What if Sabbath is a Canvas?

Acknowledging rest is not a recipe with five easy steps, but a reorientation toward what makes me hungry in the first place. We must rest in order for him to rise within us.
Shelly Miller

It seems we are all tired, but we have forgotten how to rest, really lay down our burdens. To think of a whole day of rest makes us only think of escaping to a chaise lounge on a sandy shore under a cloudless sky with no responsibility.

But is that really all there is to it?

Quick. When you hear Sabbath, what is your gut reaction?

Do you get sweaty or confused or just plain uncomfortable? Do you think of rigid rules to keep or specific work to avoid or counting miles of travel? Do you think of church or naps or brunch?

It suddenly occurred to me recently to think of Sabbath as a canvas. You might remember that "canvas" is my one word for this year. A canvas is a whitespace full of possibilities for beauty, color and texture, a place to explore, be creative and allow textured layers to emerge. Sabbath as a canvas might be a place for me to rest and give God room to play out his love and provision for me in ways more free than during my week.

I realized recently that in thinking of Sabbath as a canvas, I can explore what I might add, rather than only what can be taken away. First I have to clear away my business-as-usual day of the week. Whatever our week is full of: meetings, driving, email, cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, deal-making, money-making, or organizing, then the day we rest would be a pause in that kind of work. That will likely look different for us all and that makes it creative and free rather than rigid and rule-bound. Even the very day of the week we take our rest might be different depending on our type of work or season of life. For me it even looks different within a given week.

My first real experience with Sabbath came from a Jewish friend back in college. When I was at the University of Texas at Austin, I was in a Engineering Calculus study group with a boy who was an observant Orthodox Jew. I'm sad I cannot remember his name because I do remember he was funny, warm and sweet. He had a steady girlfriend, also an observant Jew, a non-negotiable for him. We had hearty talks on the broad stone steps of the Main Library about good dating practices, not only who to date, but how dating could be done to glorify God. He taught me so much about being genuinely faithful down in your heart and the possibilities of Sabbath.

Because we were in a study group together, we were often comparing calendars among the four or five of us for getting together. He wasn't selfish about it, but our meeting times and places wound up being oriented around his observance of the Sabbath because he had them. Sadly, as a practicing Christian, I didn't have any observances beyond attending church. I studied, did my laundry and prepped for Monday all on Sunday.

Somehow I visited him at his apartment on at least one Saturday. It was there I learned that he did all of his cooking on Friday before sundown. Whatever light or TV that was on or off, stayed that way until Sunday morning as he did not turn buttons or flip switches. I think he did not travel certain distances on that day which is how I would up at his apartment. I don't remember studying there. Maybe I was just picking up an assignment.

I was intrigued. I had never seen any nineteen-year-old college kid keep such practices in the modern world of a secular university. Certainly it made me ask some new questions about my own Christian faith and practices.

Eventually, I worked out some of my own simple ways to keep the Sabbath. I did rearrange some activities off of my Sunday to set it apart such as laundry and large amounts of studying. I had no problem traveling many miles on a Sunday if I went home to see my family or Mike's. And at some point in dating Mike, (I finally got the who-to-date piece) we decided together to add a few growing things to make our Sundays richer: an evening Communion Service at the local Episcopal Church, the one with real baked bread and wine and a strumming guitar, and Young Life leaders group, a whole new community for us.

I tried not to be rigid or legalistic, but get to the heart of Sabbath. It was an honest attempt to reframe my relationship with Christ ahead of my life as a student. Even though it felt as though I was getting behind and making Monday even more daunting, it turns out, trusting God made me more refreshed on Monday to tackle my studies. Plus I felt more wholehearted from my center.

I went on to keep some of those same practices as a wife and mama. I still avoid laundry and grocery shopping on Sundays, though I don't let clothes sour or a sick child go without crackers and Sprite just to keep the rule. I have always thought Jesus modeled that doing good and taking care of the sick can fulfill the heart of Sabbath without violating its intent.

But I am discovering that rest isn't only about not doing or even mostly not doing. God's rest is about finding joy, trust and contentment in relationship, both with our families and with the One who paints the sky in clouds.

Lately, rather than just staying away from what I want to avoid (email, laundry, meetings, calendars, income earning, cleaning house, cooking), I have been thinking more about what I can add to bring joy, beauty and rest to my Sabbath rest. I am leaning into celebrating who God is, what he has made with his own hands and who he has given me in my life, and soaking it up all.

Two words are guiding me in finding rest on Sundays after church, presence and creativity, because they seem to continue my worship.

I have decided that being present with my people is a great way to find joy, continue worshiping God and keep the Sabbath. After being with our church community, we might go to lunch, take a hike, call home or join friends for dinner. Recently, Mike and I cooked a simple soup for dinner with our youngest daughter. It was a recipe she chose (African Peanut Stew). We offered her our presence and listening ears while we chopped and simmered and ladled soup into bowls sitting by the fire.

Recently, I took an art class with my youngest daughter on a Sunday. If I only think of Sabbath as avoidance, I might never have done it on a Sunday, but because I was thinking of Sabbath rest as a canvas for joy, beauty and presence, it seemed to fit right in.

We took a painting class where we mixed colors and looked at their order around the color wheel, something that will make you pause and wonder about God's creativity. All of the colors are in relationship to one another either in gradation as on the rainbow or in being complimentary or mixable to create a new color. We exercised our own role as makers in the image of our Father.

We met a room full of new people expanding our appreciate for all of God's designs. And we spent a day together exploring and encouraging each other as artists. Later we found the best little bakery and coffee shop nearby, sharing a ginger-apricot scone.

We even ran into her big brother and his wife out on an afternoon date, a chance meeting we might have missed had we stuck to only Sabbath rules of what not to do. The sun popped out while we walked to the bakery and slanted through the window where Sean and Monica sat holding hands. That was a fun surprise, a happy accident. I have always thought of serendipity as a wink from God. He sees us all in my stitches of life and weaves us together by his hand, as only a seeing God could do.

Since I was looking at adding textures, layers and the wild dimensions of God's beauty to my Sabbath, I could appreciate all the ways this extraordinary day, filled my heart with gratefulness, beauty, joy and wonder at God's possibilities even while doing ordinary things.

This all seemed to me to be the neshamah yeteirah. In Rhythms of Rest, (a book I recommended last month), author Shelly Miller writes that the neshamah yeteirah is,

a Hebrew word meaning an extra soul that comes to dwell with us on Sabbath, an out-to-the-ordinary intimacy in relationship

I have felt that extra soul more since adding creativity and my fully present self to my Sabbath.

Here are all of the students' work from our art class. When I see this, I remember all the different hearts and hands our Maker has made and know I am one of them.

If you're interested, here's how I got my one word.

Read how I am remembering my one word. If you want help remembering your one word, there is one more week to order a banner with your word on it from my friend Jill over at her Etsy shop, Joy in the Small Things.

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