The Sabbath Swimming Lesson
The Sabbath Swimming Lesson
When I was a swimming instructor, I spent a lot of time trying to get little kids to float. I would tell them to put their ears in the water and their belly buttons out of it, and I'd say, "When I count to two, you won't feel my hands underneath you, but they're there."
As soon as I'd say "two," most of the children would frantically jerk their knees towards their chins and flail their arms, dropping their full weight into my hands. Almost all people float when they assume a posture of rest, but people who think they'll sink don't keep that posture for long.
Faith is about a posture of rest, too. Many of us are terrified by the life of faith, needing always to feel the support of steady jobs, steady relationships, and back-up plans. God, knowing that, signed us up for swim lessons. The swim lessons are the Sabbaths.
Sabbath Is For Everyone
Imagine the Israelites' first experience with the Sabbath. They had just been called away from everything they knew to live in tents. And in the middle of nowhere, where life-and-death emergencies seemed to come frequently, God was training them to worship him. God worked a steady stream of miracles that must have made the Israelites' hair stand on end.
The people got hungry two months into the journey. So God began to send them manna. Every day of the week but one, the Israelites gathered bread from heaven.
But on the seventh day—the day of the week that God had set apart as the holiest—he did not send the daily miracle. Nor did he want the people to work. Instead, they were to eat what they had gathered the day before, and to rest. It was the Sabbath, the day God's people didn't wake up to manna.
Sabbath always points to God's all-sufficiency. To use one illustration, it demonstrates that we do not live by labor alone. To use another, it shows us that God is still there when manna isn't. We are to place our faith in God, a surer bet than the predictable patterns of sowing and reaping.
If Sabbaths are times when we push away from our labor to practice the posture of faith, then Sabbaths are for busy people. They're for parents. They're for graduate students. They're for everyone who fears that God might let them sink. They're for all of us who believe disaster will strike if we stop doing things. They're for me.
When The Bottom Drops Out
In the past, Sabbaths have been viewed as either onerous or something Christians don't need. But the Sabbath isn't an unnecessary burden any more than swim lessons are a waste of time for future swimmers.
After all, a Sabbath is an act of both worship and preparation. Preparation for what? For living in faith when the bottom drops out. Observing voluntary days of rest can lay the mental and emotional foundations for enduring involuntary seasons of joblessness. Those of us who have lost jobs during the economic downturn have observed those Sabbaths of unemployment.
Like at least 12.8 million people in the United States last summer, I was unemployed. And like 14 million people the summer before. And like 15 million in the summer of 2009. And like about 7 million in the summer of 2006. And like about 9 million in the summer of 2003.
Each new release of monthly labor statistics is just a snapshot of people who are actively looking for jobs. (As 2013 began, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that about 12 million people were jobless and applying for jobs.) But there are lots of people who have given up.