Christian Living

Sabbath Margin

Providentially, the next Bible study I’m working my way through is Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe. It’s about Sabbath. I’m really loving this study, you guys! If rest and margin are issues you struggle with, it’s definitely worth doing!

I really enjoyed that God put it right after doing the week on self-control in Beth Moore’s study on the fruit of the Spirit. Rest is something I’ve struggled with for most of my life. I’m better at it than I used to be but I still feel like I lack margin. In week one, Priscilla talked about how God created rest on the 7th day after creation. She springboards from there in a few directions.

First, rest is something intentional. My “rest” tends to be a cessation of labor that comes when I’m either overwhelmed or just plain exhausted. I learned though that that’s not actually rest. Rest is proactive rather than reactive. Rest takes self-control and discipline to create.

Second, God rested. We live in a society (and I was raised) that believes rest is a sign of weakness or laziness, that we’re inconsiderate if we say no to ministry opportunities so we can rest instead, or that our worth is dependent on how much we do. The fact that God rests is in direct contradiction to those things. God isn’t weak. He isn’t lazy. And He’s not inconsiderate. Nor can He gain or lose worth–He just is. So, when I rest, I’m not being lazy. I’m not weak for resting. Resting doesn’t make me a bad person who is inconsiderate or worth less than I would be if I was busy all the time. I don’t know about you, but those are all things I know intellectually. Putting God in the equation gave me a different perspective; I’m not about to argue God is lazy/weak/worth less for resting, so why do I believe that about myself?

Third, Priscilla talked about how God gave the Sabbath to the Israelites when they were leaving Egypt and she argues that it’s because the Sabbath can set our hearts free (something the Israelites desperately needed after generations of slavery). Sabbath forces us to uncouple doing and worth, getting rid of performance-oriented worth. It disconnects time and accomplishments. We have to acknowledge that God is the source of our accomplishments because we’re taking breaks. It makes us let go of control. For several years now, I’ve taken a break from writing on my Sabbath and it’s sometimes a little stressful. I can tell when I’m starting to panic over finishing my book because I don’t want to take that break.

Unfortunately, rest doesn’t just happen. As I mentioned, it’s created. It’s about putting walls around various areas of our lives so we have margin. Margin is so key for life! A few weeks ago, I learned that the creative/problem-solving part of your brain shuts down when you don’t have margin. All our busyness is making us less productive–like hamsters who compare how far they’ve run on their wheels instead of hamsters who get off the wheel and actually go somewhere.

So what about you? Are you too busy? Do you have enough margin in your life to work smarter instead of harder? How can you create more margin?

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Blooming Where You’re Planted

It has been a crazy past several weeks. I had a couple weeks where I felt so much better than usual that I tried to catch up on 3 years worth of neglected projects and then I’ve had the past month where I’m not sleeping and barely functional. It’s been a weird time.

I find that when I’m feeling well, I switch into fix-it mode and get focused on making up for lost time. When I feel awful, I switch into survival mode. As I was meditating on this reality, I was re-struck by how easy it is to be in desperation mode. Either I’m desperate to fix things or I’m desperate to survive. I’ve learned that I need to rest in God’s character, which gets rid of all desperation. It opens up the door to thriving. The same way my daughters don’t worry about how we’ll have food to eat or a place to live or pay the bills, etc., etc., etc., I don’t have to worry. I can trust that God will take care of us. I’m not saying we can be lazy, obviously. I’m saying we can just chill and bloom wherever we are, moment by moment. I don’t have to expend all my energy trying to get somewhere else. I should be faithful.

