Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
- Jesus of Nazareth
Sabbath is about walking into life, not about “doing it right.” And to continue the unexpected and the paradoxical, we walk into life not by rejecting limits but by confessing and celebrating them. This confession must be at the heart of our practice of Sabbath. The way of our culture is to resist our limits; the way of Scripture is to rejoice in them.
Of course, it’s obvious that we have limits. However, we often get stuck precisely because we forget the reality that God is without limits and we are not God. Unless we are acknowledging our own limits, we can experience very little freedom. The paradox is that by acknowledging and then rejoicing in our limitations, we actually experience freedom. The do-it-all, be-it-all, experience-it-all ideal of American culture is a sort of bondage. We cannot go on without replenishment, we cannot work without ceasing, we cannot be everywhere at once. Furthermore, what our souls really desire are limits and clear boundaries. While our ego is desperate to prove itself and terrified of failing, our spirits want to just be—with ourselves, with God, and with others. The spirit wants permission to not be everywhere, to not have all the answers, to not be spread so thin. Ultimately, it’s only in a posture of acknowledging weakness and limits that we can receive grace.
Acknowledging limits means saying, “I cannot do all things and be everywhere at once and make everyone happy. Thank God!” We are celebrating the fact that—without replenishment and connection to the life which is in God—we will never be enough and that we only connect with the life of God by fully acknowledging our weakness. Weakness, again, is our tendency to self-focus and self-obsession, to temptation, to doubt and despair, or to any other tendency which is at odds with our spirit and from which we long to escape. Weakness is the stuff for which we tend to judge and hate ourselves. But in accepting our weakness (which does not mean giving in to it), we learn to hear the whisper that calls us beloved. In fact, we often have to hear that whisper in our places of weakness first, before we’re able to hear it elsewhere.
Sabbath, then, is a crystal-clear, unmitigated acknowledgment of both our weakness and—in all our limitations—our belovedness. It is our way of declaring that we have clear physical, psychological, and emotional boundaries, and that we, very simply, are not God; that we need rest. And here’s the rub: if we cannot embrace Sabbath rest or rest in general, it’s probably because we hate our weaknesses in a way that God doesn’t. Sabbath and rest in are difficult for many of us because of the deep bastions of self-doubt, self-hatred, self-loathing, and shame that have been nurtured in the most unreachable recesses of our hearts. If you aren’t deeply aware of your adoption in Jesus and of the new life that flows from that adoption, you will invariably struggle with rest because you won’t be able to see yourself as beautiful, the way thatJesus sees you. Subsequently, you won’t be able to believe that you’re worthy of rest, or that you’ve done enough to earn it. Until we can embrace our weaknesses and our limits, we will find it very difficult to let God embrace us.
Sabbath, as an acknowledgment of our weakness, is a celebration of the scandal of grace. We are imperfect, flawed, with clear limits, and yet God fully embraces us. Sabbath is about more than resting our bodies; it’s about identifying all the ways we try to prove ourselves by accomplishing things, and about recognizing how hollow this path is. It’s about identifying the lies of our culture—that ultimate meaning can be found in in looking good or being rich or performing well.How perfect that God commands us to keep a day when we’re not supposed to “produce” and during which we must refrain from our normal means of proving ourselves.
Cf. Eswine, Zach. Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being. Crossway Books. Wheaton, IL, 2012. Especially ‘Part 1: Exposing Our Temptations.’
Which echoes the underlying temptation in Matthew 4:1-11. Cf. 1 John 2:16.