The Sacred Art of Rest - Balance
This week’s sacred story comes from Ecclesiates 3, which speaks of the designation of time for different things, God’s role in and out of time, and the promise that there is time enough for enjoyment, delight, dancing,…and rest. Oh, and it inspired this song by The Byrds. You’re welcome for the earworm.
One of the most common barriers I hear (and, um, perpetuate)…that limits us…is this phrase... “I would love to, but I don’t have time.” Sometimes that’s our way of politely declining something we don’t really want to do anyway. Sometimes, it seems to keep us from things that are important, but that we don’t know how to fit into our rhythm of life. Time. There never seems to be enough of it. And sometimes our worry over not using our time well enough or rightly, consumes us and takes up more time and energy. Sometimes we are so convinced that no amount of time will change things, and so we stop paying attention to it at all.
I wonder if time has become an idol for us? Has it become the thing to which we direct our ultimate attention? Holding power over us? Asserting ultimate authority and demanding complete submission? Dictating our lives? And…as we often try to do with any God, we are then prone to try and figure out how to control it, manipulate it, game the system to make it serve us.
But time is not God. And time itself cannot be anthropomorphized into friend or foe. Time is neutral. Time is just something that is. Here, in the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, we are reminded that God created the world with a sufficient amount of time. We are reminded that there the fear of shortage, even when it comes to time, is a lie. We are reminded that there IS enough – that there IS enough time for God’s purposes and God’s saving and redeeming work. We are reminded that God is both beyond time and within it.
There IS enough time in the world, but that doesn’t mean that NOW is the time for everything. There’s enough time, just maybe not for all the things at once. In this text there is a division of time, a designated time for this and for that. All is possible, but perhaps just not all immediately. For me, that seems both frustrating but also…it seems to take some of the pressure off. There is a time to be busy, and also enough time for people “to be happy and enjoy themselves.” There is time enough to “eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil." To know that "whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it.” There is time enough for Sabbath rest.
We're spending these several weeks focusing on rest because it tends to sit on the more neglected end of our spectrum. But rest is not inherently better than work. Work is good too, but rest is an appropriate and necessary partner. Each of these phrases in Ecclesiastes has a partner. The rhythm of creation is balance. A pendulum swinging. Back and forth, work and rest, rest and work.
Perhaps in order to have a better understanding of divine rest, we need a better understanding of divine work. We each have a particular way of work that we are created for and called to. It is both ours and not ours. It is both tied to our personal giftedness and being, but not for our benefit alone. It is strengthened through careful cultivation and honing of skills, but still dependent on the Holy Spirit to take flight. Perhaps not all work is suited to all times and places, or doesn't reveal itself until the passing of time. Queen Esther was told by her uncle that perhaps she had become queen, and struggled through all she'd experienced and all she'd questioned, for such a time as this, for such a time as when her people stood on the edge of annihilation and needed a voice of power to advocate for them.
I think often when we feel dissonant or disconnected from our work, or the way we fill our time, and our sense of meaning...we feel some kind of personal failure or shortcoming. When it feels like we don't have enough time for all the things, it can be frustrating. Maybe the work before us doesn’t fit within our time because it’s not our work to do. Maybe it doesn’t seem to fit because we’ve occupied our available time with other things that aren’t our work to do. And God does not need you to feel guilty about letting others do their own work in its own time.
When we talk about work in this way, work isn’t just a job or a career. Look at all the kinds of work listed in this text - peacemaking, dancing/rejoicing, warrior work, the work of gathering together. None of that is tied to a particular title or paycheck, but could be made evident in them. We could also probably add this list - a time for seriousness and a time for playfulness, a time for community and a time for solitude, a time for cleaning and time for making a royal mess...of all the things. God gives us our work and our call to being, in due season.
And since God is a God on the move, ever-living, ever-creating, the work that God has given us to be and do may also move and shift and change over time. This doesn’t necessarily mean we were doing the wrong thing before, it may just mean that is may no longer be where we are called. Balance is hardly ever a static thing – it requires adjustments…and a fair amount of core strength that is built over time.
And it is periods of rest, of pause, that help us to make those shifts, both large and small. Rest helps us to navigate the time inbetween, whatever comes in the middle of the time to plant and the time to pluck up. Think about making a 90 degree turn when you're going 40mph, versus, from the position of a full stop. From a place of rest, our vision is clearer and we are better prepared to navigate whatever waits for us on this new road.
There is a time to work and a time to rest, a time to wrestle and a time to heal. In August of 1619, America falls into its original sin as the first slave ships arrived on these shores. Now, almost 400 years to the day, there is much healing to be done. Perhaps now is the time. (Read more about the 1619 project here or here, a reading list, or “10 Books About Race To Read Instead Of Asking A Person Of Color To Explain Things To You”)
Healing can mean hard work too and tough rehabilitation, and sometimes it means giving yourself a break from work. It's not the same as sticking our heads in the sand, but a time of stillness to let the fruit of the work take root and develop within you. Then back to work. Back and forth. Balance and rhythm. Perhaps the rest is the time in-between times, between war and peace, gathering and sending, mourning and dancing the full stop at which God can bring us to turn.
I invite you to wonder, to rest for a moment, to be still and to listen and dwell in the presence and promise of God. And to ask of God: What is this the time for? What time is it now? What is the work God has given you to do during this time?