A Day of Rest

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Across from me sat a precious couple who was pulled in a hundred directions. The tension, even though it was from the outside world, was taking it’s toll on their marriage. Both of them woke up every day giving the best they had to their children, their ministries and their families. Neither of them could remember the last time they had a day to themselves, to play, to nap, to go slow enough to follow a toddler’s lead.

Everything was scheduled and all of the best things in their life were being pushed out by the good things.

Listening to them was like a traveling back in time for me. My husband and I were in that very same space of life almost 18 years ago. I ached to tell this couple to honor the time they have with each other and with their little ones. I wanted to tell them that nothing is worth the rush, the ambition of getting to the next thing and missing what is right here today.

I gave them one assignment: one day a week with nothing scheduled for any member of their family. When they were asked to pull out their calendar and commit to anyone for any reason, I suggested that they pretend that one day was not even on the page. It would be like living in a world with only six days a week.

It occurred to me as we were collaborating on this cutting edge intervention for family stress, how much all of my clients would have benefited if this is where we started. Obviously, this idea did not originate in my office. Sabbath is an ancient and holy practice and it might be the cure to our cultural insanity.

Maybe we are depressed because we are overly-scheduled and exhausted.

Maybe we are anxious and distracted because we are always revving in such a high gear.

Maybe we are fighting with our spouse and our kids are fighting with each other because no one has had a break in a really long time.

We take breaks or we break.

And, friends, we are breaking.

Relationships are slow. Human development cannot be rushed. Time is our greatest commodity and we are giving it away for nothing in return. When we move quickly, we don’t remember. Even the sweet rituals of playing with our kids, driving or eating together as a family, will not be stored as memories if we are rushing through them.

Fight or flight was meant to be a useful tool for survival. When everything in our life is scheduled, we look to the clock as if it’s a ticking time bomb, we must hurry, hurry, hurry. We can’t slow down to see why our son is crying or take five or ten or sixty minutes to help our daughter learn how to tie her shoes.

While I have regrets about much of my early years of parenting, one of the things I am proud of is our decision to take back our Saturdays. Until my kids started school, my husband worked a job where he was away most weekends. When the children were 3 and 5 years old, he started a new job and finally we had weekends together. Guess where we spent all of those Saturdays? Standing with adults we did not know and could not get to know, watching our kids go crazy with twenty other children, longing for another piece of dry birthday cake as our reward for suffering through yet another stranger’s birthday parties.

We were miserable. We made a decision to make no commitments on Saturdays. It was our day. Our day to drink coffee while the kids watched cartoons for hours. Our day to spend at the park or in the backyard. Our day for the kids to learn how to ride their bikes. Our day to visit with our neighbors and play board games with our family.

I will never regret one of those Saturdays. Even if we fought. Even if there was complaining that we missed this event or that one. Even if we didn’t have much fun that particular day.

We honored the Sabbath by accident. Now that our kids have lives of their own we have to be much more flexible and inventive in finding ways to create Sabbath.

In this day and time one of the simplest solutions is having a technology Sabbath. From sundown on one day to sundown the next, no screens.

It’s amazing what we have discovered in the space of unscheduled time with no technology to fill it. Some of the things we suddenly find in our Sabbath space: books we’ve been meaning to read, those fabulous zen coloring books, conversations we’ve been meaning to have, a walk through our neighborhood, an afternoon nap, ingredients to make cookies, taking time to really pet and talk to our dog, learning a new song on the piano or drums, writing another chapter in that novel, actually watching the sunrise and the sunset.

Being a human is not easy. We walk around with the weight of the world on our shoulders and it’s not just adults that feel this weight. Children and teenagers are also burdened with overwhelming pressures and expectations.

Sabbath is an invitation to sit back and be a part of creation.

It is a time when we can receive the gifts that this day has to give us and take a break from believing that our world only spins on the axis of our own efforts.

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The Leader at Rest

finish

Finish (verb): 1. bring a task or an activity to an end; complete

2. to complete the decoration of

Finish (noun): and end or final part or stage of something. 

The Sabbath has gifts for all of us.

Wherever we are, whatever we need, whomever we serve, sabbath is the bonus waiting at the end and the beginning of each week: the weeks that were good, the one’s that were bad, those days that were such a blur, you can’t remember what you did. Good or bad, accomplished or unfinished, the Sabbath is there waiting to take you, wrap you up, feed you, and send you back out again filled up with the experience of rest.

