And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day
The heavens and the earth were finished, the whole host of them
And on the seventh day G_d completed his work that he had done
and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done
And G_d blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it
because in it he had rested from all his work that G_d had created to do.
--From the Jewish Kiddush prayer for the eve of Shabbat
It started with my Facebook status yesterday:
(I) had one of those "2x4 to the head" realizations today. I realized I use Tuesday (my scheduled "day off") to do errands, and Sunday I am often doing "church stuff." On Saturdays, whenever possible, I don't like to do a frickin' thing. Oh, I'll go eat a meal and take a walk with someone, or help a friend, but the best Saturdays are like today--be with myself, read, do essentially nothing. Heh. I think they call that "Sabbath."
When I was a kid, I had totally no concept of why the adults in my world didn't want to "do stuff" on the weekend. I thought that business of lounging on porches and people coming over to the house and sitting and talking about nothing was really stupid.
Now, truthfully, this used to be more of a Sunday thing than a Saturday one. In Missouri, we had something called the Blue Laws that saw to it, when I was growing up. I always wondered why they were called the Blue Laws. I was told growing up it was because they were originally printed in New England on blue paper or in blue-backed bound books, but I've since learned that's not the case. They were called the Blue Laws because they simply made people feel blue, having laws on Sunday to restrict other activities so that people would be encouraged to attend church.
When I was growing up, it wasn't until I was a pre-teen that one could buy groceries or liquor on Sunday at all. Then it opened up to where one could only buy groceries, but no liquor or non-food items. (There is a hilarious story in my family where my mom bullied a teenage grocery store clerk on a Sunday over a box of um..."female products." Short version: She walked out of the store with them, saying, "I promise I will come back tomorrow and pay for them. If you want to call the cops on me, be my guest, son.") Nowadays, there are still vestiges of the old Blue Laws in Missouri. One can't buy liquor in Missouri until 9 a.m. on Sunday, and it's still illegal to buy, sell, or trade a car on Sunday.
But even this experience makes me part of a shrinking set of generations--the generations where we at least experienced doing little or nothing on an appointed day.
I look back and realize I was bored to tears as a kid, but now am actually glad I was bored as a kid, because now that I am middle aged, I realize at the top of my "to do" list in life is, make more time to do apparently nothing.
These days, more than ever before, "doing nothing" has become more anathema than ever. For starters, so many people are economically depressed to the point that they are working weekends to make ends meet. For working people, weekends seem to be the only days that things like errands and housework even have a chance of getting done.
But look at what we've been doing to ourselves in America since the old Blue Laws were lifted. Our consumption of goods has skyrocketed--there's the very real possibility that we are working to pay for stuff we think we "need," but...do we? We live in houses (and try to take care of them ourselves with no domestic help) that are of a size that 100 years ago, would have almost certainly required a maid, a cook, and a gardener. Our standard of "cleanliness" in our personal hygiene has moved from a world where there was the "Saturday night bath" and numerous days of washing with a rag in front of the sink, to at least one shower a day, so that the average American uses far more water per household than most places in the developed world. Our children are in more and more structured activities that demand more and more of our weekends. Although I found a wide variety of numbers on this topic, best I can tell, the average American monthly home mortgage payment runs between $1050 and $1300.
The easy availability of credit cards in this country have created a situation that few families can come out from under the looming shadow of debt. The average American has 2.7 credit cards and 80% of Americans have a debit card. Only about 30% of credit card holders pay their balance off every month. Here's the scariest stat of all: Americans with credit cards have an average credit card debt of $15,799.
Now, remember, that's at somethingteen to 20something percent interest.
In short, we don't give ourselves any room to back up and slow down.
In many of our churches, this is stewardship month. The problem is, talking about stewardship is hard. Our tendency is to look at everyone else, take their financial inventory, but not our own. I am betting right now, if I say how my sacrificial giving and my lifelong quest to have more time instead of money have created greater peace within myself, your first thought will be, "Well, yeah, you can afford it. You have no kids. You have a better paying job. You have, you have, you have, and I don't have that. I have this and this and this to pay for."
The truth is none of us know a blessed thing about what anyone else has to pay for in their life, and we are so self-absorbed about our own we can't hear it. If we react from the mindset of scarcity, that is all we see. Everyone else has abundance, and we have scarcity.
I can only say one thing--changing one's attitude from the mindset of scarcity to the mindset of abundance changes lives. It changed mine.
I jokingly refer to Saturday in my life as "sacred space Saturday." Now, I don't get that every Saturday, I admit. But I get a lot of them, and the most I end up doing on most of them is the Liturgy of the Laundry. When I look back on my life, every move I've made from age 39 onward is to create more time for myself. When I moved to Kirksville from Columbia, it was for slightly less money and more time. I have made other choices that were "time over money." Each time, it seemed very scary and counter-culture, but as it played out, it has created more happiness and contentment in me. Striving for more Sabbath time in my life opened up room for me to begin sacrificial giving of my money as a way of life. It opened up room for forgiveness of others. It changed what I viewed as a "necessity of life." It helped me understand better what giving to help "extreme poverty" really was.
It sounds corny, but it's true. It's brought me closer to God. I can't explain it any other way.
This notion, at first, sounds radical, dangerous, and foolhardy. It feels like we are not "living up to what's expected of us." It seems lazy and non-productive to say things like, "I am going to do nothing but read this book, or write in my blog." It requires breaking our codependent bonds to a society that drains us dry and kills our soul as thoroughly as an abusive parent or spouse. Frankly, I think the American way of life is the equivalent of an abusive parent or spouse. It creates impossible expectations that constantly change. The problem is, I don't think most of us are even brave enough to break those bonds until middle age, when we see life truly is a finite proposition, and that each of us has squandered that a bit. Sometimes I fear our present economy will do that for us, but then I wonder if that's not as bad a thing as it looks, in the long run, if we looked at it as an invitation to slow down and consume less.
All I can say is that giving yourself an opportunity to work towards Real Sabbath in your life is worth it. I can't tell you how to do it. That's your path in life, and I can't even begin to propose a road map. All I can say is that the more I do it, the happier I am.