Ready, Set, Rest

The holidays are upon us. Everyone I know has already decorated for Christmas and posted about it on Instagram even though Thanksgiving is still a week away. But who wants to decorate the day after Thanksgiving when they could be perched on the couch hitting refresh on all their open tabs so they don’t miss a single Black Friday deal?? No one should ever pay full price for an Instant Pot, am I right?

I love the holidays, though. Or, maybe a more accurate way to say it is that I love the idea of  the ideal holidays. When I say the “ideal holidays,” I don’t mean the ideal that’s peddled on the Hallmark channel (no offense to my sister who loves Hallmark movies with every fiber of her being). I’m referring to the ideal holiday that I have crafted in my own mind. I can’t remember if we’ve established this yet or not, but I have a very rich inner life, and my imagination tells me the best (worst?) stories. When I fantasize about what the holidays will look like, I always look cute at the major meal. My hair is clean for a change, and because the story is happening in the world where I get to make the rules, it’s also draping in obedient loose curls around my shoulders. My makeup is perfectly applied, and the lighting in my home is rich and ambient (partly from candles) so as to avoid harsh shadows on anyone’s face. We’re all adorable. The food, of course, is a gastronomical marvel.  The prime rib is expertly prepared and each dish is hot and ready at the same time, because, as Ina Garten’s pupil, I have crafted a menu that includes one thing from the oven, two things from the stove and one thing that does not require heat. I clean the dishes as I cook, so that by the time the meal is ready, the kitchen is spotless. In my holiday fantasy, I do all of this as though it is no trouble at all…like I’m a precious domestic chef fairy. In this story I tell myself, no one is a picky eater. The mealtime is sweetly slow, each member of the family lingers at the table, held in the rapture of connection that comes from rich conversation void of any reference to politics or cable news. It feels like suspended communion, and everyone around the table breathes deeply and contentedly. Pulse rates are slow. Laughter is the soundtrack. Following the meal, everyone retreats to recliners and couches to allow the food and wine to have its full effect in blissful repose. When it’s time for second dessert, we play games, and laugh, and linger a little more. Maybe we finish off the wine. It’s sublime.

Okay. I hear it. I might be influenced by Hallmark more than I know.

To be clear, this is not how our holidays unfold. Most of the time, I forget to put on makeup at all. My hair, if clean, is in a messy bun, and I am for sure wearing house slippers. I decide on the menu the day before and make a minimum of 3 trips to the grocery store. My food is always delicious, but it never comes together without back sweat and a mountain of dishes in the sink. My husband likens me to the chef on the Muppets and marvels that I manage to use double the amount of dishes required to prepare the meal. Our family conversation is usually delightful, but not nearly as slow as it should be. Following the meal, we pass out in a food coma. After we emerge from lounge chairs wiping nap drool from the corners of our mouths, we play Settlers of Catan, and the only thing that lingers is animosity.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not disappointed in our holidays, but what my ideal version illustrates is that I long for something deeper than a day on which to express gratitude. The common threads in the whole scenario I create are ease and effortlessness. I want my celebrations to be uncomplicated and fueling for everyone who gathers here. My deepest longing isn’t for a movie-worthy holiday extravaganza. It’s for nourished bodies, unhurried connections and untroubled hearts. My deepest longing is for rest.

Not sleep.

Well, not just sleep.

I mean rest—the kind that permeates every aspect of life— a generous, intentional pause in the normal routine that creates space for relationships to flourish. Where eating and sleeping are the sacramental rituals. Where the hum-drum becomes holy.

The word used in the Bible for this kind of rest is sabbath.

Most of us hear “sabbath” and we think of either Saturday (the day after the six days of creation on which God rested, the day he blessed and made holy) or Sunday (when Chick Fil A is closed).

But sabbath isn’t a day. It’s a state of being.

There is rest.
And then there is sabbath.

I used to think that sabbath meant that you couldn’t do anything for a whole day. It sounded like the worst kind of boring. Sabbath, however, isn’t void of activity. Rather, it’s engaging in the kind of activity that, instead of depleting, fills up. Instead of stealing, restores. Instead of separating, integrates.

Doesn’t that kind of rest sound amazing??

The thing is, ironically, sabbath is something we have to fight for. Unlike day following night, sabbath doesn’t happen inevitably. In many ways, I have found that this kind of rest has to be achieved with violence.

One afternoon when my youngest was a baby, I planned to put him down for a nap and spend time writing about the Sabbath. We’re those psychopath parents who let their kids cry themselves to sleep, but Boone made it his life’s work to test our resolve on that position EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Adults knows that babies need consistent rest. So, whether a child chooses it or not, good parents put him down for a nap at regular intervals, not to torture the child, but to do what is best for him. As my infant screamed his head off in protest of his forced rest, I sat at my table reading God’s command to “honor the sabbath” and wondered why God felt it necessary to COMMAND us to rest one day a week. That’s when it hit me. Like my son who dramatically resisted his naps, we resist the kind of rest we really need and, ultimately, desire. God commanded the Sabbath be kept, because left to our own devices, we don’t know how to choose what is best for ourselves, even when it’s the thing we desire most.

 It’s not human nature to sabbath. Even when I realize that my genuine longing is for this type of rest, I create ways to resist it. That’s where violence comes in. If I am ever to experience sabbath in any place at any time, it will require bringing my schedule, violently if necessary, under submission to the One who knows my deepest longings and has provided the means by which they are met. I may have to say “no” to good activities or good people to create the space for sabbath. For an extrovert like me, that feels violent, but I have to do things His way, because, after all, His way is THE way life works best.

Every feast in the Bible includes a form of sabbath. Think about that. At the moment of celebration and commemoration, God ordained a sabbath. A fueling rest. Not a nap. A SABBATH.

What does that mean? It means that we can’t really celebrate the way God intends unless we’re rested up for the party.

Actually, a better way to put it is that in God’s mind, resting is part of the party.

That’s my kind of celebration!

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. May it be sabbath.