Welcome to the second week of Embracing God’s Rest, a five-week study of sabbath rest. If you missed last week’s introduction and first episode in our podcast feature, click here. Today Brianna Hines continues our look at rest and how we struggle to accept the risk — and the blessing — associated with resting for a set time each week.
America is a work-drunk country. As much as we all know we need rest we sure do avoid actually making time for it. Taking vacation days is just not a priority in the United States. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “The United States is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers any paid vacation time. As a result, 1 in 4 private-sector workers in the U.S. do not receive any paid vacation or paid holidays.”
My cousin Charlotte worked in England for a couple years, and her starting position included 21 days of paid “holiday” a year. This was on top of the eight national “bank” holidays! She said that by the time she left the job, she was up to 25 days of paid holiday, and it would have gone up from there. That is five weeks of paid vacation! Those numbers are not above average. The minimum number of paid vacation days required by law in the United Kingdom and much of Europe is 20. Taking time off work is commonplace and encouraged. Every time my cousin turned around, her coworkers were away on holiday!
Here many Americans brag that they work 365 days a year. Too much must be done, too much is at stake, too much must be achieved to take a day off, let alone once a week! The American culture is one of overwork and underrest. Charlotte is actually still working for the same company but recently transferred to the Canadian branch. Even though her position is essentially the same, now that she is in Canada her paid vacation days are down to 10 per year. From 25 to 10, just for doing the same job, for the same company, in a country that doesn’t value rest.
The work-life balance in England stands in stark contrast with that of North America. Charlotte told me that she can feel the difference. She is much more tired now, and even after recently taking a week of vacation, she said it didn’t help much. Before, when she answered a phone call after work hours, her boss would say, “Why are you answering? You are off work. I can just leave a message!” And when it had been a while since she took a day off, he would remind her to use up her vacation days. Now, working in North America, there is more pressure to work longer days, be available for after-hours phone calls, and to promptly reply to emails around the clock. The national attitudes about the work-life balance are drastically different. It seems that in America work has the upper hand.
Why is that? Why has rest become a four-letter word in the country that was founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? I think it may have something to do with control. We, as a culture, have a hard time letting go. Sabbath, in contrast, is all about giving up control, and giving up control is all about trusting God.
It is an act of faith to say “no” to that extra shift your manager asked you to take, trusting that God will keep you from getting fired or replaced with a “harder-working” employee. It is an act of faith to say “no” to events and gatherings on the Sabbath, risking the humiliation or rejection of others. It is an act of faith to give up an entire day of revenue, or response to clients, trusting that our businesses will thrive without it. It is an act of faith to set aside a day free of homework, or yard work, or housework, trusting that God will provide the time and energy to take care of those things throughout the week. It feels selfish, lazy, and irresponsible to rest from our work. We feel guilty. We feel foolish. Things might not get done! Sabbath feels like a risk.
The Israelites had the same dilemmas. In Leviticus, God spelled out His sabbath laws to the nation of Israel. They included not only a weekly sabbath, but also seven different festivals throughout the year that also required ceasing work. Some of these included the release of slaves and servants, cancelation of debts, repossession of family property, and even an entire year when farmland was left fallow! These sabbath practices were pretty awesome for the slaves and borrowers but would have been a huge test of faith for the masters, lenders, property owners, and farmers who had to take the financial hit. It would have been easy for them to justify skirting these laws for the sake of their livelihoods, but God wanted them to obey His command to rest, even if it cost them something, especially if it cost them something. He wanted His people to risk trusting Him.
Trusting God runs deep through the sabbath laws — and not only trusting God with the bare minimum but with lavish generosity. He not only asked them to free their slaves every seven years but to supply them liberally with sheep, grain, and wine for their new life of freedom (Deuteronomy 15:12-18). He not only asked His people to forgive debts but to lend freely to the needy, even with the year for cancelling debts drawing near (Deuteronomy 15:10-11). It would have been a huge risk to obey God’s laws.
However, nestled in among all of these commands to rest and give rest to others are promises of blessing. Just like in the Ten Commandments, the sabbath commands from God also include blessings for trusting Him. If His people (Israel back then and us today) are willing to open our hands and risk letting go of all the things we try to control, be that time, money, reputation, or whatever, God is waiting to place a blessing in those hands instead. God longs to bless us if we trust Him in our practice of sabbath, and trusting Him will always cost us something.
In America today, trusting God to take a sabbath is just as much of a risk as it was for Israel back then. God never said it would be all roses and rainbows. He did, however, know that we would need it and that practicing sabbath in a control-hungry, work-drunk culture would be the greatest blessing to our souls. I wonder, what would it look like for you to practice sabbath? What is God calling you to risk to rest with Him one day out of seven? What would fall from your clenched fists if you dared to open them in reaching for the blessing of sabbath today?