The more “important” we are in our world, the more challenging it is to accept the gifts of sabbath. When I was a server at Lone Star Steakhouse, if I could not work for any reason, it was relatively easy to have someone else cover my shift. If I wanted the money, I had to work, but the restaurant could easily function without me.  As we move into positions of leadership, it becomes much more complicated to get someone else to cover for us. For example, the manager of Lone Star had to either be really sick or seriously plan ahead if he could not come into work.

When I think of some of the greatest leaders in my life, I realize they embodied many of the gifts of sabbath to me. Those strong and supportive individuals represented the very definition of being at rest. Knowing they were on deck meant I could feel safe or less worried.

My husband is the first person to wake up each morning, he wakes up the kids, takes Schroeder for a walk, and brews a pot of coffee. Last week, I started sleeping in, first because I was tired and then I realized there are very few times in our family lives these days that it is just him and the kids. I am sure he appreciates this gift I am giving him. But what I am so deeply thankful for in those blurry early hours while I am listening to the sound of our family from the comfort of my bed (this morning included a lost phone and a shattered water bottle) was that I can only be “at rest” because I know he’s got it covered.

It is impossible to be at rest when we are the ones taking care of everything and everybody.

This is one way Sabbath also can assist us in working more intentionally, using our time taking care of others to help them learn to take care of themselves, or to train other people learn how to take care of them.

The sabbath gives all of us a chance to not be the single most important person in any system.

A true leader is someone who uses their strength, influence, wisdom and courage to protect, defend, teach, and guide us while we are learning to become someone who can do the same, first for ourselves and then for others.

Practicing weekly sabbaths and yearly sabbaticals has exponential benefits for those in positions of leadership. It provides us with consistent times and spaces where we let others practice be leaders.

Our real work begins to prioritize making space for others to rise up and take their place in our world, the highest level of work for those in leadership.

art by Sealed with a Kiss

restinglessons.com

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The Art of Sabbath: Nothing New

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Nothing New Under the Sun

“Sabbath challenges the theology of progress by reminding us that we are already and always on sacred ground.” Sabbath (p.79)

In my many years of Sunday morning Church, the concept of Sabbath, “rest in the arms of the divine,” was swallowed up in the message of spiritual progress.

When we first attended a church that had been around for 175 years, I was overwhelmed by the unexpected relief that this place existed long before anyone I knew was born. The churches I had attended up until that time were new, they were modern, and of course, I attended because I thought they were  better-more real, more casual, more down-to-earth, more relevant.

Until I melted in the old wooden pews and soaked up the ancient liturgy, this experience of God’s presence holding me in the greater context of humanity had been lost in a version of faith where Jesus had passed me a relay baton and it was my job to keep on running until I got the job done.

My theology was focused on production-it was in my hands to change the world, to be Jesus to everyone I came into contact with, to make things better and to move things forward. This momentum and energy was conjured from my own sense of what I should be doing, a lot of shame, plenty of guilt and it continued receiving it’s fuel from a constant sense of never being good enough.

“There is no time to rest, because we are on a very important mission, to boldly go where no species has gone before. We never rest on our laurels, we never rest at all. Every moment is a necessary investment in the divinely ordained and completely unquestioned goal of progress.” Sabbath (p.78)

It always has been and it always will be in our nature to think that we are going to make the world better-that we will be The Ones. While there is a beautiful truth hidden inside of that theology, if we experience that belief out of context, we are not allowed to rest until our perception of the job is done.

“What if we are simply living and growing within and ever-depening cycle of rhythms, perhaps getting wiser, perhaps learning to be kind, and hopefully passing whatever we have learned to our children? What if our life, rough-hewn from the stuff of creation, orbits around a God who never ceases to create new beginnings? What if our life is simply a time when we are blessed with both sadness and joy, health and disease, courage and fear-and all the while we work, pray, and love, knowing that the promised land we seek is already present in the very gift of life itself, the inestimable privilege of a human birth?” Sabbath (p.79)

My Sabbath experiment has exposed and challenged my idea of what is important. I have some very real illusions of what is worthy of my time and what is not. I confuse doing something important with being important.

I must be cautious in how I define important things and in the power I give to those things to tell me who I am. When I take a seat at my equal place at the table of life with the rest of humanity, I realize I don’t even know what important means.

I have sweat blood trying to come up with the right words I could say to change someone’s life for the better. What I thought was better was not.

I gave someone a head of fresh cabbage many years ago and recently discovered it became a symbol of kindness that she had never known.

