From Sickness to Sabbath: Embracing Rest
This past fall, I fell terribly ill. During a pandemic, entering the emergency room, not once, but twice, and then being hospitalized, I prayed that nothing was seriously wrong and that I was virus-free. In the following days and weeks, I proceeded to see numerous other doctors and recommended specialists. Taking a myriad of tests and exams, I was trying everything from different prescriptions, holistic treatments, to physiotherapy. And while I was COVID-free, my illness remained. At the end of it all, there was nothing much more that any of the doctors could do, and my body would not allow me to do anything more. All I could do was rest. Thus came my prolonged, painful journey to healing.
After being ill for several months, I drew closer to my internal self. In a period of time where the world seemed to be falling apart, my body, desperately trying to restore itself, fought to reach normalcy again. In bed, with nothing else to do, I wondered about all the time we spend resting (about a third of our lives are spent sleeping) and the significance of rest in our lives: how we rest, when we feel deserving of rest, but most importantly, how rest changes us and radically shifts our state of being. During my time of rest, I turned to Scripture.
Genesis tells us that God rested on the seventh day of the creation story. For many of us, we have likely heard the story countless of times. Personally, I have taught it in Sunday School over the years. Perhaps hearing these stories so many times may lend to a loss of potency, but when I fell extremely ill, I found myself rediscovering God in a radical way.
God the creator of all things, omnipotent, omnipresent took time to rest. The image of a God who is all around us, resting, seems like an oxymoron.
Sabbath or Shabbat is Judaism’s day of rest on the seventh day of the week, Saturday. Shabbat comes from the Hebrew word shavat which is often translated as “rest” however, the more accurate definition would actually be, “ceasing [from work].”
Shabbat observance is about refraining from work activities and doing restful activities. Shabbat is festive as Jews are free from the regular work of day-to-day life and it is a day to contemplate the spiritual aspects of life and spend time with family.
Not only is Sabbath recognized in the creation story found in Genesis 2:1-3, but in many of other parts of Scripture, most notably in the Ten Commandments.
“Observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, or your manservant, or your maidservant, or your ox, or your ass, or any of your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out thence with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5: 12-15).
Some believe that this commandment is what the other nine commandments hinge from. The first three commandments show the difference between YHWH and the gods of Egypt and the last six commandments explains what it means to rest in God.
In the busyness of our lives, we don’t just forget that we need to rest, we forget how to rest. We forget the importance of taking a day off to be still, regain inner balance, and connect with our spiritual self.
Sabbath is also tied to leaving produce in the field for the poor so that they can gather and eat the unharvested sides of the field (Deuteronomy 24:17-22). It is also tied to sustainability and green earth as every Sabbath year, the fields are to be left so that the land can rest. Sabbath isn’t just for human beings but for all of creation. Everything requires rest so that it can replenish.
Jesus is understood as the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). Christians have taken the sabbath to be a day of rest and worship. On this day, many try to take some time to reflect on the divine and take a break from their regular work schedules.
In some parts of the world, particularly parts of East Asia, expectations of work are elevated. Work is valued in religion with cultural values like what some consider “the Protestant work ethic” which encourages and values work over rest. Many of us work fast-paced lives and find ourselves stuck on the cyclical treadmill of work that we can never seem to get off.
In the busyness of our lives, we don’t just forget that we need to rest, we forget how to rest. We forget the importance of taking a day off to be still, regain inner balance, and connect with our spiritual self. We forget how our entire being is made up of the fallible mind, body, and soul—all essential components of us that require rest. Not only this, but we have made the act of work our own false deity in a modern world fueled off of capitalist ideas of success, status, and purpose. We should find the time to nurture our inner self, the self that emerges in the midst of silence, stillness, and nothingness.
As I write this I am in the middle of the healing process, therefore I write it as a reminder to myself. That if I forget to rest, my body will stop, go haywire, break down, or even pass away. As spiritual beings, we must feed our spiritual selves a greater heaping of health each day by trying to connect with the divine externally as well as within. Once we are able to do this, we can truly understand the full meaning of rest and being with the divine.
Even God rested, and if we are created in the image of God, we then also need to rest.