Southwest Airlines has a slogan: “Wanna get away?” It’s a powerful question. I think we all want to. Sometimes I wonder if anxiety is my favorite pastime, and I want to escape a lot. Many times it’s more like avoiding—okay, most times. Maybe this desire is heightened by my personality, but I know it’s not a healthy trait. Escape is not the answer. Sabbath is.
In a state of anxiety, I am so susceptible to believing lies. That’s the problem. Escape won’t help me combat the lies. Sabbath does.
My Wife Kicked Me Out of the House
Isaiah says this: “If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and honor it, desisting from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure and speaking your own word, then you will take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:13-14)
The point of that very long sentence? Sabbath is not for selfishness. It’s a chance to delight in the Lord, remembering who He is and who you are.
That’s what I needed. That’s what my wife kicked me out of the house to do.
Jesus offered as much to His disciples during a chaotic time. After the apostles had been sent out in pairs, they came back and gathered together with Him, telling Him of all that they had done and taught.
During this time, Jesus responds to them in Mark 6:31: “And He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.’ (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.)”
Yikes. Didn’t have time to eat? I’d say Southwest Airlines would be flashing its slogan at the disciples too.
In a way, that’s where I was. Enter, my beautiful and discerning wife. She herself has felt this and acted selflessly to get me away. Jesus was saying, “Come away,” and it was like she heard it for me.
So she rented a nice little one-room home and sent me away with only my bible, a journal, some paints, and my guitar. Coming out of a chaotic, anxiety-ridden time, it was important that my decisions be limited to only a few things.
But this was not an escape. It was a deliberate sabbath. It was a call to put some things away and come away. Taking only a few things was an acknowledgment that I am a limited being.
I was reminded that my soul seems to keep inwardly the same frenetic pace of our society, and I need to slow down. Almost by definition, to come away is to limit, and to limit is to slow down. Going away with only a few things forced my body to slow down, and it felt like the rest of me could finally catch up.
Eugene Peterson puts it this way in his book, The Jesus Way:
“We stop, whether by choice or through circumstance, so that we can be alert and attentive and receptive to what God is doing in and for us, in and for others, on the way. We wait for our souls to catch up with our bodies.”
But to compound the problem, our frenetic culture is also fragmented. Our fragmented culture has fragmented us, dislocating our souls and dismembering our families. Maybe that’s why we feel our world is “falling apart” sometimes. Yeats is right:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."The Second Coming
I feel that Mr. Yeats. I feel that. My world can be a widening gyre, moving fast and fragmenting everything as it spins about.
Scary and exhausting.
But Jesus calls us to come away to be with Him. He is real stability, a center that will always hold, and a skilled falconer of souls. I got to come away with the unifier of all things. It was purposeful. It was sabbath. And it was wonderful.
The disciples in Mark 6 were with Jesus in the midst of the chaos, but He still called them to come away. As they went, they were still with Him, but suddenly the number of people was limited. They went from being around many people coming and going and having no time to eat to being by themselves with Him.
The atmosphere had been chaotic. When someone says, “I need some air,” it’s not their lungs but their spirit that feels suffocated and needs space to breathe. I think it was like that for the disciples. Jesus could see that they needed some air, so He needed to get them away by themselves.
I know now that I needed that too, but like the disciples, I didn’t know it until I went away by myself. As Peterson said, God wanted to get me to a place where I could stop and be alert and attentive, and receptive to what He was doing in and for me and my family.
It was a way to focus on my primary relationship. As I was there at the cabin by myself, I spent time in Isaiah 40-66. The Israelites were experiencing a challenging and chaotic time, and Isaiah’s words brought hope. So I thought, yes, please.
I read Isaiah 43:1: “But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!”
This actually represents some of the most foundational principles of the Christian life. I’d heard it before. It’s so basic I don’t think I’d have been able to receive it until I had come away by myself.
To a Secluded Place
The thing is, just being alone with the Lord for a while was not enough. It wasn’t enough to just limit what I brought with me, either. When we went to New York City, we intentionally brought very little with us…to the city that never sleeps. There was so much to look at—every sense piqued. It was like decision fatigue for my eyes.
A secluded place limited what was before me in a different way. It helped me focus the eyes of my heart on the One I was with.
The airbnb was not unequipped and boring. It had a TV—I just never turned it on. It was decorated beautifully, and it was comfortable. In fact, it had everything I needed and more. And I was thankful for that provision, actually. I wasn’t distracted by that odd smell, that sink that didn’t quite work, or the quirky fan that made strange noises at night. It was nestled in the trees with comfortably spaced neighbors spread out over acres of prairie fields.
I was grateful for a quiet area with a quiet street where I could walk for 30 minutes in one direction and see very few people. To me, it was secluded. As I walked, my heart stayed focused. I knew I wasn’t hiding or avoiding. I wasn’t escaping. My intention in coming away by myself to a secluded place was to square up with Him. I was ready to combat the lies and renounce my anxiety. I was ready to rest in Him.
