As a church youth worker, I’ve often found myself not practicing what I preach.
Let’s take Psalm 139: 14 for instance:
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” (NRSV)
This passage is used at least once a year by youth workers. We hope the youth understand that God has created them and loves them and that we should praise God for the wonderful ways we have been created. I love using this passage when talking about body image and self-esteem…explaining how we were all made in the image of a loving God.
Then, the next week you might overhear me in my local beauty shop bemoaning my God given hair to my hairdresser.
“GAWD! This curly, frizzy hair is driving me CRAZY! I hate it this week!”
I’m certain that such comments about our bodies (especially those parts over which we have no control) do not please God. And you can bet that when my youth make such comments, I am quick to remind them of the words in Psalm 139.
Preaching: 1 Practicing: 0
It seems I’m also bad at practicing what I preach when it comes to Sabbath. In my church, I see youth and families who are over scheduled and over worked. I see faithful youth putting soccer or violin or tee-ball ahead of worship, service, and rest in their weekly schedule. I see faithful parents who are frantically trying to keep up with two (or more) sports schedules, their kid’s school assignments, church activities, community events, caring for ailing parents, making time for friends, hitting the gym, and much much more. Worthy and fun ways to spend your days? Sure! Spiritually healthy lifestyle? No way!
The social pressures that our parents face to “keep up” seem to be ever increasing. The parents who don’t participate in the 4 year old sports league are perceived as having a social disadvantage by the time elementary school hits. Youth are starting to think about college applications in the 6th grade! They are concerned about what activities they should start at age 11 to prepare them for high school when it “counts”. Just keeping up with school and extracurricular activities leaves little time for Sabbath (in that order). But in order to make time for Sabbath, we have to truly understand what Sabbath means.
Our commandment from God is: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.” (Exodus 20: 8-10, NRSV)
So, we are commanded, not asked, nor given the suggestion, but commanded by God to remember the Sabbath, keep it holy, and enable others to rest from their labors as well. In order to Sabbath, we should incorporate a ceasing from work and a turning toward the holy while also finding ways to serve others so that all may rest and worship. Rest. Worship. Social Justice.
I often encourage my youth to choose church over other activities (granted, sometimes, church becomes just another activity). But I hope to provide experiences for them that help them worship and provide a space for Holy Rest outside of their daily busyness. I hold them accountable when they don’t make Sabbath space for themselves. I frown upon planners so full that they don’t have time for ice cream much less bible study. I support them when saying no to something is hard and may have social consequences.
Ah, but when it comes to myself, I’ll be the first to admit that I do not devote a whole day to real Sabbath…ever. Working in a church, I’m often able to convince myself that I’ve Sabbathed on a Sunday. But really what I’ve done is work on a Sunday…being in a church building does not equal Sabbath. While there’s no place I’d rather be on a Sunday than with my congregation and with my youth, by the time I make it through youth group on Sunday night, I’m exhausted. Isn’t Sabbath supposed to renew you? Yeah, I’m doing it wrong.
And, yes, I do have another day off during the week. Friday and Saturday are my weekend. However, I have never been able to trade Friday or Saturday for my old, pre-youth worker Sunday Sabbath. I do get in some rest on my day off but never that Holy Rest that we are commanded to find. I just simply sleep in, veg out, and pretend that I’m fulfilling what God has told me to do. Yeah, definitely doing it wrong.
Preaching: 2 Practice: 0
In an effort to up my practice scores, I will be seeking Sabbath this year. I am lucky enough to be employed by a generous church that grants 3 month Sabbaticals to it’s program staff every 5 years. This is my Sabbatical year and I’m becoming more and more aware that I’ve been doing Sabbath wrong for the past 5 years. A 3 month Sabbatical is so welcome at this stage in my ministry. In just a few months I will have time away from the church to think, to read, to rest, and to worship. What a gift! In the time surrounding this Sabbatical leave though, I will begin seeking Sabbath in the everyday. I’ll share what I find with you.