On Keeping Sabbath

It hasn’t been three days since I’ve cleaned up my house or the tidbits strewn about. Yet there are three pairs of 4T underwear without a body in them littering my hallway, my living room and my kitchen. Underwear in the kitchen.

It might be from living my first year of college with a Jewish roommate. Or from watching Fiddler on the Roof and crying as Golde sings “Sunrise, Sunset” over the Shabbat candles. Or from visiting my aunt and uncle regularly on the Upper East Side of Manhattan while they showed me their neighbors’ lights on automatic switches so the Sabbath wasn’t broken. Wherever it comes from, I have a driving need each Saturday evening to get my house, and my life, together so I can rest on the Lord’s Day. I strive to end the day with a clean kitchen and laundry put away and at least no mysterious underwear acting as landmarks in each room. The need to be prepared for a day of rest is a blessing because I wake up on Sundays without the dishes blaring, “Attend to me!” or the toys acting as potential landmines. (If you’ve ever stepped on a Lego, you know the metaphor is not too far off.)

I like to rest from everything that takes up my time during the week—cooking and cleaning and doing and texting. What used to feel like a burden when I went to a Christian college and signed an “honor form” that I wouldn’t do any homework on Sunday has blossomed into the wide open space of rest. The boundary lines are indeed pleasant.

But last night I was utterly exhausted. The day had been mostly terrible. My husband and I had fought, an occurrence that we mainly don’t do 362 days a year. My kids had dumped out at least one thousand small objects from their appropriate bins while my husband and I talked it out. The pots and pans from lunch stood on the counter with dinner nowhere in sight. And those three pairs of underwear were laying claim to their territory. My house was not even close to the point of readiness when I collapsed next to my toddler’s sleeping head, breathing in deep the fragrance of his rest. I thought since I hadn’t showered after the pool or even brushed my teeth, I could just stay next to him for a moment before finishing the dishes and cleaning up the toys and maybe even making a trip to Kroger before half-off sale on cheese was over.

At midnight, my husband nudged me. Oh yes, we had promised ourselves an in-house date of eating salad and talking together after my other Sabbath preparations. “You missed our date.” He kissed me and I rolled over, unbrushed teeth and unwashed hair and snored on.

This morning I awoke before everyone and faced a messy house. A very unrestful house. A house whose mess taunted me with each step into a new room with a new mess to conquer. But a still, small voice offered this to me at 5:45 am: “You don’t practice rest because you got it all done; you practice rest because you never will.”

The cranky voice in my head hushed and I worshipped. Not at the altar of me, because I had checked off each thing-to-do on my list and had prepared well for the day of rest but at the altar of the God who never slumbers or sleeps. I stood in awe of the One big enough to tolerate the mess of the seven billion people currently alive when I pull out my hair over three pairs of Thomas the Train underwear. I rested in the presence of the God who does more than tolerate the mess—who takes the brokenness offered to him by us seven billion and lays a mosaic that speaks of the artist’s brilliance.

My own smallness was evident to me, not in a way that induced shame or self-loathing but in a way that evoked awe. Awe is often reserved for the vast and yet my own limitedness was a place of worship, a place of the sacramental. A sacrament, as defined by the Dean of the Chapel at my husband’s graduate school, is “a created thing through which God comes in mercy to help us.” So yes, my finitude became sacramental. These created limits, the need for sleep, the goodness of one day of rest, my very frailness is that through which God comes to help me. To help me know a God uncreated, without edges, without weaknesses. To help me know my own character. To help me experience the joy of all that it is to rest while someone else runs the universe. It never has been my job and never will be but by the end of six days of good and hard work, I can think too highly of my abilities. After bad weeks, I can degrade myself for all that I did poorly. Either way, it’s me worshipping or pouting at the altar of me.

Instead this day of Sabbath rest invited me to drink deep at the well of God’s infinitude and eternality. That he not only can handle seven billion people and an entire universe but that he has the attention and willingness to capture each tear that falls. Each tear. The invitation to worship recalled the other, more common definition of a sacrament: an outward sign of an inward grace. The grace today is that I rest. I rest in God. I cease acting like I can get my life together—or even get my physical house together—without grace. Without God. I live the reality that I am not and He is. I am not without end. I am not without need. I am not. But He is.

So this day, a hot June Sunday in Kentucky, I make a choice to not run the washing machine or scrub the pots and pans. I remove the underwear only because I know neither where it’s going or where it’s been. I pause and the pause, as in music, offers my week ahead the melody it needs to be beautiful, to sing of the One who gives it to me.


6 thoughts on “On Keeping Sabbath

  1. Elizabeth,

    What a blessing your most recent writing was to me!! Yes, I am an organize freek. . . And remember many Saturday nights doing the same thing. . . In fact MOST nights. How hard it is to rest simply in HIM, and not in my expectations of myself. WELL DONE! I am sending this one to my daughters-in-law. This is a must read for all young Moms.

    Love, Bonnie

    From: Taking Shape Slowly Reply-To: Taking Shape Slowly Date: Sunday, July 7, 2013 4:05 PM To: Bonnie Thomas Subject: [New post] On Keeping Sabbath


    • Thanks, Bonnie. Your kind words lifted up my soul–your encouragement means so much. I hope your daughters-in-law enjoy and know what a blessing they have in you! Love, Elizabeth

  2. “You don’t practice rest because you got it all done; you practice rest because you never will.”

    Hearing this from Him, and then writing it down for me to read, is one of the best ways I have ever heard the Sabbath described. Thanks for sharing about your own wild day/night and how it impacted your heart as you sought the Sabbath-rest of God. It is something I am challenged with weekly as our family tries to take a break as well!

    Alina (from FMF, where you stopped at my blog and now I am so glad I stopped at yours!)

  3. Thanks, Elizabeth! “You don’t practice rest because you got it all done; you practice rest because you never will.” Indeed. “These created limits, the need for sleep, the goodness of one day of rest, my very frailness is that through which God comes to help me.” This post moved me to tears.

  4. Pingback: Write: Five Minute Friday | Taking Shape Slowly

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