And Rest A While
As you may have experienced, it can take time to rest. I think that’s because stopping to take a sabbath rest feels like getting off one of those merry-go-rounds at the playground. I learned early on that I don’t do spinning. When I was a kid (yes, before they were banned), a couple of us would get on the gut slinger, and the biggest boys would throw their weight at it to see which of us would fall off first. Yeah. Did you know that as of 2016, merry-go-rounds had contributed to the over 200,000 kids sent to the emergency room yearly? I had no idea. Anyway, I could hang on pretty well, but I really hated the feeling I got when I tried to use my “land legs.” It felt like it took forever to recover.
You get the point. Stopping takes time. Getting to the point of actual rest physically can take even longer.
Finding a Sabbath Rhythm
It occurs to me that Jesus went away by himself regularly. God established the sabbath to be regular. We need a pattern of rest like a sabbath rhythm. Sometimes it gets interrupted, or it ends up shorter than you thought. It’s okay, though, if sabbath is regular.
Jesus said, “rest a while,” but it’s interesting that for these disciples, “a while” was literally only the boat ride. When they got to shore, the crowd found them again, having run ahead of them to meet them there. Darn.
Hmmm… Jesus called them to come away by themselves and rest for a while, but they only had a short boat ride. You know, that’s real. And the beautiful thing is, no one condemned them for having a short quiet time. Least of all, Jesus. The disciples had been obedient, and they knew the Lord of the Sabbath.
When you live in chaos, as most of us do, something happens inwardly. At least, I noticed something in me: life-sprinting makes me tired. I get emotionally and physically tired, and I’m spiritually vulnerable. I can’t sustain it. After a while, I start getting more and more anxious and trying harder and harder and pretending and faking and, and… it’s not pretty. I’m that runner who just tripped but is trying not to fall. As my arms flail about, I’m looking around, trying to act like I meant to do that, fearing what others are thinking, wondering if anyone can tell how awkward I look.
But do you see what’s happening? My eyes are turning inward. My flesh is taking over, and I’m Selfish Sammy all over again, concerned only for myself.
Here’s the point: my compassion was failing. In that state, I’m really not interested in what others are experiencing. It makes me wonder what the disciples felt when they got to shore and saw the crowd. What about Jesus, though?
Sabbath Time with Jesus is Good for the Soul
“When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34).
Wow. No hesitation. A large crowd was what they had desired to come away from, but Jesus’ heart of compassion never fails. If I was on the boat, I might be disappointed to see the crowd. Maybe a little angry. My compassion fails in my own strength.
But His compassion can be ours. The disciples needed a minute with Him to restore their compassion. If they struggled at first, they still saw His compassion and were able to choose compassion themselves. In a moment, the shaping power of Jesus transformed and restored their compassion. Do you know what they did? With Jesus, they fed 5,000 men and their families.
As I ate some yogurt and nuts, feeling the weight of some of my failures in life, I was looking at the one painting up in the cabin. It seemed like the whole color scheme of the cabin was influenced by this painting, as the cabinets, tablecloth, curtains, and pillows were all the same deep blue, with placemats, dinnerware, other curtains, and other pillows an earthy red. There were red orchids all around as well, and a red mat in front of the sink.
The picture I stared at was of a beautiful, multi-tiered waterfall with what looked like Japanese maples all around it. The editor seemed to have purposely monochromed everything as deep blue except for the majority of the leaves of the trees, which created a kind of frame surrounding the layers of the waterfall and the river, which turned out of sight in the background. As I looked at it, processing my perspective about failure with my yogurt, I realized that, in order for a waterfall to exist, something needed to fall away. Otherwise, the water wouldn’t fall.
At the same moment, I realized that my anxiety was more like a dam, blocking any real flow. Releasing the hardness of anxiety and lies is like breaking the dam and causing the rocks and ground to fall away from under the water. In the former, stagnation and decay begin. In the latter, life happens. Power. Beauty. A rush.
Can you imagine carrying a basket around, watching yourself feed 5,000 men?
Shaped by Our Surroundings
I think every person is like a unique river in this world, each shaped by its surroundings, its makeup (what’s underneath), and by the water itself. Each with a different number and size of tributaries, and each belonging to the same God who made each mountain and hill that carries the water to the place He wants.
Each person may have one or more points or times in their life at which they have allowed the hardness underneath to fall away, creating a brink for the water to fall over. It is interesting that this is suddenly powerful and beautiful - the place of surrender. It is also interesting to think that the most heart-pounding, awe-inspiring waterfalls have generally had the most fall away.
I think I’m realizing that to sabbath is to surrender. It’s a releasing of what you think holds you up and what you think holds you together. It’s a deliberate and regular time to consider how Jesus, the headwater of your life, is working to shape you and bring His healing water to those who need it.
He has a purpose. The river goes somewhere, and He disciplines it and trains it to flow.
Slowing down helped me understand that maybe discipline is God just shaping the river, and that failure is an opportunity to trust Him.
He probably knew He was bringing the disciples to feed 5,000 men. But they didn’t. All they knew was that He asked them to come away, and they ended up seeing the great compassion of their Lord.
Your Life is His
Friend, your life is His. Escape is not the answer. Sabbath is not for selfishness. It’s a chance to delight in our mysterious and wonderful Lord, knowing His compassion and goodness towards you. It’s a time to consider how you might submit to His shaping hand. You never know—you might find yourself engaged in one of His extraordinary works before you know what’s happening.
“Thus says the Lord who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you: do not fear…” (Isaiah 44:2a).