The magnitude of our responsibilities and breadth of our busy-ness often leave us short of breath. I’ve heard recently that we make 35,000 decisions a day! (Thanks, Emily P. Freeman, for that astonishing tidbit!) I will not regale you with a list of how busy we all are, for you know your particulars. In scaling our mountains, we need footholds, niches in the immovable rock face, somewhere to pause, hot-faced and trembling for some deep oxygen before moving on. Our lives depend on it.
How better than to settle our lives on him on whom we depend? God created us, and he created the spaces for us to inhabit. The creation account in Genesis 1 is of God establishing boundaries and shaping spaces so that all life can flourish in each their given niche. First the spaces, then us to fit our niche. In our arrogance, we cling to the mandate to rule over creation in Genesis 1:26, forgetting that in order to fulfill this mandate, God and his order of the world precedes us. We are placed within that order, not over it. We easily usurp God when we think we can do it all, or have to do it all. When God first made us, he didn’t make us slaves to scurry at his bidding with no rights or place to call our own. He made us to walk with him, in his created order, ruling with blessing as we image him. He didn’t say, “Now, go impress me with what you can accomplish!” He said, paraphrasing Genesis 2:15-17 and 3:8, “Tend this space, feast, and walk with me in the garden.”
God foreknew what we specifically would need to flourish, and intentionally created that for us. This extends beyond our spatial domain, the earth and geography, and includes the temporal domain. There are limits on the length of our lives, the length of our days, and he established in the created order the rhythm of six days of work, one day of rest. You could say that it is even part of his essence, certainly important enough for him to model for us. “The Sabbath was created for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27, NIV) The Sabbath is gift, made to bless us, but not be controlled by us. We are not God’s gift to rule over the Sabbath. When Jesus spoke these words, he was teaching the legalistic leaders that they were not honoring God with their strident Sabbath. As they controlled every possible outcome with their regulations, they made the Sabbath a jail rather than a spacious, life-giving space. There are people and churches today that do the same. If this is your experience, hear the invitation of Jesus to enter a restful Sabbath, one that delights you as you rest in his goodness. (I would love to hear from you if this is your experience and help you enter the gift of Sabbath.)
But most of us (in Western Christianity today), have the opposite problem of not knowing and valuing God’s established rhythm of life. In that Mark 2 passage, the Pharisees are upset that Jesus’ disciples gleaned a bit of grain as they passed through some fields, hungry from their travels. We are not gleaning out of hunger, but getting up at 5 a.m. to mount our combines and thresh every inch of wheat before the sun goes down again. This goes for our ministry, even. In Matthew 9:35-38, Jesus is busy teaching, preaching, and healing. He talks to his disciples about the busy-ness of ministry. He doesn’t tell them to get moving and help him out, but to “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.” His message honors their limits, establishes a deeper dependence on God, and invites others into the collaboration of working with God and each other. Many hands make light work! The creation of his kingdom mirrors the creation of the universe: God is the originator, we have space and a job to do within it that is limited, and those very limits engender a proper dependence and collaboration which results in multiplication!
When we acknowledge and value the space and limits he’s given us, we “make space” for God. We can no better create space than we can create the universe. But we can inhabit our space humbly and wisely, thus not abusing the precious life God has given us but welcoming and cherishing it enough to take care of it.
Take comfort that in the exertion of your life, there are God-given footholds. The Sabbath is a temporal foothold where we rest our weight on God’s provision in deep trust. If you are not in the habit of taking Sabbaths, it can feel very scary indeed to push all the work to the other six days! But this is the first step in clearing our paths of gravel to find the solid rock underneath. The natural formations undergirding our lives are firm, we just aren’t used to walking on them. As we become more familiar with them, we find we are no longer trying to shape the rock, but we are able to work with it, trusting its support, and moving with greater ease.
This is just the beginning of a conversation, and I’d love to hear about your experiences with Sabbath, your questions, and to encourage each other not to make space for God, but honor the space he’s given us. What does that look like in your life? Leave your comments below!
If you’d like to go more in-depth, find examples of Sabbath, wrangle with the many questions that arise around it, I recommend these books:
Sabbath Keeping, by Lynne M. Baab
Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton (especially chapter 8 on Sabbath)