When God Says No

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Scanning the crowd in the restaurant for my girlfriend, I exhale attempting to release anxiety suffocating peace. The result of some disappointing news we received the day before that delays our move to London and creates a tangled web of uncertainty for all of us.

I see my friend digging into her purse lying on the café table, in an inconspicuous spot in the corner, beside a freshly painted wall. I’m thankful for that wall. I know I’ll need something to lean on when she asks the inevitable question, “How are you?”

I’m not very good at small talk. If “fine” doesn’t feel truthful, I can’t permit myself to say it. And on this day, fine will be a lie if I utter it.

Instead of using words, I shake my head, avoiding a spill of emotion corked with silence. But when her eyes search for more information my carefully constructed cheerful countenance crumbles and I quietly admit, “Not good.” Tears pool in the corners for both of us.

When God says no, the offense isn’t easily shaken. And I’ve recently experienced a few divine slaps in the face of perspective, a severe mercy of his kindness that is changing, well, how I see everything.

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While sun still blazes high in the South creating strings of wall shadows, it’s been raining inside my house for more than a week, the cloud cover unbearable. Suffering is the new language I’m learning. God is my teacher; empathetic friends, my tutors.

Writing about the ways in which we suffer proves to be awkward, not because of the fear of vulnerability but because a messy middle doesn’t make for good status updates or sharable blog posts. But I wouldn’t be authentic if I skipped through disappointment, tears and struggle only to communicate my happy endings.

It’s the same reason why I don’t enjoy small talk or tolerate pretension. I know a life lived on the surface isn’t meaningful or transformative.

I no longer casually ask “how are you” unless I’m prepared to extend a life raft of time and attention.

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Uncertainty in the big things I take for granted like income and job security provide a perfect storm that ultimately reveals my trust levels. When we took a leap of faith, leaving a job to follow a call to London, I assumed that meant God would respond on my timetable. Not so much.

The anxiety, fear and vulnerability as a result of uncertainty make me feel as though I’m walking around naked with not enough written in bold, black letters across my forehead. Suddenly, every cell in my body is reliving my childhood with an alcoholic parent. I’ll do almost anything for relief from the pain that fear is wielding.

But I’m not a child anymore and God is showing me something different.

The opposite of faith isn’t doubt; it’s the need for certainty. If I need certainty in order to risk – in my work, relationships, or dreams for the Kingdom — where does that leave faith?

Faith that hasn’t been tested isn’t really faith.

Eugene Peterson says it this way. “We need testing. God test us. The test results will show whether we are choosing the way of awe and worship and obedience (which is to say, God), or whether, without being aware of it, we are reducing God to our understanding of him so that we can use him.

Are we using God or are we letting God use us?”

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My friend Misha defines a severe mercy as “something that has to die for my deepest rescue and healing.”

When God says no it is an opportunity for rescue.

God allows the pain of a severe mercy not because he is angry, ambivalent or oblivious but because he is committed to our wholeness. He allows storms to slosh around on the inside as reminders that He is always present through the process of our salvation, even when the heavenlies seem silent. He is able and willing to make a way for us if we will trust Him. (I Corinthians 10:13)

After that tearful lunch, I went back home, crawled into bed and prayed until I fell asleep. I’ve learned that the prescription for calming inner turbulence is the kindness of Sabbath and a few empathetic shoulders to lean on.

We’re not meant to ride out storms by ourselves, I hope you know that. That’s why I’ll be sharing more about what I’m learning with you in the future.

How do you find peace in times of uncertainty?

Why We Need 24/6: Guest Post by Lori Harris

Today in week two of our Rest Revolution, it is my pleasure to welcome Lori Harris to the blog, a Sabbath Society peep whose whole being seeps joy and encouragement. As a mom to six of her own and a porch full of neighborhood children, she manages to still make Sabbath a priority. Her authentic nature and brave hospitality inspire me continually.

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I never gave Sabbath so much as a sideways glance until my body laid itself down on the kitchen floor and decided it was not going to go through with all the things my mind had planned.

