September 17, 2019

Sabbath: Resisting the Weight of the World

We live in a society consumed by productivity. For generations, we have had an incessant drive to produce, produce, and produce more efficiently, and that drive has sunk deep into the core of who we are. Some of the worst insults you can hurl at someone these days is to call them lazy, mooches, or parasites, because those words portray the person as unwilling to participate as a productive member of civil society.

Being productive has become an intrinsically good trait for us. You cannot be good unless you’re somehow producing; and the act of producing makes you, at some level, good.

I think producing probably is, in fact, a generally good thing. But I wonder if we have taken a good thing and turned it into an idol. I know that, personally, I face a continual temptation to define myself by my productivity. When I am doing things — creating, building, meeting, developing — I feel good about myself; when I spend time unproductively — reading, musing, conversing, napping — I feel a sense of guilt, as if I’ve wasted precious time.

As a church, we’re not immune to this drive to productivity. In fact, we may be worse at it than many other organizations, because our service to the church feels bigger than us. My work here at the church isn’t simply a job — it’s a mission and a calling given to me by God, so I pour myself endlessly into it.

What I have to constantly remind myself, though, is that this drive to productivity is ultimately a matter of pride in my own ability to uniquely make a difference. I feel like I have to do the work because I’m the only one who can do the work, as if my skills and perspective are irreplaceable in the work of the kingdom of God. In my pursuit of productivity, I begin to see myself as something more than human, as if the world relies on me to be bigger and better than my humanity. In this way, my desire to be productive often really becomes an idolization of myself.

The call to Sabbath, then, is a call to remember that God is the one in control. Every day, I need this reminder that I can trust others to serve while I rest, and that the manifestation of God’s kingdom in the world does not rest entirely, or even primarily, on my shoulders.

Sabbath is a resistance to the endless compulsion to productivity. It is a resistance to defining myself by what I do. It is a resistance to pride.

To practice Sabbath is to recognize that God is God, and I am not.

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