- Brad Nelson
Lent is a special time of year for me. It was Lent that brought me back to my faith. After losing a brother-in-law in Iraq, it seemed to me that Christianity had little to offer those facing loss and grief beyond empty cliches. I was reading a book at the time by rabbi Lawrence Kushner. On a whim, I looked him up and left a message at his office, fully expecting that I’d never hear anything back. Thirty minutes later, he called me back. He pointed me in the direction of Jewish ritual mourning, a very thoughtful and beautiful way to journey through loss. Having gone through my own form of Jewish mourning, Lent seemed to make a lot more sense, and I began to appreciate it in a new way.
Lent, of course, is about much more than facing loss. At it’s core, it’s about identifying with the suffering of Christ and joining in His death. So at Lent we remember the fact that we don’t live forever. We die to particular habits and practices that lead us away from Christ. We deny ourselves. We examine our lives, and then we return by living into new habits and practices. We die in order to live. Or, as Wendell Berry says, “We practice resurrection.”
This Lent, my first impulse was to give up something like beer or instagram. Still, I knew that wasn’t going to cut it. Sensing the need for something that would expose me in ways I didn’t want to be exposed and then make me into the kind of person I was made to be, I started thinking about the root causes of dysfunction in my life. It didn’t take long for my Lenten commitment to become uncomfortably clear: I needed to practice Sabbath. I find it somewhat ironic that I’m “taking on” the practice of Sabbath for Lent considering that I ought to be doing it all the time, but I’ve got to start somewhere.
So much of my own restless thrashing and dishonoring of God and others is a result of my idolatry of time. I suffer from what Carl Honore calls time sickness. Which is to say that in my life, the clock typically calls the shots. Tom Hanks pretty much sums it up in the film Cast Away:”Time rules over us without mercy. Not caring if we're healthy or ill. Hungry or drunk. Russian, American, or beings from Mars. It's like a fire, it could either destroy us or it could keep us warm. That's why every FedEx office has a clock, because we live or we die by the clock,. We never turn our back on it and we never ever allow ourselves the sin of losing track of time.” My sense of well being and peace are largely determined by what I achieve or produce. And when you’re that guy, few things feel as awkward as ceasing to produce. One misconception about the Sabbath is that we rest in order to recuperate our strength and launch back into another week of achieving, conquering, and producing. But that’s not the spirit of the Sabbath. “Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays,” writes Heschel. “The weekdays are for the sake of the Sabbath. It is not an interlude but the climax of living.”
So what am I learning so far?
For starters, I suck at Sabbath.
It’s revealing just how sick I really am. I find that I sometimes reach for my phone in the same way that a baby reaches for a pacifier or her blanky. A call, a text message, an email, anything to take me out of the present and think about whatever is next. Sabbath exposes just how often I do this during a day, and I realize in separating myself from the phone just how enslaved to it I am.
It seems that every ten or fifteen minutes I’m instinctively drawn to do something prohibited on the Sabbath only to catch myself. “Crap. It’s the Sabbath.”
I go to the kitchen to make lunch, but there seems to be no food. I’ll run to the store. “Crap. It’s the Sabbath.” This forces me to take another look into the cupboards and get creative. Soon I realize that there’s actually lots of food in the house. There are all the ingredients to make pizza if only I can figure out how to make my own crust. I probably shouldn’t be creating a meal on the Sabbath, but in the words of the prophet Chris Farley, “Lay off me. I’m starving.” How do I make crust? I reach for the Macbook. “Crap. It’s the Sabbath.” Wait, I think, I have a cookbook. Sure enough, Betty Crocker. The recipe calls for scalding. “Scalding? What’s scalding?” I reach for the Macbook. “Crap. It’s the Sabbath.” I stand over the stove brooding when it occurs to me that I have a dictionary. I go the shelf. Sure enough. Scalding: heat to just below the boiling point. After lunch I feel the need to capture some of these small revelations, and I reach for the Macbook. “Crap. It’s the Sabbath.” So I grab a pen and paper.
Don’t get me wrong. The Macbook and iPhone are incredibly helpful, and while I lament that if I ever lost one of them I’d be screwed, the Sabbath says, “That’s actually not true.” If these things are as necessary as I believe they are, then I’m not as alive as I was made to be. Yesterday as the sun was setting on the Sabbath my wife said, “I’m sad it’s over.”
“Yea,” I said. “I feel so alive.”
Brad is currently the pastor of formation at Church of Hope in Ocala, Florida and served on the pastoral staff at Mars Hill Bible Church, Grandville, Michigan for 8 years. A speaker, writer, and student at Western Theological Seminary (MDiv), he and his wife Trisha are the proud parents of two beautiful daughters, Braylen and Clara.
Contact Brad at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Title Image Photo Credit: Luke Mattson