Letting Our Souls Catch Up
I’ve just finished Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald, a long-time pastor and author. I’m a fairly organized person (my wife says obsessive-compulsive), but I still found the book helpful. If you’re feeling stressed and burned out in your public life I recommend this book. His thesis is that you can’t find order in your life lived in the world until you establish order in the life lived within yourself. I agree.
He recounts a story told by Mrs. Charles Cowman. She tells of a nineteenth-century explorer who hired some African villagers to assist with his exploration of an unmapped part of Africa. For the first three days they achieved an unexpected rate of speed, which put them substantially ahead of schedule. That changed on the fourth day when he emerged from his tent to find that no one was stirring. They told him they were going to sit the entire day. They felt they had been moving too fast and needed a day for their souls to catch up with their bodies.
What a concept!
If your life is anything like ours you are constantly on the move. I’ve just finished a semester (my last) in which I taught full-time, pastored a church, and sought to spend large chunks of time with my wife. As a result, many things that should have been done were left undone. For example, out of the whole four months I spent one day exercising at the athletic club where we are members. I didn’t just sit around, mind you. I was very active, walking around my classroom, and getting in some other exercise, but it wasn’t the concentrated workout my body needed.
Since the semester ended two weeks ago, we have been trying to catch up on all the work we let go while I concentrated on teaching. Even Saturday and Sunday were busy, as we hustled from one activity to another. We, who are night people, found ourselves going to bed unusually early, exhausted from all we had done each day.
That’s not a good way to live; yet for many people, that’s the routine. That’s the way every week—every day!—is spent. How do they find time to rest?
The answer is, they don’t. Worse yet, that lifestyle has become so ingrained that they don’t even know they aren’t getting enough rest.
By rest I don’t mean sleep. I mean rest from labor—extended rest. This is why God instituted the sabbath. Why did God rest on the seventh day? It certainly wasn’t because God needed to rest. It was to show us how much we need to rest.
On that final day of creation, God looked at all that had been accomplished, “and saw that it was good.” How often do we take time to look at the work we have finished and evaluate how well it was done? If it was important for God to do so, how much more important is it for us?
Perhaps we’re at least a little afraid to look at our completed work. Perhaps we’re afraid that, if we stop to look, we might see just how slapdash a job we’ve done. Perhaps we’re already aware that we haven’t done a good job of it, but we don’t want to admit it—least of all to ourselves.
“Six days you will work,” God says. “On the seventh day you will stop working and take time to let your souls catch up. You need time for evaluation, time to figure out exactly where you are, what you’ve accomplished and how well, and decide where you need to go from here.”
That’s what the sabbath is for—soul catching-up time.