This is hard for me! I don’t want to be faithful when things are difficult and painful. I’d much rather spend time escaping from reality or try to change reality. I don’t want to relax and let God carry me wherever He will… be obedient from moment to moment, trusting that God will work out the details of whatever we’re going through. It’s like in Tai Chi, where relaxation opens up the door to strength. When you’re relaxed, you’re like a garden hose with no kinks. When you’re tensed up and trying to force things, you’re full of kinks. If I’m always fighting the current, I’ll always be exhausted and frustrated. I don’t know about you, but it’s easy to mentally know that without heart knowing it. It’s easy to admit desperation leaves me worn out and then to try harder, to be even more desperate, instead of being willing to do something different. Maybe that’s because blooming where you’re planted requires a character change. Right now, the old me is incapable of relaxing. I’ve seen glimmers of the new me off and on the past year or two. But, like Murtagh in Christopher Paolini’s Eragon series, I need a change from the inside out. I need re-characterized.

God, re-characterize me with faith and obedience, with trust and rest. Change me, Lord, so that my default is blooming wherever You have me instead of desperation. Thank You so much that You never stop working on me. Lord, I am so blessed that You work day after day to make me over into Your image. Please change me today. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

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Physical Rest

So this post you get to listen in to me preaching at my own soul. I need this message. I struggle in this area. And frankly, the past couple of weeks, I have done a particularly wretched job of applying these principles.

Several posts ago, I talked about how rest isn’t optional and mentioned how God gave Elijah food and sleep to rest and Jesus gave his disciples time away from the crowds to eat and rest. These are good examples of physical rest. By physical rest, I mean giving my body the things it needs to thrive. I tend to be a go-go-go, push-your-body-to-the-wall-until-it-collapses type. Or at least when things are busy, you should just push on through, right?

You shall work six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during plowing time and harvest you shall rest. Exd 34:21 NASB

Plowing and harvest time are the major push seasons in a farmer’s year. God still commands them to rest even when things are busy. I’ve often wondered if somehow adding rest into the equation when things are nutso would give me the stamina to perform to a higher standard (this doesn’t mean I’ve practiced it much though!). I know that not resting drains me and adds to my stress level. I used to work in an office where my boss required ALL my time. He would literally send people into the bathroom/break room/etc. to tell me to hurry up because he needed me right then. Two years of working there did a whammy on my physical and emotional health.

Our bodies are designed to need breaks. Not enough sleep and a) our bodies don’t have time to do self-repair and b) you end up with the symptoms of drunkenness–the lack of judgment, the loss of short-term memory, the inability to walk straight–and then whatever you’re working on is done poorly anyway (not that I would know that from experience *ahem*). Anyway, after years of believing I can manage quite well on 6 hours of sleep, I now have adrenal fatigue and feel like I am dragging my way through much of my day. Statistically, Americans skimp on sleep. So, in the midst of my own auto-immune issues, my husband and I decided to challenge ourselves to get 10-12 hours a night for the next month (i.e., to start our bedtime routine when the kids go to bed rather than spending a couple more hours tidying or watching a movie, etc., etc.). We’ll see how it goes.

Not enough eating and your body goes into starvation mode (which mimics adrenal fatigue). I’m bad at this one too. I get in the middle of something and figure I will eat when I finish and somehow it’s the end of the day and I still haven’t eaten. Or my kids will be fussy and I don’t want to eat and listen to them fuss so I wait until they’re busy and suddenly it’s mid-afternoon before I have breakfast. Or in previous years, I’ve been on a diet and don’t eat enough calories for my body to properly function. Sometimes I wonder what God thinks of all the emphasis on weight loss. I know we’re not supposed to be gluttons, but is it really ok to deprive our bodies of certain vital nutrients (e.g., carbs or protein) or to cut calories as a shortcut to looking like we’re healthy on the outside?

Physical rest, i.e., taking good care of my physical body also involves things like making time to wash my hair and sitting down sometimes. As a stay-at-home mom, it’s easy to skimp on stuff like that. My to-do list is never, ever, ever done–someone always needs something else, like fed or their owies kissed, etc., etc., etc.

Anyway! A couple years ago I did Beth Moore’s Psalms of Ascent study and she really put her finger on why I struggle with skipping physical rest.

