From what I’ve heard, this week has been a hard one for almost everyone. Midterms are starting; the necessity of finding a J-term program is looming; the first rush of excitement for this semester’s classes is fast wearing off. To add insult to injury, the brilliantly blue sky of last week gave way to a soggy roof of clouds almost as soon as classes let out on Friday, and Saturday was the sort of day to make one want to hunker down under the covers and not come out until March.
Because of all this, when it came time for me to write today’s blog post, I was completely out of ideas. So I called one of my younger sisters to ask if she had had any stunning theological insights lately that I could use. She started by saying, “Well, I’m not really good at giving advice,” (which is manifestly false, as you will see), “but I think that you should look back at your emotions and find one way that God helped you through the—ah—‘hecticity’ of your life. Sharing that would help other people, and I think that it would help you.”
She was absolutely right, of course. I had forgotten, as I so often do, all the other times that I have been brought up from unrelieved worry to renewed strength. Isn’t it odd that, no matter how many times we have seen insurmountable difficulties surmounted, or changed into new opportunities, or at least put into perspective, our new difficulties never seem any easier to bear? Every new care threatens to blot out the memory of God’s past mercies, unless we are very careful to remember the great things that He has done for us—or at least have a sister who will remind us.
And what I remembered, at my sister’s instigation, was this: “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 5:12-14) The importance of keeping this commandment is one of the most important things that I have learned at Harvard. Just after Moses reports the Commandments to the rest of the Israelites, he says, “Walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.” (Deuteronomy 5:33) This is not an arbitrary blessing. Humans were not made in a way that allows us to live and prosper without holding fast to God’s commands, just as we were not made in a way that allows us to live and prosper without a healthy supply of oxygen. We just can’t do it. No matter how inviting the ocean floor looks, or a world in which we can work steadily from Friday night to Monday morning, we can’t live there.
Jesus said, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) Both parts of this are important. We were not made for the sake of the Sabbath; we cannot let keeping the Sabbath become a mechanical, terrible task which fills us with dread, or an excuse for not loving our neighbor. At the same time, the Sabbath was made for us. It was made because we need rest in our lives, and because we are so tempted to think that we can get by without. It was made because we need to trust in God, and the only way that we can trust him in big things is if we practice trusting him in little things. Giving a whole day up to rest sometimes seems like an absurdly extravagant waste of time, but we must trust that, as God has commanded it, it is time well spent. I urge you, as the stresses of the week grow too much for you, keep the Sabbath. Remember what God has done.