Students at the university are just returning from their mid-semester reading week, which some spent studying- but most spent by throwing studiousness to the breeze, travelling, sleeping, partying, but mostly: resting. When I was a student I frowned upon those who spent the week doing anything other than work, but from the chaplain’s side of the equation I find myself encouraging students to rest as well as study. I’ve heard that the second semester reading week was implemented- in some universities at least- in order to prevent suicides among stressed-to-the-max students, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this is true. The constant deadlines, the pressure to achieve, and all the other stressors that come with a busy semester can become overwhelming for students by this time in the year. Yes, they need a week to study and catch up, but perhaps even more than that, they need to rest.
Six weeks of study, one week of rest. Sound familiar? Our poor rabbis, pastors, and catechists have been trying to get the message through for centuries: Take a Sabbath! I was telling the creation story to a group of children this week and I nearly forgot to tell them about the seventh day. As I finished talking about the people God made, though, I added, “And then, on the seventh day, God was very tired. So he decided to take a nap. He rested all day, and that was a very good idea.” There was a reason that God rested that final day of creation and taught us to do the same. Perhaps God, being God, didn’t actually need to rest but did it as an example for you and I. We are finite, mortal people, but God knew we would try to be like God and so decided to show us what God is like. God is one who values stillness and being just as much as busyness and doing.
Yet Sabbath has become a foreign concept in both our culture and our churches. I was in my teens when I started taking spiritual disciplines seriously, but it was not until this year that I even tried to practice Sabbath. When I was a student I heard that taking one day off helped some of my classmates to be more productive and healthy the other days of the week, but an entire day seemed altogether impossible for me. Yet I grew tired and stressed, my life with God waned, and in hindsight I realize that the practice of Sabbath would have done me a lot of good.
This year, with multiple jobs and no set work hours, I decided that the only way to safeguard my rest was to schedule a committed day of Sabbath. And the practice has done wonders. No matter how full or stress-filled a week might be, I always know that rest is no more than six days away. And as beneficial as this is for my spiritual health, it’s done wonders for my mental, emotional, and physical health too. It carves out a space to be spent in worship, in relationship, and taking care of my body. It ensures that I am refilled for another full week ahead.
There are many things in our lives which get in the way of Sabbath: pressure to get ahead, expectation take work home, balancing the demands of the second and third shifts, and carrying devices around which make us available at all times. Yet, I would argue, we are just as finite and human as we ever have been and these increased demands on our time and energy make it all the more important for us to schedule Sabbath into our week. The increased pressure on university students resulted in the establishment of an institutional reading week for just this reason. It is true that some people cannot set a full day aside every week, but perhaps you can set aside half a day, or a small part of each day.
While God is able to communicate with us however God chooses, I believe it is particularly in those places of rest and stillness that God chooses to meet with us. It is when we are at rest that we can hear God most clearly, clearing a little of the clutter so that God might sit down with us and chat for a while. As we move toward the season of Lent, when we will be called to remember our mortality and clear our lives of clutter to be still with God, I invite you to consider how Sabbath might play a role in the six weeks leading up to the Pascal Triduum. You might be surprised 🙂