Semester break. Vacation. Sabbath. Retreat. Pilgrimage. Sabbatical.
The ideas and possibilities are tantalizing, aren’t they? If, in reading these words, you are the least like me in writing them, scenes of tranquility, quiet rest, or other images of restoration spring to mind. Regardless of the exact idea conjured, each holds the promise of an opportunity to turn off the relentless, daily demands that vie for our attention. And, after indulging in the daydream for an extra moment, reality crashes back in and scoffing, “Yeah, right! With my schedule?” the idea dissipates.
Sadly, for many of us, in order to embrace the idea of vacation, retreat, let alone a weekly Sabbath, requires we identify a chunk of time and block out our schedule accordingly. In order to be responsible, we activate the “out-of-office” email autoreply feature or otherwise proclaim to others we are going off the grid and will be unavailable. Taking time away from the everyday routine means being strategic. Yet the idea of rest—real rest—beckons. And whether it be savoring a book by the fireplace or a bona fide vacation involving suitcases and travel tickets, time away for rest and restoration has its own distinctive, particular kind of break from the routine that governs our work-a-day lives.
A semester break might be the exception to the scheduling rule. They are built into the school year, happening whether we have planned for them or not. Despite their regularity, at some point during the crush of the semester, who doesn’t look forward to being released from the weekly grind of classes, required reading, papers, and discussion posts? Even professors, still busy grading and revising syllabi, look forward to a respite from the weekly schedule. And though semester breaks don’t require planning in the same way that a vacation, pilgrimage, or retreat, like them, a physical break from the routine occurs. Being restored often involves an opportunity to step away and explore another corner of the world. Though there are certain, shared commonalities, each also has its distinctive purpose. A vacation is not the same as a pilgrimage. Neither is a retreat like Sabbath or a sabbatical. We do well to not confuse one for the other, even if there are shared, overlapping natures to them.
The idea of rest and restoration calls to each of us. It is innate to our humanity. It is built-in, you might say, as we are made in the image of God, who, as creator, stopped on the seventh day to rest from (and possibly, admire) the work of creation. To underscore the point, a requirement to take Sabbath rest is included in the Ten Commandments. Not one to get entangled in legalistic traps, Jesus demonstrated God’s love toward others, reminding his critics that Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity to coopt and subvert with their own rules (Mark 2:24–28).
Busy-ness is its own drug, hurtling its addicts into chronic fatigue. Human nature being equal, there were as likely workaholics present in 20 BCE or 20 CE as there are in 2020. But today’s satellites and electronic communications provide the means to insure in this digital age that we are “always on.” That, along with a prevalent cultural message that “busy is better,” the addiction is so ubiquitous that sometimes we just don’t know how to slow down, even when we say we want to. We combine extremes in a modern-day mass of contradiction. Binge-watching takes on a whole new meaning when our meal has been prepped in an Insta-pot so we can sit down in front of a screen in an effort to veg out more efficiently.
I once heard someone say Jesus’s words in Matt 11:29 are great in context, “Come to me all of you who are burdened and I will give you rest!” Taken out of context, though, they are an even better word! At some level, we know that rest and relaxation are vital to holistic discipleship. How is it possible to establish restful rhythms in our own lives that won’t go the same way as New Year resolutions?
- Start simple. Create a special nook or prayer corner for prayer and devotional reading from the Bible or other spiritual formation text. Spend time in fellowship with the Trinity, not just studying the idea!
- Practice pilgrimage. Even if you can’t get away, try going for walk, deliberately slowing your pace to half of what is normal to notice details in nature or your neighborhood.
- Create a no-phone zone. If you are (or know) a youth leader, you know it is possible. Now, do it for yourself in your own home for a defined period of time!
In such gradual, incremental ways, taking our daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal, and annual lives in stock, it is possible to cultivate the rest and restoration that is vital to our lives of wellbeing.