Vacations, Rest, and Social Media: Oh My!
Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. A year ago, while training at Maxwell AFB, AL, I completed a time-management exercise, in which I tracked everything I did for a week. The exercise itself was cumbersome, but I learned something about my life I have not forgotten. I work way too many hours, I study less than I want to study, I spend too much time on social media (Facebook especially), and I never take enough time to just be with God in prayer, to just rest and observe creation, to enjoy my family, and to exercise. I am sure many of us are like that. Our culture encourages that kind of unbalanced life where we can live out our “Never Stop,” “Win at everything” attitude. Even movies depict the restless, constantly moving, “get her done” way of life.
One of my favorite movies is “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” It is about the classic summer vacation for a typical Mid-Western family. The movie’s theme song, “Holiday Road” by Lindsay Buckingham is one known to many of us, and when you hear those first few bars of the music and the words, “I found out long ago, it’s a long way down, to holiday road,” you are in for a mindless comedic treat. In the movie, the Dad, is a bit obsessive and compulsive, which leads him to pre-plan every last detail of a cross-country trip to the fairy tale theme park “Wally World.”
Despite the Dad’s well laid out plans, and never a moment to stop kind of schedule (even at the Grand Canyon), nothing goes their way. Like many of us, this family needed some rest and down time, they needed to relax and “fill up their cup,” they needed some family time to talk and reconnect, but they just could not pull it off. There were too many activities planned, too many giant balls of string to see, too many Old West towns to explore, and too many unplanned tragedies to experience. The movie “Vacation” is an ironic, but realistic version of “never stop” American life, displayed in its fullness of slapstick comedy.
The “never stop” attitude infiltrates our daily lives, and if we let it, it will steal the time we set aside for rest and relaxation. We need to have some down time, I mean real down time. We need to rest, be, and re-fill our cup of grace. We need a Sabbath. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” We do not have to take a vacation, in order to re-focus on God and to refresh and relax. We can find balance every single week, by taking a day of rest where there is no agenda, no demands, and there is space created in life, for just listening, praying, and being with God.
Sabbath: A personal and communal event
AuthorJudith Shulevitz participated in an interview with the Atlanticabout her book, The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time. The author talks about what a radical notion Sabbath was in ancient times, and how far flung an idea it is today. She said this about communal Sabbath, “Everyone, not just the upper classes, not just the priests and doctors and elites and the king have the right to rest in a regular way one day a week. (Sabbath) was so radically progressive that it even mandated that you had to give your animals the day off.” (1) In Jewish tradition, taking a day for rest, relaxation, restoration, and re-creation was mandated by God’s law. It was a day when the entire community did something or rather they did nothing, together.
I grew up in a time when one day a week, all stores, gas stations, businesses, and almost everyone closed up shop for one day. God forbid if you mowed your lawn, or did housework, or did anything on Sunday other than go to church, play outside, prepare lunch, watch football, or take a nap. Those days may be gone, or are at least they are few and far between for we 21stcentury Americans. What would happen if the entire nation stopped for a day and just did nothing? Our society would probably collapse, or would it. We all need to find some balance in our lives. We all need to take some time to rest and have some fun together. I bet the divisions in our country would crumble if we stopped long enough to get to know one another again. I bet if families took picnics together and neighbors spent time talking and getting to know one another, things would be different. We all would be healthier and happier if we restored balance to our lives and took some time to rest and listen and be.
St. Benedict, through his ‘Rule of Life’ “envisioned a balanced life of prayer and work as the ideal.”(2) The Rule of Benedict is a balanced way of life for lay people as well as monks and nuns. Benedictines spend time in prayer, so they might discover why they are working, and they spend time in work, so that good order and harmony might prevail in everyday life. “Benedictines are not consumed by work, nor do they spend so much time in prayer that responsibilities are neglected.” (2)
In her book, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister writes, “All must be given its due, but only its due. There should be something of everything and not too much of anything.” (2) We Americans need to follow Chittister’s wise counsel and find some balance in our lives. We need to balance work, rest, prayer, and re-creation. Re-creation is doing something that brings joy, peace, and restoration to both the individual, as well as for all of creation. We need to stop for a while, but stopping is uncomfortable. The quiet restlessness is so outside our norms and to do it, takes commitment to stop and rest.
