Rest - To Marvel, To Celebrate

Rest - To Marvel, To Celebrate

A few months ago, I took the long journey back home to England for my brother’s wedding. With many hours to fill, I had the chance to watch the excellent movie Birdman. The main character is an actor, Riggan Thomson, who has become renowned for a previous role as a superhero movie character. He is, however, desperate to showcase to the world that he is worth more than this…and his opportunity is presented through an upcoming Broadway show, which he directs and stars in.

A powerful moment occurs in the film where, arguing with his daughter, Riggan reveals his aspirations:

“This is my chance to finally do some work that actually means something.” (1)

His daughter, however, responds with a crushing reply:

"That means something to who? …Let's face it, Dad, you are not doing this for the sake of art. You are doing this because you want to feel relevant again. Well guess what? There is an entire world out there where people fight to be relevant every single day and you act like it doesn't exist. You're doing this because you're scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don't matter and, you know what, you're right. You don't! It's not important, okay? You're not important! Get used to it." (2)

Silence follows. The father feels utterly exposed and the daughter is in shock, as she knows she has gone too far. But it’s not only the two characters who feel the pain of this statement. This dialogue strikes a chord with us as our own intentions are exposed: we are all fighting to convince others, and ourselves, that we matter.

As I reflected on this, it helped me identify that this comprises a core need in my own life: when my relevance is not answered in Christ, it manifests in odd and irrational ways - anger when I lose in sport, frustration at disappointing grades, or fear of appearing incompetent or unknowledgeable. These things seem to regularly attack my sense of self-worth.

But I know I am not alone; I have seen this core insecurity played out in others in a number of ways, particularly when this common introductory interchange occurs:

“How are you?”
“Ah, so busy!”

When I hear this, I don’t doubt people are busy. The amount of pressures from work, study, family, friendships, church commitments, hobbies and constant connection to social media...force us to construct intense lifestyles driven from one appointment, or one notification, to the next. I’m no different - I also hear these words instantly tumble out of my mouth. But what are we actually saying when we say these words? Why is this statement so often the first thing we say?

It may very well be our relief valve expressing the state of our lifestyles, or an unthinking reflex reaction, but I’m convinced there is often a deeper assertion. We use the ‘busy’ tag as a mark of authentication to justify we are contributing adequately to society and that we really do matter! Judith Shulevitz, author of The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time, aptly sums up: “There is ample evidence that our relationship to work is out of whack. Ours is a society that pegs status to overachievement; we can’t help admiring workaholics.” (3)

To Marvel, To Celebrate

As a youth group at Titirangi Baptist Church, we have been looking this year at Christian spiritual disciplines using the book The Hare and The Tortoise: Learning to pace ourselves in a world gone mad. It has helped frame our year together to embrace the “alternate reading of reality” (4) that Jesus offers. He “articulates a new way to be human,” (5) particularly by teaching us, as the subtitle conveys, to pace ourselves in a world gone mad.

Over June we explored the theme of rest and tasted the freedom it can bring. We learnt in the Scriptures that the seventh day rest in Genesis conveys God’s pause to gaze in wonder at the beauty of his cosmos as his reign is inaugurated. It was his moment to marvel.

And we learnt how, in Deuteronomy, the Ten Commandments tie Sabbath rest to the idea of freedom from slavery in Egypt. Sabbath, therefore, was a declaration of freedom. The Israelites honoured this celebration of liberation by naming only one day of their week – the seventh day. They numbered the other days of the week so that it looks something like this:

1st day, 2nd day, 3rd day, 4th day, 5th day, 6th day, STOP!!

I love how the only day named was the one devoted to enjoying God, to celebrating freedom from slavery, to being refreshed and to marveling at the grace that fills our lives. Imagine if we dedicated that much emphasis for rest in our lives. Imagine if our week and the mindset of our churches and families looked something like this:

1st day, 2nd day, 3rd day, 4th day, 5th day, 6th day, MARVEL!!

Finally, we learnt that when Jesus came on the scene, Sabbath was not a day of freedom: the religious had turned it into a day to showcase how much they mattered through their personal piety. They were slaves again. That’s why Jesus, as “lord... of the sabbath,” reminds his audience that “the sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28). It was meant to be a day of freedom rather than slavery.

In a society where busyness is more highly prized than Sabbath, Jesus’s words bear special significance. We are likewise enslaved to a need to convince ourselves and others of our self-worth. We believe that being available 24/7 is a commendable quality but Jesus confirms we need to live 24/6 lives. It’s not healthy to live a life of one continuous stream of activity.

If we were to take a day without work, just to marvel, what could it look like? How could we pause, as God does in Genesis, and gaze at the beauty of the world around us? Here are some questions to ponder on:

1)    Are we even prepared to have a day not to work? (I asked some of my young people and they said no.)
2)    Do we believe that God is able to provide for us if we take a day off from work? Or do we believe things will fall apart?
3)    What is rest for us? What brings nourishment in our lives?
4)    Are we an introvert or extrovert? This will affect how we receive energy in various contexts.
5)    How do we feel most alive with God?
6)    If we are willing to enjoy God and life in these ways what do we need to alter in our schedules to make this a regular experience? What preparations in the in the week would we need to make to free up this time? What needs to be dropped from our schedules?
7)    If we are married and have families, how can this be a shared experience?

In light of these questions I think Judith Shulevitz is helpful once again: “Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of Sabbath understood that it was a much more complicated undertaking. You cannot downshift casually and easily. This is why the Puritan and Jewish Sabbaths were so exactingly intentional. The rules did not exist to torture the faithful. They were meant to communicate the insight that interrupting the ceaseless round of striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will, one that has to be bolstered by habit as well as social sanction.” (6)

I dare you to marvel. I believe that as you take steps to stop, you will see the face of the Father and regardless of how much you produce or achieve, you will learn how much you matter and how much you are loved.

References:

  1. Iñárritu, A. G. (Producer and Director). (2014). Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) [Motion Picture]. United States: Fox Searchlight Pictures
  2. Ibid.
  3. Shulevitz, J. (2003, March 2). Bring Back the Sabbath. The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from nytimes.com/2003/03/02/magazine/02SABBATH.html
  4. Bruggeman, W. (2009). A Pathway of Interpretation: The Old Testament for Pastors and Students. Eugene, Oregon. Cascade Books
  5. Foster, R. (1984). Celebration of Discipline. New York. Harper Collins Publishers
  6. Shulevitz, J. (2003, March 2). Bring Back the Sabbath. The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from nytimes.com/2003/03/02/magazine/02SABBATH.html

Matt Vaine is the Youth Pastor at Titirangi Baptist Church, Auckland

Photo Credit: VectorLifestylepic/shutterstock.com

Scripture: Unless otherwise specified, Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. 

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