I remember the cool of the floor against my flushed cheek and the quiet whirr of the refrigerator and the way my tears pooled on the linoleum. My chest ached and my head pounded and my heart was splintered into bits.  I didn’t want to die but I could not imagine living another day like I’d lived the last twelve years.

Twelve years of babies and seven moves and years of seminary had left me body worn and weary. Twelve years of doing good and right and noble things had left me puffed up and proud.  Twelve years spent thinking that I had to do good to earn God’s pleasure had left me angry and bitter and jaded.

Twelve years of striving had left me chasing the lie that what I do matters more than who I am.

I don’t remember how long I spent sprawled out on the kitchen floor but I do remember that in the stillness of the moment, I felt Jesus come near to me.

And when He came near, I surrendered every piece of me.

Jesus, the Come to Me and I will give you rest Jesus, came to me, and the nearness to Him was the very thing my soul was craving.

It has been more than a year since I fell prostrate on the floor of my kitchen and got still enough to feel my chest heave under the weight of the life I had made for myself.  This sudden stop to the life I once knew was painfully eye-opening and gloriously transformative.

When Jesus came near to me, I immediately slipped away into a thirty-one day journey to simply be. I set a few of my spinning plates back in the cupboard and let a handful of good things go. I got quiet and ceased writing. I sat on the porch and stared off into nothingness. I snuggled my kids and braided long locks of curls. I cleaned my calendar and my house and my mind.

And I came near to Jesus.

I let Jesus whisper quiet words of healing into the gaping holes in my heart. I began to be compassionate with myself and let go of years of shame. I asked myself questions that invited deep excavations of my soul.  And these dry and thirsty bones came to life.

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As I consider Sabbath, I am more in tune with my own humanity and my aching need for a sacred rhythm of life.  I eat when I’m hungry. I write when I feel a gust of creativity. I wrap my arms around the Man when I’m in need of physical touch. I take long walks because I need to breathe in deep and long and wide. I have coffee with friends because I am made for community and my life is rich when I spend it with others. I feed my neighbors because hungry faces remind me that that face could be my own. And I rest because this frail, dying body calls out for relief.

But Sabbath is more than simply rest.

It is the prelude to a week of good and right and noble doing.

It is the catalyst by which we are propelled into this world to be the hands and feet of the Gospel.

It is the weekly call to come and remember who we are and to whom we belong.

It is an invitation to crawl up in the arms of Jesus and be loved, lavishly.

When I look at my own journey to Sabbath, I see a distinct movement from doing to simply being. Jesus met me in my most desolate place and held me, inviting me to come and rest. 

And I wonder, how has Jesus whispered to your soul and called you to come and rest? How has He shown you your great need for Sabbath?

Leave your answer to Lori’s question in the comments and then join us for more discussion at Redemptions Beauty Book Club, where we are delving into 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life by Matthew Sleeth every Wednesday in September. This week, Sabbath Society peep, Becky Keife  is helping me lead our conversation.

Profile Pic For EverythingLori Harris is a Southern born, Texas-missing girl, who is rearing her six kids in a neighborhood some would call the ‘hood. She and her bi-vocational husband have planted Fellowship Bible Church Rocky Mount on the wrong side of the railroad tracks where poverty runs deep and racism even deeper. She coordinates a city-wide MOPS group, passes out PBJs to the neighborhood kids, and brews coffee just to make the house smell like Jesus. She writes at loriharris.me.

 

Preventing Burnout in a 24/7 World: Guest Post by Dr. Matthew Sleeth {Giveaway}

I read 24/6 by Dr. Sleeth on coast-to-coast flights in the spring and then quoted from it in one of my weekly emails to the Sabbath Society. What I didn’t know is that the program manager for his non-profit, Blessed Earth, happens to be one of the 300+ recipients reading those letters of encouragement.  A whole chapter of serendipity goes along with this introduction but without further ado, I’m beyond giddy about hosting Dr. Sleeth’s wise words. Read them and find a surprise at the end waiting for you.