A Song of Ascents, of Solomon. Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep. – Psa 127:1-2 NASB

I don’t stop to rest, because I believe I am responsible to get the thing done. I don’t ask God for help with the every day tasks. And, as I’ve said, I’ve believed the lie that my job is to complete my to-do list, rather than faithfully stay at it.

So, self, rather than going non-stop all hours of the day, take time to nurture your body. God gave it to you as a stewardship, so it’s not laziness–it’s obedience.

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This Is Not a Detour: Finding Mental Rest

I don’t know about you, but mental rest is something I really struggle with. I am a worrier and a planner–just *slightly* on the control-freakish side. My husband likens my brain to a computer with 100+ windows open at all times.

The past several weeks I’ve had increased pain levels… mostly it’s been exhausting because I haven’t been able to find a position where I have less pain. And in case you’ve somehow forgotten, we just had Easter. This is significant in my life because the day after Easter three years ago was when my joint symptoms began, the day I started exploring this world of auto-immune disease.

I’ve also been re-reading one of my favorite series’: The Mallorean by David Eddings. And as I’ve been fussing a little to God about how I don’t like where I’m at right now, I happened to read through these passages:

Garion suddenly banged his fist on the rail in frustration. “Supposed to!” he burst out. “I don’t care about what we’re supposed to do. I want my son back. I’m tired of creeping around trying to satisfy all the clever little twists and turns of the Prophecy. What’s wrong with just ignoring it and going right straight to the point?”
Belgarath’s face was calm as he looked out at the rust-colored cliffs half-hidden in the gray drizzle. “I’ve tried that a few times myself,” he admitted, “but it never worked–and usually it put me even further behind. I know you’re impatient, Garion, and sometimes it’s hard to accept the idea that following the Prophecy is really the fastest way to get where you want to go, but that’s the way it always seems to work out.” (Vol. 1, 475)
“Let’s look at things from a practical point of view, though. When we started out, we were half a year behind Zandramas and we were planning a very tedious and time-consuming trek across Cthol Murgos–but we kept getting interrupted.”
“Tell me about it,” Silk said sardonically.
“Isn’t it curious that after all these interruptions, we’ve reached the eastern side of the continent ahead of schedule and cut Zandramas’ lead down to a few weeks?”
Silk blinked, and then his eyes narrowed.
“Gives you something to think about, doesn’t it?” (Vol. 1, 563)

When my plans get re-arranged, it’s easy to huff and puff about how this isn’t what I wanted to be doing, what I planned to be doing. But mental rest means that I can trust God to lead me wherever I’m supposed to go, therefore I can stop worrying and obsessing over the future. I can trust that He knows the way ahead and that my loving Father will provide for whatever is ahead. (See “The Resting Place” in Tales from a Spacious Place for more expounding.) No matter how it looks, whatever I’m going through is not a detour, it’s part of the plan.

Does this mean I should stop planning? Um, no, that would fall into the category of laziness, like the Proverbial sluggard. The ant plans, without obsessing over the future.

And finally, there’s a profound mental rest that comes from knowing things turn out all right in the end. I need that reassurance, especially on days when it feels like nothing is turning out all right.

So what does this look like on a practical level? I’m sure it varies from person to person, but these are three things I try to practice for myself and with my kids whenever I’m worried/scared/giving in to despair.

1) I whip out my verse cards (actually, I try to whip them out preventatively–keeping one set on the kitchen counter and one in the bathroom). I have passages like Matthew 6:25-34 and Isaiah 40:27-31 there. Worry is based on an unreality and takes your mind to places that don’t yet exist (and may never do so). Truth is our ammunition to get rid of those lies.