Seriously! What do I know?

Humility is a strange and wonderful land to explore. When I am spinning the top of my own world,  I cannot stop or I cease to be worthy because my identity rests in my own production.

When humility invites me to my small place in the eternal story of mankind, I realize it is okay to take a break every week or so, to melt into those big hands that hold the whole wide world.

 

 

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The Art of Sabbath: Quiet Generosities

IMG_3175Quiet Generosities

“In winter we are dormant, it is a a time for quiet generosities, and reflection on the endurance of inner light in the midst of darkness.” Sabbath (p.67)

Yesterday, I spent some time looking at the empty pages of 2016 in my new passion planner. After doing a little bit of research on what each season brings us through nature, I wrote some prayers for each month of this year.

For January, my favorite month of the year, this is my prayer:

Help me discover,

notice

receive 

and share

the quiet generosities

that are here today. 

I don’t really know what I am looking for. Before page 67, I had not heard the phrase quiet generosities. Then, I noticed one such example in today’s chapter of Sabbath.

“At a retreat Seiji tells me he stayed up all night long, in the middle of the forest, waiting to hear the singular moment, early in the morning, when all the birds would begin to sing. He waited patiently in the silent stillness. Then, long before the sunrise, ‘I heard the sound of a gentle inhale, as if all the trees around me, together, took a long, deep breath.’ All at once, he said, as if in the unison with the exhale, the birds commenced their morning symphony” (Sabbath, p.74).

I want to be generous again.

When maintaining my own life takes more than I have to give it, there are no “extras” to share. When my time is already spent, when the money we earn is going to pay for last month or last year, when my energy runs out several hours before I can put my head to the pillow, I find myself not only lacking in practical resources, but sharp resentments fill the places that are desperately in need of kindness and gentleness.

Generosity that comes from a place of rest is a gentle generosity. It is not birthed from determination, discipline, or a mission statement. This kind of generosity it honorable and what I hope to come from any work I do with my life, but it is not the kind of generosity I am looking for in this season.

Gentle generosities are so unintentional they are surprises to those who both give and receive them. They are fruit, not of labor, but of stillness, intimacy, and slowness.

It is my prayer that you discover, notice, receive and share the quiet generosities that are here for you today. 

Click here to order your own copy of Sabbath: The Sacred Rhythm of Rest by Wayne Muller.

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The Art of Sabbath: Winter

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Winter

“What we harvest in this season provides the seed for the next season. In Sabbath time we taste the fruit of our labor, and prepare seeds for the week to come…Every season brings forth its bounty in its own time and, and our life is richer when we can take the time to savor the fruit of each.”

~Sabbath (p.67)

It is in my nature to decide what is good (productive, happy, helpful, giving, active) and try to make those “good” things happen in my life always. But now more than any other season in my life, I can see what we need might be different than any other time in our lives.

Right after selling our home and most of possessions, we went on a weekend trip to visit some old friends. My precious college roommate was pregnant with her fifth child, refereeing a basketball game that was being played in her living room all while making dinner and graciously making conversation with us.

Her family lives in this yummy historic home full of games, puzzles and books at every turn. The basement is busting at the seams with toys for every phase of a child’s life: johnny jump-ups, ping pong tables, and costumes. Every crack and crevice is filled to the brim with the possibility of play.

With an air of exhaustion and a hint of shame, my dear friend said, “We could really use some advice on how to declutter this place.”

This is why we need other perspectives in our lives.

I knew with a certainty I have rarely known in my own circumstances that their beautiful mess was exactly what they needed. It was perfect. The only work to be done in that old house was the work of the day-the next meal, the next load of laundry, the next boo boo kissed and the next story before bed.

With the same appreciation I have for my new small spaces and simplified living, I was also thankful for their abundance.

…Remembering the days that my garage was so full of kiddie toys my new neighbor thought I ran a day care.

…Celebrating the season when we would wake up to a wide open day, a big back yard and no plan but to explore and take naps.

My life was a mess and I wouldn’t rush through one of those un-measureable childhood hours for the illusion of an organized home.

It has occurred to me several times during this Sabbatical that it is no accident my need for nourishing what is underground comes along side my own children’s transition from childhood to adolescence. It catches my breath when I come across these words in today’s chapter:

“So it is with the seasons of our children’s lives, with each passing year a different kind of care, now more holding, now more letting go. Successes are replaced by tender insecurities, confidence turns to awkwardness, until new triumphs straighten the spine and fill the emerging soul with courage” (Sabbath, p. 67).

