The Sabbath: Ceasing

Our society encourages us never to stop – I read an email from a coffee shop that was trying to get me to go buy a drink for double points today – it began: “It’s great to pause on the go.” – I’m not even sure what that means! But what seemed clear is that the marketing brains behind this email don’t feel brave enough to say – STOP, get a drink and rest for a bit – that would be too out there… They know they will sell more drinks if people feel they can have one with minimal interruption to their busy schedule.


In the recent survey I sent out I asked people to say how often they would use certain words to describe a normal week. This was the wordcloud of the more negative words that the survey results produced – the larger the word the more people identified with that word as a description of their lives.


We are a busy, hurried and stressed community… and so it seems so hard to cease completely for a whole day – it seems impossible but also jarring, difficult – it’s not our normal speed – it’s hard to put the brakes on.


Jesus told us that the most important commandment was to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind.”


What we do daily influences what we love, how we think, and our spiritual orientation. Work is good, and we are told to love our neighbour – to get involved with those around us – in the way that Jesus did.


But Jesus, even the son of God himself, regularly retreated from the crowds and from the hustle and bustle of the towns, to spend time with God – he stopped his miracles, teaching, etc. (his work) in order to spend time with his father.


And God knew that we all needed a day each week to step back and stop our normal work and activity in order to reorient our hearts, souls and minds towards him – otherwise we would be incapable of loving him properly – because too many other things would be competing for our love.


I want to suggest three areas in which we need to cease for a day each week in order to not get swept away by the world’s values. Firstly, we need to cease being PRODUCTIVE.


A friend of mine was recently given an extra project by his work, and paid extra in order to complete it. When he realised it was ruining his mental health and general well being at home with his family, he decided to give back the money and turn down the extra work. His boss just laughed at him – why would anyone turn down extra work and extra money? It’s laughable to our society!


The world makes us to believe that we must work hard to earn our reputation and place in the world. A success-driven society leads us to believe that when we fail to be productive, we are undeserving. In contrast, the Sabbath calls us to cease so that we can appreciate God’s grace and “…remember that we are precious and honoured in God’s sight and loved, profoundly loved, not because of what we produce.”


In order to practice the Sabbath we need to think about which areas we need to allow ourselves to stop being productive in for one day a week.


Is it our paid work? Is it our housework? Our voluntary work? Our “leisure” activities that are actually all about achieving and becoming better, winning, producing results? Is it our support of others?


For me one of the most helpful habits in order to help me really cease – is to turn off my mobile for the day. It’s not practically easy for all sorts of reasons – but the benefits are huge – I’m not tempted to look at emails or to just quickly do whatever task may have come to mind…


Secondly, we need a chance to cease being POSSESSIVE.


A businessman once went on holiday to a coastal town. There he met a fisherman. The fisherman would go out each morning during the week on his little, fairly rugged boat. He would come back, sell most of his catch, go home to his little house, cook some of the fish to share with his family, and spend the afternoon with them – playing with his kids and chatting to his wife.


The businessman approached him one day and said – why do you only go out for the morning? If you fished all day long you would catch more.


The fisherman replied – but why do I need to catch more?


The businessman laughed and said isn’t it obvious?! If you catch more, you will sell more, then you will have more money and will be able to buy a bigger boat, and eventually hire men and catch even more and make even more money.


The fisherman replied, but why would I want more money, a bigger boat or hired men?


The businessman proudly replied – If you have more money you could be like me, and pay to go away on holiday for a couple of weeks each year to wonderful parts of the world, and have fun with my family.


The fisherman looked confused. But I already live in a wonderful place, and I get to spend time having fun with my family every day of the year!


Consumerism has caused havoc in our society, with levels of inequality and exploitation rising as some accumulate at the expense of others, driven by the “myth of scarcity” which says there isn’t enough for everyone – if you don’t possess more you will lose out – we accumulate more possessions even when it makes little sense, we’ve lost perspective. Sabbath provides a break from this, not by ignoring material possessions, but by dethroning them.


In order to practice the Sabbath we need to think about what habits do we need to stop – one day a week – so that possessions don’t become our gods – so that our clothes, houses, cars, toys, food etc. get put back into their proper place? Could it be that we need to consider ceasing one of these activities one day a week (shopping, making, cleaning, tidying, fixing, cultivating, driving) – to retrain ourselves to love God with our whole heart, soul and mind?


Thirdly we need to cease participating in the SYSTEMS OF ANXIETY. As we resist the urge to produce and possess we also resist the urge to worry – Will I have enough? Will I get everything done? Am I good enough? The Sabbath calls us to trust God instead of ourselves – and if we don’t cease we will continue on the rat race that tells us it all depends on us and our own ability to support ourselves.


One of the main ways we are kept as slaves of the systems of anxiety is through adverts, the news, social media, and the messages given through films and TV programmes. A number of people I know have come off social media sites because they recognised the negative effect it had upon them, their mental health and their general attitudes. Loads of people stopped watching the news because of its negative agenda and the effect this had upon people’s outlook on life.


The Sabbath gives us the opportunity to shut this down, one day a week – and benefit from the freedom and alternative perspective God can bring to life. Could you perhaps consider taking a step back from certain media outlets one day each week? For me – again – turning off my phone one day a week has been great for this!


Next week we will look at how and why we can rest on the Sabbath.


But for now I want to leave you with this “Sabbath Poem” by Gideon Heugh – maybe read it to yourself at the start of your next Sabbath as you’re trying to convince yourself it’s a good idea to stop doing certain things for the day, and to turn certain technology off:


This day doesn’t need

your achievement.

The world has had enough

of performance

and endeavour.


What life desires most

is the measured breaths

of the unhurried;

the close attention of the quiet

and the still;

the gentleness that comes

from being content

with what you have.