2) I slow down, take deep breaths, and explore the moment I’m in. Pretend you’re looking at wildlife. Don’t judge what’s there, just examine what’s around. What does this moment look like? What are the good things in this moment? What are the not-so-good things? More often than not, the positive things outweigh the negatives, but I can’t see them when I’m focused on the negative. Slowing down forces me to re-evaluate whether my worries actually match reality.

3) I read through old journals or talk to a friend to remember the ways God has come through for me in the past, whether that’s Him getting rid of the stressor or using it in my life to work something amazing.

What are some practical ways you pursue mental rest?

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Spiritual Rest

As we’ve just finished Easter, I thought this would be a good place to start. I don’t know about in your own spiritual journey, but I tried following rules before I succumbed to grace. If you’ve never tried earning your own salvation, let me tell you, it’s an exhausting prospect. It’s literally impossible to do right things with right motives all the time. And even if you could, any wrong things you’d done (or right things with wrong motives) would still be around proclaiming your sinful state (if you want to read more on this subject, I addressed it pretty thoroughly in my book Tales from a Spacious Place, pp 187-208). I spent quite a lot of time trying to cross all my t’s and dot all my i’s, and then I just gave up because nothing I did or didn’t do seemed to make any difference.

And that is when grace came in. God taught me that what I was incapable of doing on my own, He had done. Jesus lived a perfect life and died for me. He traded records with me. When God looks at me, He sees Jesus’ righteousness, rather than my sin.

It’s easy to come to an understanding of the Gospel and apply it at a single moment in time. I still find myself caught in a performance trap with God at times. But that isn’t who I truly am. The Gospel still applies to every moment of my life, not just that moment of salvation. Spiritual rest means that I stop trying to earn God’s favor, stop trying to live a right life on my own, stop putting on a show for God. Instead I rest in what Jesus has already done. I was so wicked that God had to die for me. I am so loved that He did it willingly and joyfully. Once the Gospel has permeated every facet of our existence there is such peace. No need to impress. No need to muster up love or any other part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Just relying on Him to work in and through and for me.

This kind of rest can’t be forced. And it can’t be faked. It can only be given by God. Where are you at with God? Are you spending all your time striving? Do you wear a mask with Him? He is so ready to rescue you from your own perfectionism. He is so ready to love you for who you are.

God, thank You for making rest impossible apart from You! Thank You for creating that need, so that we wouldn’t wander through our lives oblivious to You. Jesus, thank You for dying to bring us true rest. Change our hearts. Lord, we need spiritual rest and You are the only one who has it. Root us and ground us in Your love, so that we are never tempted to be anything less than real with You. We come to You as broken, tired people. Teach us the truth of Your Gospel in all the rest of the moments we have. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

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Rest is…

So now that we’ve looked at the command to rest and the merits of resting, what exactly is rest? How do we practically apply this command?

Since the Sabbath is the quintessential example of rest, I went back to those passages on it. In Exodus 16:22-30 gives us a glimpse of the Israelites’ Sabbath while in the desert. God commands them to gather twice as much manna and prepare it the day before so that they can rest on the Sabbath. Initially, they try the gathering-enough-manna-for-two-days thing on a non-day-before-Sabbath day and then the manna gets all nastily full of worms. And they actually go out to gather on the Sabbath (no manna in sight) and are rebuked.

Frankly, this is what my “resting” looks like a lot of the time. I rest when it’s time to be diligent. I don’t rest when it’s time to rest. I don’t trust God to provide. This seems like a key feature of rest–we rest because we trust God to provide. Just like Psalm 127:1-2 says: “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat–for he grants sleep to those he loves” (or alternate translation: “for while they sleep he provides for those he loves”) (NIV). Rest involves a big mind shift. If we think we are self-sufficient and that our labor is what provides for us, we’ve got a problem. Whether we grow our own food or work at a job and buy food from our wages, God has still provided.

