, I know it’s a serious issue for me. My whole being is beginning to insist that it is.
From the Bible’s perspective we were created for work. This is at least partially the point of being created in the image of a labouring God. But the other part of the same point is that being created in the image of God means we were created for rest, too. And the biblical idea of Sabbath rest is not one of stopping the work you get paid for so that you can work yourself to the bone at something you don’t get paid for. According to my rudimentary understanding of the biblical Hebrew root word for Sabbath, (shabat), it actually means to stop, to cease, to be still, to be quiet.
Consequently, I think I hear more than mere religious observance in Sabbath. I hear more than mere physical rest in this word, too. I hear an organic kind of rest that engages and nurtures the whole being; the body, mind and soul. And the biblical imperative is one day in seven.
It seems to me that this lines up with what Jesus taught concerning Sabbath; that it was not a matter of religious observance so much as it was a matter of grace. He insisted that the biblical Sabbath rest was made for humanity not the other way around (Mark 2:27). But what do you do when this concept is foreign to the way you were raised? To put it very simply, I was raised in a way that instilled in my gut that resting my whole being in the way the Bible seems to teach me was sheer laziness. This is reinforced in my culture and its institutions, too, including the church that tends to love a working fool.
So I’m working at learning how to rest. Honestly, that’s how I have to approach it. I have to confess I am a slow learner. It’s one step forward and one step sideways for me. But I am working on it and today has been a pretty good day. This morning I stopped for almost two hours. An otter on the lake helped me to do it.
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