New York does not stop. It’s the “city that never sleeps.” It literally takes an act of God – heat waves, hurricane Irene, hurricane Sandy, winter storm Juno, etc. Whether working to survive or in pursuit of one’s dreams, New Yorkers have a hard time stopping their work. And if that wasn’t enough, there is an unending list of tasks calling for our attention.
Emails, text messages and, increasingly the cursed app notification. In a journey to find relief from our modern, always-connected life, Paul Miller or theverge.com left the internet for a year (you can read about his experience here). During his journey, he interviewed Douglas Rushkoff about “Present Shock,” the affect of always-connected technology on our lives. Our obsession with the now creates loops that, on some unconscious level, our brains compel us to complete. For example, the red circle on the top right corner of an app. The un-replied email. The unanswered text message. When you see a notification, your brain creates the beginning of a loop that can only be completed by responding to said notification. Rushkoff encourages us to occasionally “pause” from the digital so that we conform technology to our schedule instead of vice versa.
But if the digital weren’t enough to constantly keep up with, the “analog” laundry is never finished, the dishes are never done, the house is never complete. There’s always something to be done – more the be created, existing to be perfected, and further out to be planned. In the midst of all this, culture quietly screams: be more productive. To stop is only to prepare to be more productive. Maximize all of your time and energy while at the same time staying on top of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email, text messages, etc.
Sabbath means stop.
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. Genesis 2:1-3
The creator was more productive in seven days than is humanly conceivable (regardless of whether one believes in literal or figurative days). Science, math and very the laws of reality were all brought forth from him. Simply the amount of matter created is beyond what we can barely imagine. To begin to get an idea of what we are talking about, spend a moment contemplating the ultra-tiny and the ultra-big at scaleoftheuniverse.com. After all this, God stopped. THIS God could have created a trillion other universes, a trillion other dimensions and a trillion other realities. Maybe he did! Yet he stopped. God is un-limited, yet he stopped.
Here is the truth that sabbath teaches us: we are not God. We are limited. When we take time to stop from our labor, we are reminded that we are not God. We embrace our limits. Stopping confronts the question of trust: Will we trust that the infinite, all-powerful God will take care of us and our concerns when we keep the Sabbath? To never stop is to produce in ourselves a god-complex. In so doing, we shackle ourselves to an impossible standard. We cannot stop, for we are god. Recently at a church leader’s conference, Pete Scazarro was introduced as a “busy guy,” but he quickly corrected that he is not busy. He is limited. This is a true perspective of our lives. We are limited.
Jesus fully embraced his limits. Part of the miracle of the incarnation was that Jesus (the Creator, the un-limited) became limited. Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray (Luke 5:16). After his grandest miracle of feeding over 5000 people with almost nothing, Jesus went up on a mountainside by himself to pray (Matthew 14:23). There were always more people to be healed or taught. But Jesus embraced his limits and often stopped doing ministry. He knew that his central ministry would be his work on the cross. As his disciples, we also must trust in the cross of Christ, not our own efforts.
The first challenge of Sabbath is to stop for a 24-hour period. My advice is not to “try out” a few hours or even half a day. Pick a full 24 hour period to stop from your work. Smaller periods of stopping throughout each day are good, but stopping for a full 24 hours is a completely different experience.
As I said, we live in a culture that worships productivity. In fact, I would even say we are addicted to productivity. And like any addiction, you must chose to stop. It will be difficult. It will take time. It will take hard work. There will be withdrawals. But it will be worth it. Perhaps your first step should be to stop using technology for a full 24 hours.
As I have practiced stopping on my Sabbath, it has been extremely freeing. I will often be reminded of something I failed to plan or complete in my work or personal life. But since I have decided to stop on my Sabbath, I give myself permission to not worry about it. I know that I will get to it another day. Obviously more pressing things can come up that need to be dealt with, but 95% of the time it can wait. I often have to remind myself that it is not that important, and in the grand scheme of things it never is. I do not have to get back to that email, text message, or notification. I am free to let the loop can go un-completed for a day.
I am actually obligated to stop. I am not God. I am limited. I am trusting in the one who is un-limited. And by stopping, I am free to rest, delight and contemplate.