In the New Testament, we see this principle repeated: God provides rest. Jesus Himself says, “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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Mat 11:28-30 (NIV)

Rest is only found in the context of our relationship with God, regardless of if it’s physical rest or spiritual rest. The more I study rest, the more I’m coming to the conclusion that it is primarily a heart issue. Don’t you hate things like that? I would much rather have things be cut and dry… measurable. But rest seems to defy that sort of measurement. For instance, sleep can be a sign of resting in God or can be a sign of laziness. Not sleeping can reflect a heart full of sins like fear and pride, or it might be that God’s called me to do something (e.g., Paul preaching through the night). For me, it tends to be a control issue–can I let go of my illusion of control and trust God to take care of things while I rest? And can I do it before my body forces me to give up control? (check out “The Resting Place” in Tales from a Spacious Place if you want to see more on this)

Scripturally, we aren’t commanded to keep the Sabbath, but that doesn’t let us off the hook for resting. We need rest, just like we need oxygen, and ignoring that need is as ridiculous as refusing to put on an oxygen mask during a flight emergency. In an effort to put our own masks on first, our family decided to implement a weekly Sabbath after listening to a series by our pastor, Mike Priest (3/15/09-4/5/09). Taking a break reminds us of important things–that God is in control, that He provides for us as a loving father provides for his children, and that obeying Him is life-giving–and gives us margin in our lives.

So how do you practically apply this concept of rest? How are you diligent to rest? I’ve already started writing up my answer to this question, but I’ll leave you here so you can start thinking about your own life first. 🙂

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The Merits of Rest

I don’t know about you, but most days I feel like I have acres of things to do. Logically, it seems like resting would be antithetical to accomplishing the maximum number of things possible in a day, despite the fact that God commands us to do it. However, as I’ve been wrestling and praying through this concept of rest over the past couple of years, these two analogies keep coming back to me–lenses through which to help me see the benefits of rest. Maybe they’ll be as helpful for you as they have been for me.

First off, I’ve mentioned before that I take a Tai Chi class. I have been so blessed to be attending the perfect class for me–for starters, everyone in the class has moderate to severe health problems, so I blend right in. 🙂 I also have been so challenged by some of the perspective shifts involved in Tai Chi… it’s all about doing more with less effort. Peter Ralston calls it “effortless power.” Here’s an exercise you can try to see what I mean: Face a wall, standing arm’s length away. Stick your arm straight out in front of you. Tense up all the muscles in your arm and shoulder. Eyeball where your hand is in relation to the wall. Now relax all those muscles and check where your hand is at. I have found the more muscles I can relax, the greater my reach is. This matters in a martial setting where you want to have greater reach when you defend yourself/attack someone. I have had to completely rethink my understanding of punches. I always thought you punched with your arm muscles necessitating tense arms. Now I’ve learned your punch packs a much greater wallop if you relax your muscles because then you have the entire weight of your body behind the punch and you can reach further.

Rest likewise increases our reach and our stamina. I see this every time my husband and I start thinking we can stay up late and watch a movie (i.e., every time we expect our kids to “sleep in”). Being tired the next day means I’m fussy and my brain is foggy. It takes more time to do my tasks and I tend to make more mistakes. Resting means we’re able to do more with less effort.

Secondly, I’ve also been thinking about how God carries us along through His plan, like a log being carried in the stream. Often I spend so much time worrying about the rocks in my path (and frankly, trying to swim upstream) that I lose sight of what’s important. Resting in God’s character and sovereignty allows me to chill out and trust Him to either steer me around the rocks or use them to alter my trajectory so I don’t miss out on something amazing.

Just like diligence plans and spends time on the things that are important, rest trusts God to take care of the things we can’t change, or the things we’re not supposed to be focusing on. The more I’ve meditated on rest, the more I’ve realized my lack of rest is a reflection of my unbelief–I don’t rest because I don’t want to let go. I want to monitor every detail of every thing that touches my life… and I want to do more than I should be doing–putting extra things on my to-do list. Frankly, I’m learning that not resting can be pretty exhausting.