My own confidences about parenting are also tinged with tender insecurities. I find myself awkwardly navigating areas of life that used to feel so certain. This Sabbath time is one where I (some days patiently, some days not so much)  wait in the beauty of the exposed winter branches trusting and honoring the vulnerability of the season.

Click here to order your own copy of Sabbath: The Sacred Rhythm of Rest by Wayne Muller.

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The Art of Sabbath: Dormancy

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Dormancy

“Dormancy allows plants and their seeds to develop stress-resistant annual resting periods. When adverse conditions such as cold or drought arise, the plant ceases to receive its cues from the external environment and focuses inward, receiving its vital direction from ancient rhythms. Seeds may maintain dormancy even during favorable conditions, in order to give them time to fully mature…

In a given season, this may diminish the yield, but it is a rhythm designed less for quick profit, and more for an abundance over eternity.”    ~Sabbath (p.57-58)

This concept of Sabbath transforms words that judge into words that bless. Just the word “Dormancy” written at the top of today’s chapter takes away the sting of “What am I doing with my life?” and replaces it with a wise understanding that all sustainable things do not produce for a time.

Of all the fears I have faced during this time of rest, the greatest one has been that if I let go of the energy that keeps me going and doing, I might never give anything of worth to this world.

That fear is only surpassed by a deeper knowledge that to give anything of worth, I must be willing to be dormant for awhile.

There are times in my life and there will be times again where I must dig deep for stubborn determination to press through challenging circumstances. Times of dormancy, however, also require a stubborn determination to not bloom until the time is right.

Click here to order your own copy of Sabbath: The Sacred Rhythm of Rest by Wayne Muller.

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The Art of Sabbath: The Empty

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The Empty

“For some people, emptiness can feel fertile and spacious, alive with possibility, as a womb is ripe for the child to come. But others feel emptiness as an ache, a void; something painful, in need of being filled.” ~Sabbath (p. 50)

Since my 30 days of rest, I am more comfortable with the empty spaces in my life. They don’t seem so unfinished as they are ripe with possibility. Sometimes the blank walls or not quite right decorations can even feel like testimonies to my time and energy being spent on something else. Not necessarily something more important, mostly just something else.

In my experiment with rest, I touched down on both of Muller’s descriptions of what emptiness can feel like. There were days that my empty hours felt alive and days that it felt like an ache.

Most of us are, “far more anxious about having to confront whatever will come up in the empty space, when we are quiet and alone. Who knows what terror lurks in the anonymous solitude? What voices will arise in the silence? At the very same time, people are afraid of what will not come up. What if I have no vision at all? What if there is nothing of value in my heart and soul, no strength, no voice of guidance, no wisdom at all-just an empty hollow echo?” (p.51)

Letting go.

Settling down.

Being still.

Not doing.

It’s terrifying and painful.

And it’s enlightening and beautiful.

“Only when we take refuge in rest can we feel the company of the angles that would minister to us, regardless of what we {find in our emptiness}.

In the stillness there are forces and voices and hands and nourishment that arise, that take our breath away, but we can never know this, {really} know this, until we rest.” (p.53)

Click here to order your own copy of Sabbath: The Sacred Rhythm of Rest by Wayne Muller.

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The Art of Sabbath: Choosing My Yes

 

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Choosing My Yes

“By saying no to making some things happen, deep permission arises for other things to happen. When we cease our daily labor, other things-love, friendship, prayer, touch, singing, rest-can be born in the space created by rest.” Sabbath (p.29-30)

In a recent women’s group, we were discussing how hard it is to say no, when we are able to say no, how we justify saying no. We even acknowledged that we say no a lot and still there is always more to say no to. We explored the extensive mental energy we spend trying to make ourselves and other people feel okay about our no.

The list of things we must say no to is truly never ending…like that bubble game I kept trying to win only to discover that the bubbles would keep scrolling as long as I kept popping them.

During my 30 Days of Rest, I became more aware of my allotted energy than I have every been before. As I was reflecting on my sabbatical with a friend yesterday, I realized that during that time, I learned what must be done in my life and I attempted to do no more.

It felt like I was saying no to everything but really, I was saying yes. Our no’s are not the destination, they are the way to clear out the path for our yes.

It is not about finding your no.

It is about finding your yes.

Sabbath is the sacred time between our no and our yes. It offers us space, permission, and significant margin to notice our beautiful yes when it presents itself to us.

