Editor’s Note: It’s easy to feel overwhelmed or apathetic when faced with the sheer volume of need in our world. Writing a check or volunteering with a local organization are important steps to walking in justice, but they’re not the only steps. “Alternate Routes” is a blog series that explores imaginative ways of cultivating empathy and restoring the cracked pieces of the world—in other words, alternate routes to living justly. Read the first post here. Up next: Sabbath.
“If busyness can become a kind of violence, we do not have to stretch our perception very far to see that Sabbath time—effortless, nourishing rest—can invite a healing of this violence. When we consecrate a time to listen to the still, small voices, we remember the root of inner wisdom that makes work fruitful. We remember from where we are most deeply nourished, and see more clearly the shape and texture of the people and things before us.”
Listen up—this just may save your life.
When was the last time you remembered the Sabbath? I mean deep and true Sabbath. I’m not talking about a “day off” catching up on housework, running errands, or binge-watching Stranger Things on Netflix. I’m talking about injecting slow and nourishing practices into your hectic life. I’m talking about the kind of rest that’ll make your head spin in its idleness.
This rest transcends relaxation and instead reveals the true refreshment that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
We can only give that which we’ve already received. If we want to embody empathy by being a place of rest and nourishment to others, we must first practice the art of rest in our own lives. We cannot engage the “other” in meaningful ways without letting the still, small voice of God be our guide. It is the same voice that illuminates our prejudices and inhibitions; it is a safeguard against acting on instinct and fear. As author Wayne Mueller so precisely puts it, that voice allows us to meet others in their time of need by “hearing more accurately what is truly necessary.”
This last summer I took an opportunity to spend a week in Syrian and Iraqi refugee camps in Northern Greece. I spent the weeks prior running around, busying myself with deadlines and projects and travel. I hadn’t spent enough time seeking the Lord, asking what He wanted to reveal to me in my time there. The result? Utter fatigue. While I’m eternally grateful for the experience—and while it is something that I am still unraveling—I came home more weary, tired, and hopeless than ever before. I even fainted the morning after I returned because I was just. so. tired. Only weeks later—after I had given myself the time and space to process—did I begin to unpack all that God had tried to speak to me about the refugee crisis.
Remembering the Sabbath is one of the most radical practices in which we can partake in the modern age. We engage in divisive political Facebook banter before asking God what he thinks about a situation. We respond to humanitarian crises with a swift savior complex before first seeking appropriate wisdom from a place of rest. We let so many voices guide our steps without first seeking the one true voice that will never lead us astray.
Let’s not forget the call in James 1:19 to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” We can start by incorporating simple, meditative Sabbath practices into our everyday lives. Here are five with which to start.
1. Begin each morning with a Sabbath hour. The earlier the better, before the rest of the world rises to meet you. Resist picking up your phone. Read. Worship. Watch the sunrise. Press into the promises of the day.
2. Prepare a meal with and for people you love. Let every step come from a place of intention. Eliminate any ingredient or any flavor that doesn’t bring nourishment and/or delight.
3. Take a road trip or hike by yourself. Pay attention to the thoughts and discomforts that arise in your solitude.
4. Go for a walk. Explore a new area of your town. Observe the sights, sounds, and smells that define this particular moment.
5. Pray. If you want an empathetic heart, start by interceding for others. Ask God to give you a heart for his people but prepare for the sorrow that will ensue. Embrace it, for it is good and necessary.
I pray that by incorporating your own Sabbath practices, you’ll find less stress, less anxiety, less hurry, less dispute, and be met with more joy, more peace, more patience, more understanding. This is the beautiful exchange.