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When I was working as an ER physician, people often called me a workaholic.  I’m not surprised.  For far too many years, I worked 24-hour shifts in the hospital. During my teens, I knew what it felt like not to have enough to eat. And so when I became a husband and father, I never wanted my family to, well, want for anything.

It was not until I became a Christian in my forties that I discovered God’s answer to our always-on, 24/7 culture of work, work, work.  His answer first appears in the opening pages of Genesis.  God’s rhythm since the beginning of time has been 24/6—six days on, and one day off.  And when I began adopting that rhythm, my entire life changed for the better—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Stop Day

What does the word “Sabbath” mean? It simply means “stop.”  That’s all.  The Hebrew people didn’t have names for the days of the week.  There was one-day, two-day, three-day, four-day, five-day, six-day, stop-day.

The fourth commandment says that we don’t work on stop day. We don’t make our sons work; we don’t make our daughters work; we don’t make anybody in our household work. We don’t make strangers work; we don’t make illegal aliens work; we don’t make minimum wage employees work. We don’t make anything work, including the cattle and the chicken and the sheep.  We stop.  We cool our jets.  We just idle our engines on that day.

When my wife Nancy started teaching, she had a student named Clinton.  Clinton’s essay on the first day of class was three pages long. It didn’t have a comma; it didn’t have a period; it didn’t have a paragraph in it.  It was a three-page, run-on sentence.

I don’t think God intended our lives to be like that paper—just one long, run-on sentence. The work of our life is meant to be punctuated by rest.  Musicians talk about this.  They say that it’s not the notes that make the song, but the pauses in between the notes. This rhythm is equally true for our lives.

Sabbath Rest

I have a memory from when my kids were younger that defines Sabbath rest for me. We lived in a house that had a big attic with a window on either side.  The only thing in the attic was a hammock and a pull rope.  The kids and I went in there one evening when it was too cold outside, but it was perfectly warm inside.  My son Clark was on one shoulder, pulling on the rope, and my daughter Emma was on the other shoulder.  I read a book to them and, at the end I put the book on the floor.  In that quiet, while the swaying of our hammock slowed down, they both fell asleep.

I think that heaven is going to be a whole lot more like that moment than the typical Monday at work.  Best of all, when practiced regularly, Sabbath is a piece of heaven that can be taken with us into the other six days of the week.

Sabbath Realities

If you can’t imagine twenty-four hours of rest, start with four or six hours of holy rest, but just start.  Stopping is about restraint. It’s not about doing everything that we can.  It’s about finding the peace of God that passes all understanding.

The Sabbath is not meant to be saved by humanity; rather, humanity is meant to be saved by the Sabbath.  I know from first-hand experience.  After practicing the Sabbath for almost a decade, I have seen how it has flowed into the other six days of my week.  I still work hard, but I always know that Sabbath is just around the corner—an oasis of complete and holy rest.

Sabbath rest has saved countless numbers of patients from the physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences of unremitting stress. If practiced regularly, the Sabbath can save you, too.

I pray that you remember to open up this gift of stopping one day a week. I pray that you find peace in this weekly sanctuary of time. I pray that you will be still and that, through rest, you will come to know God.  And it will be good.

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Does your life feel like one run-on sentence? If so, how can you begin to punctuate your week with rest? Answer one of these two questions or share something new you read here that inspires new thinking about Sabbath. Dr. Sleeth is giving away a copy of his book and DVD (great for groups), 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life to one person who leaves a comment.

Join us every Wednesday in September for more discussion about a rhythm of rest from 24/6 at Redemptions Beauty Book Club.

Nancy and MatthewMatthew Sleeth, MD, a former ER physician, is the executive director of Blessed Earth and author of 24/6 (book and DVD).  He lives in Lexington, KY, with his wife Nancy and two children.  For more Sabbath resources, visit Sabbathliving.org.