Fourth of July—our nation’s birthday—a day that we celebrate, and look forward to having time off. Imagine this situation. A husband comes home after a long day at work, eats dinner, and with a great sigh, says, “I don’t know about you, but I’m beat, I need a break” as he sits in front of the television and falls asleep. Rest is essential for our physical and mental renewal. Yet, so many of us find ourselves feeling fatigued, always tired and worn out. Fatigue is extreme tiredness brought about by not enough rest over a period of time whether from mental or physical exertion or illness. Can you relate to that? Even God understood that we needed a break. In fact, God, Himself, took a break after creating the world. We read in Genesis 2, “And on the seventh day God finished His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work that He had done in creation.” (Ge 2:2–3).
Are you making time for a time of rest? Businessman John Battelle writes, “As you grow older, you learn a few things. One of them is to actually take the time you’ve allotted for vacation.” What I’ve learned over time is that people often don’t beg you to take time off, you have to seek it out. Sometimes just a day or even an afternoon of diversion can make a difference in how refreshed we feel.
Here are some fascinating facts about vacations in America:
- 75% of employees with paid time off didn’t take all of their accrued vacation days.
- 59 % of working Americans plan to do something job-related while on vacation this summer.
- 90% of people say the happiest vacations are planned more than a month in advance.
- 1 in 10 travelers claim they can’t relax while on vacation.
- Only 45% of Americans take a summer vacation.
Even when we take a vacation we often fail to take time to rest. We don’t seem to know how to rest. The closest we get to rest is restlessness… Often we come back from a vacation more tired than when we left. However, vacations provide an opportunity to reconnect—maybe with your spouse, your children or grandchildren, maybe with siblings or parents or friends. These times of sabbath provide the chance to change things up and break with the routine. Maybe sleep is the real need, or exercise, maybe it’s a time to pursue other hobbies or interests. The staycation has become popular, especially on a tight budget, and it can be a great way to catch up with all the chores you just haven’t had time to do. Many will travel a long way, others not too far. Some will stay in fancy hotels with great service; others will pop up a tent or a trailer and rough it.
Vacations, no matter where we take them, are a great time to reflect on life and all the blessings that God has given us. When God rested on the Seventh day, I suspect it was a day of rejoicing in all He had created. God doesn’t need physical rest, like we do, but He knew we would, so He gave us an example to follow. By the way, I find that I am healthiest when I follow God’s advice! For many rest doesn’t come easily. So many of us were raised with a work ethic that tells us we need to achieve more, build more, do more. Yet, we need time to rest. Maybe your iPhone or computer can illustrate. My iPhone can last only a day, sometimes less than that especially if I am constantly using it. If I fail to recharge it a red, drained battery flashes at me, and eventually shuts off the phone. Then it is useless. It’s not good to me or anyone else. When I am needing to use my phone a lot, I carry an extra power cord to recharge it, sometimes several times, during the day. Our bodies really aren’t much different. There are experts who would tie what we eat to this fatigue, as well as lack of exercise. All of this advice is well meaning, and is meant to strengthen and sustain us with a healthier life. I know when I am well rested I am better equipped to do the things God has called me to do—and so are you!
As important as physical rest is, we also need that spiritual rest. Now, I don’t mean by that a break from the church! In fact, it’s just the opposite. We need to be fully engaged in God’s Word and Sacrament. Isn’t it interesting that Luther writes, in the Small Catechism, speaking of the third commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” What does this mean? Answer: We should fear and love God, and so we should not despise His Word and the preaching of the same, but deem it holy and gladly hear and learn it.” That’s why we take time weekly (in some cases weakly) to worship our Living Savior, Jesus Christ! It’s an opportunity to be refreshed. I once heard someone say that we are holy people, but like balloons, the toils of life prick little holes in us, and we leak. That’s why we need to be refilled with the Holy Spirit, so we can live as witnesses for Jesus in the world.
The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His.” When we gather for worship, we enter God’s rest. We call the place of worship a sanctuary, because it is a place of refuge from the struggles of our day to day life. We are privileged to come to the Altar with all our cares and sorrows, and Jesus gives us His own body and blood to assure us of His forgiveness and love, as He sends us out, refreshed and renewed by Him, into the world. This is why, even during vacation time, it’s important for us to make time for worship.
Jesus says to every one of us, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” (Mt 11:28–30). Jesus desires us to be refreshed, and we can rest in Him. He’s always waiting and longing for us to turn to Him, and He welcomes each of us, despite our burdens, our hurts, our fears, and our issues, and wants to renew us and make us stronger.
Let me suggest a few strategies for a Sabbath rest, or a spiritual vacation. First, make time daily to be in God’s Word. I’m not suggesting that you read 10 chapters a day. Just allow God’s Word to impact your heart and life. Let the Word of God dwell in you richly! Secondly, make time for prayer, and not just a wish-list kind of praying, but one that includes meditation, and actually listening for God’s direction. Thirdly, find a time for some quiet, apart from others, apart from the noise of the television or radio, disconnected from a phone, and just practice silence. Start with five minutes, and move to ten, then 15. Clearing your mind of the world’s troubles, really opening your mind for God’s Spirit to speak to, can actually be very restful.
Personally, I would also suggest planning regular times to do something other than what you normally do. For some that may be volunteering at your parish. For others, who work in the parish, it may be volunteering elsewhere, like a food bank or school or someplace where you can have an impact beyond what is normal. Maybe it would be joining a gym or a book club. Do something that gets you out into your community so that you can be a witness for Jesus in a new place. You may be amazed at how rejuvenating it can be, and it may even help you appreciate the place God has called you to serve.
A Sabbath rest is a gift from God. Just as the physical body needs a break, so spiritually, we need to enter into that place where God can renew us by His Word and Sacrament and strengthen us for all He has for us still to do. I hope you get some vacation time this summer, and that you come back to your “normal” life well rested and energized for engaging in the Master’s business, whatever that happens to be for you. Rest well, my friends! There’s still work to be done for Jesus!
Resting in Him,