I had surgery several years. It wasn’t a REALLY big deal, but big enough to land me 6-weeks of rest and relaxation. It was an amazing time! I was able to read books, nap, watch old movies, enjoy visits from friends – some of whom even brought lunch to my home! I lost the internal pressure that typically nagged me to clean house or do laundry. I couldn’t drive, so the errands were no longer my responsibility. The grass still grew and I didn’t care. Leaves fell…nope, not my problem. I chatted on the phone, got dressed at noon, perused stacks of magazines and finished knitting a sweater. It was wonderful! So much so, I cried when the doctor let me know I was no longer on any restrictions. There are days that I long for the calm I felt during my recovery.
I worry a lot. Of course, I think it is justifiable. Who doesn’t worry about health, finances, politics, family, things that need doing, things that didn’t get done, holidays, week days, work days, and ultimately everything that is happening, could happen or should happen? A friend suggested that I not worry about things twice – like, worry about them after they happen, which eliminates a fair portion of the could-happen issues. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy. Worriers will agree that it’s not a voluntary response. Like breathing, it’s part of our physical being.
The problem is, the worrier’s obsession with “what if…what if…what if…” becomes the mantra of stress, the #1 health problem in America today. Isn’t it interesting that a country with the wealth, support and resources available to us in the United States is plagued with illnesses linked to stress? The average American doesn’t need to worry about food or shelter like millions of the poor who live in third world countries. We aren’t war torn like much of the Middle East. We enjoy freedoms that are unheard of in many countries. Yet, we are killing ourselves through worry and stress and we don’t know how to stop it.
The writer of Matthew gives us Christ’s words of hope and encouragement for our worry. You can find them at the end of this essay. I intentionally chose The Message translation as it speaks to our national obsession. Notice particularly what is said in verses 30-33, “…What I am trying to do here is get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving…”
I remember when my children were little. Christmas was a difficult time. Between commercials on television and the talk amongst friends, they developed an idea of what Santa Claus should bring them. You know, what they were entitled to simply because that’s what the media and their friends indicated they should have. When you think you deserve the biggest, best-est, most awesome toy that money can buy and receive something less than that expectation…well, it can make for a pretty disappointing Christmas morning. Our challenge as parents was to help them realize that a gift given with love has ultimately more value than anything money can buy. It is also our challenge as God’s children to realize that the gifts God gives to us are uniquely given to us out of God’s love for us. It’s not like the mother (me!) who counts dollar amount and numbers of packages to make sure everything is fair. It’s about recognizing that God is there, walking with us, caring for us and giving us His amazing love in ways that we must slow down long enough to see.
And, that brings me to the Sabbath. Growing up, I got the idea that Sunday was a ‘day of rest’. Cool! Stores and gas stations were closed. Church was mandatory, as was roast beef or chicken for dinner. It was the one day of the week that we knew we would eat in the dining room and perfect manners were expected. We could play with our friends after dinner, but even our play was to be more subdued. I set up my dolls in little rows and began to preach to them, but was told it wasn’t appropriate to play church. The day was filled with reverence and the realization that no matter what, I would never get it right. I couldn’t wait for Monday!
The thing about the Sabbath is that God knows what we need. God wildly created amazing things for 6 periods of time. (Okay – scripture says, “days”…) Then, even God took time off to breathe, to enjoy and to rest. God also took time after every major creation event to sit back, nod, and recognize it all was good. (Genesis 1:1-31; Genesis 2:1-4) Let’s say it again – God took time off. No, not to leave creation to it’s own devices, but to look at it, to breathe, and to be pleased with it.
You see, the Sabbath is not supposed to be a burden. It is supposed to be a time when we take time off from our daily work and/or routines. It’s a time for renewal, for rest, for relationships and to be pleased with – to be grateful for – all the places we see God’s love and care in our lives. It shouldn’t take a major surgery and doctor’s orders for us to find that place of relaxation nor does it need to be on a given day of the week. However, we do need to stop periodically, to let the stress of the world cease for some time and to become mindful of God’s presence. We need to let go of our worries and remember that God is working in and through and around all that is. It’s not about God giving us all the things we feel entitled to. It’s recognizing that whatever our circumstances are, God is there.
When I truly embrace those thoughts, I realize that I long for Sabbath rest so much that I can’t relegate it to only one day of the week. It’s more of a ‘take as needed’ prescription that, at my healthiest, I choose to take frequently.
Matthew 6: 25-34 (The Message)
25-26 “If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.
27-29 “Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.
30-33 “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
34 “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.