“Some things at first may seem expedient, or important or profitable-but in the end, they will bring you suffering. If you work all week and forget to rest, you will become brittle and hard, and lose precious nourishment and joy. Forgetting the Sabbath is like forgetting to unwrap the most beautiful gift under the tree.” Sabbath (p. 32)

Art by Megan Wise

Follow sealed.with.a-kiss on Instagram to see more of her adventures in lettering.

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The Art of Sabbath: Prayer

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To Pray

“Jesus, for whom anything was possible, did not offer ‘seven secret coping strategies’ to get work done faster, or ‘nine spiritual stress management techniques’ to enhance our effectiveness. Instead he offered the simple practice of rest as natural, nourishing, and essential companion to our work. Learn from me, he invited and you will find rest for your souls.

Jesus did not wait until everyone had been properly cared for, until all who sought him were healed.  He did not ask permission to go, nor did he leave anyone behind ‘on call,’ or even let his disciples know where he was going. Jesus obeyed a deeper rhythm. When them moment for rest had come, the time for healing was over. He would simply stop, retire to a quiet place, and pray.

One translation of the biblical phrase ‘to pray’ is ‘to come to rest.'”

(Sabbath, page 24-25)

This reminds me of that joke about Einstein’s two bad marriages. The comedian says, “So basically, when you are getting married you are telling the world, you think you are smarter than Einstein.”

That’s how I feel about these revelations about Jesus. Do I think I am better than Jesus? Do I really believe I can keep going, offering the world anything of worth, without stopping?

While I desperately resist my limitations, the whole life of Jesus was one of limitations-he could travel only on foot, his ministry only lasted three years, his body needed food everyday and his soul needed time to recover from the energy he expended to others time after time after time.

Jesus accomplished the most important work ever done on behalf of humanity. He knew that in order to do important work, he had to regularly enter into rest.

Important work never stops, but in order to for us to know what is important and do what is important, we must.

Click here to order your own copy of Sabbath: The Sacred Rhythm of Rest by Wayne Muller.

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The Art of Sabbath: The Slow Truth

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 The Slow Truth

“Rest is an essential enzyme of life, as necessary as air. Without rest, we cannot sustain the energy needed to have life. We refuse to rest at our peril–and yet in a world where overwork is seen as a professional virtue, many of us feel we can legitimately be stopped only by physical illness or collapse.” ~Wayne Muller

In the introduction to my own 30 days of rest, I write about the important decision I had to make in order to begin this experiment.

Did I want to be sick or did I want to be rested?

If it seems like an easy choice to you, please let me know your secret.

Let me tell you what I realized about myself…

If I said that I was sick or depressed, there was a good chance that others would have pity, compassion or grace for me. It is socially acceptable for one to need space, to need support, to need some peace and quiet when they are going through a hard time.

If I told people I was resting, it meant I had to take responsibility for my own needs, set my own boundaries, and maintain them in the midst of a society that insists on instant connection, efficiency and productivity.

As I began those 30 days of Rest, the temptation to tell people I wasn’t feeling well was tremendous-like the apple on the tree of good and evil kind of temptation-it would be so easy. Being sick means it is not my fault.

BUT, the entire reason we did the work to simplify our lives was to enter into a rhythm that we could sustain and enjoy. The whole point was to no longer be a victim to our frantic pace.

This was SO my fault. It was my choice, my intention and a costly one.

I held every single item we owned-my son’s baby outfits, my daughter’s beloved stuffed animals, love letters between my husband and I as well as the letters we wrote when we couldn’t have a conversation without breaking each other’s hearts-and I let most of them go.

I let go of our family home.

I let go of my professional identity.

I let go of being the kind of friend that was there anytime anyone needed me.

I asked my husband to let go of his pimped out home theater and giant screened-in-porch.

I hugged my kids while they let go of their childhood.

I didn’t do these things or ask my family to do these things so people would feel sorry for me. I didn’t make these transforming life choices to play victim.

I took every single slow and often painful step because, in my core, I believed that there was an abundant life on the other side of this, just waiting for us to live in it.

That kind of life life is based in rest.

So, I had to tell the truth.

And I hope in telling my own truth, I am able to share some of my freedom with you. The freedom to choose rest while it is still there for the choosing.

“If we do not allow for a rhythm of rest in our overly busy lives, illness becomes our Sabbath–our pneumonia, our cancer, our heart attack, our accidents create Sabbath for us” (page 20).