Again, Shulevitz says that Sabbath “gives you permission to stop.” She said, “I myself am very obsessive-compulsive. I have a very hard time stopping, and I need social pressure and moral reinforcement to feel okay stopping. There’s something to be said for having the world stop around you.” (1) Sabbath gives us time to stop and focus on God and not the pursuit of stuff, but even Sabbath observance can become a compulsion. It certainly was for the religious leaders of Jesus’ time.
Observing or Violating a Sabbath
“One Sabbath Jesus and his disciples were going through the grain fields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.” Why were they picking grain? Well, part of the tradition of Israel was that landowners were allowed to harvest all of their crops, except for the edges and corners. Those were left to the poor to glean. Also, any crops that fell to the ground were left for the poor to eat. So, Jesus and his disciples were hungry on the Sabbath, and they were poor, and they were following the law, which allowed them to pick the grain to eat, but their actions came into conflict with another law about Sabbath. By the way, Jesus also got in trouble with the Pharisees because he healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. In both cases Jesus’ priorities (eating and caring for another person) came in conflict with another law.
You see, the arguments Jesus had with the religious system of the time about the Sabbath was not about him saying a holy observance of the Sabbath did not matter. It does matter! Jesus was arguing for the Sabbath, but his case was that Sabbath is a call for us to re-align our priorities. In other words, there are times when some things take priority in life, and I would argue that Jesus teaches us a deeper meaning of Sabbath. Eating takes priority. Caring for our neighbors takes priority. Resting and refreshing takes priority. Jesus tells us that our priorities must be aligned, and we must have balance in order to be whole. We must have rest to be whole. Jesus’ whole argument about observing Sabbath is really a case for what Sabbath is all about, which is “There is a time to work, a time to pray, a time to eat, a time to re-create, and a time to heal.” Anytime we are out of balance or rather, whenever one facet of our life wars against another, we are not living fully into the people God has called us to be.
Trusting in, Resting in, Surrendering to God
In our 21stCentury culture we are encouraged, even prodded to work, work, work! We are never encouraged to stop. A popular television commercial tells us, “Never stop looking, learning, searching, discovering, advancing, innovating, and creating. Be restless, strive, so the things we all treasure can thrive.” Sabbath is not about striving. Actually, we humans thrive when our priorities are aligned and we serve someone other than achievement and wealth, because those things will pass away. If all we do until we join the blessed company of saints is work, and never set aside time in our day, week, month and year to find the answer to our infinite longing in God, then we will turn to consumption. In the end, stuff will be all we have, which by the way, we cannot take that with us.
My favorite verse of scripture, which we heard today is, “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 Cor. 4:7) My friends, we are fragile vessels created to be filled with God’s grace, so that we might pour out that grace to others. If we work too much and don’t take time to be re-filled with grace, our ministries are ineffective. In other words, as clay jars of God’s grace, “You cannot pour from an empty cup.”
My sisters and brothers, this next week, start being committed to rest in God at least for a 24 hour period. Start small if you must and try it for a couple of hours. Take a short vacation from life at least one day a week with no agenda, no demands, and no busy-ness. Enjoy some real recreation or re-creation and come back renewed, refreshed, and re-born. Sit on your lanai and watch the local wildlife, go to the beach and listen to the surf, find a nice chair in your home and practice silent prayer, turn off the television, social media, and all the noise and enjoy the silence. It is in the silence where we hear the voice of God. Take a weekly holy mini vacation and you will notice God’s grace abundantly flows. Take a Sabbath this week, or better yet, take a holy trip down God’s “holiday road.”