My family wrangled our carry-ons into that taupe-colored hum of a 757, bound for six months stateside. (After the lunacy of the week before, preparing to abscond for six entire months, I was just grateful to make it to the plane.)
I felt conflicted.
There was of course the sizeable slab of me that couldn’t wait to throw my arms around my parents, watch my kids grab the hands of with my nieces and nephews again. I was geared up to sit around a table with the people I’ve loved for a lifetime, just like that. Perhaps I would carry a dish of corn on the cob, say, to laugh at my sister’s jokes in crazy-easy normalcy. I hoped to devour a slightly unhealthy amount of blueberries and bing cherries in those months; to close my eyes over the quiet purr of a road devoid of potholes; to throw a few dishes in the dishwasher just because I could.
But I was going home a little heart-sore. I said goodbye to no less than three close friends/family units who would no longer be serving in Uganda when I returned. A trip to the slums was still sticking to my ribs, though the family who was starving was on the mend. After some unnerving elections, a robbery, and heart-rending stories of refugees, my shoulders were slumping a bit as I zipped up our bags.
And there was of course the fact that I would be far from my home in Uganda——home being the complicated topic it is.
EMI would continue designing for the poor whether my husband contributed from Uganda or Colorado. The refugee center would continue changing lives without me. A project involving women in the slums would continue under my friend’s faithful supervision. God would continued working in astonishing measures no matter where our little family hung our hats.
But perhaps the underlying truth of expat life—of the Christian life, it could be argued—is to be longing for elsewhere.
Like any good American, I tend to find my identity deeply in usefulness and purpose and work. So I likened this time away to a Sabbath.
It was a general release of much of my work for a time. (Whether home assignments are actually restful for global workers is another complex question for another post.)
Sometimes, as Pete Scazzero suggests for church workers, “The soil needs to be replenished and to lie dormant for a season.”
When You Can’t Get Away…Or are Made To
I found this, too, when I was suddenly laid off several years ago, and my identity floated around me, bereft and unmoored. Sabbaths…aren’t always what we would choose.
The work can feel too pressing; too necessary. And sometimes I need to be needed.
The older I grow, the more my gratitude heightens for the rhythms of God.
Once a young African friend in university had sat exhausted across from me months before, her eyes a little more distant from me as we enjoyed lunch. It wasn’t that long before I figured out that she wasn’t taking a day off in her week. I just can’t, she reasoned.
Funny enough, I convinced her I think that’s what Sabbaths are all about: Admitting we can’t.
Perhaps especially as a mom of young kids, when the house would plummet into utter squalor if I stepped away from cleaning up after eight pattering little feet, I found the Sabbath to be a rich act of faith and humility. It’s the paradox the Sabbath that in doing nothing, everything else exponentially blooms in joy and even productivity.
(Interestingly, a 10-day week, the French Republican calendar, was attempted in the Enlightenment to assist abolishing religious activity, but was overturned in part because the single rest day in 10 became overwhelming.)
No Longer Slaves
A friend recently reminded me of God’s reasoning for the Sabbath as described in Deuteronomy 5:
You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
The Sabbath is a sign of our freedom; that we are more than worker bees, but rather cherished, fought-for children. Author Mark Buchanan writes,
[The Sabbath] was designed to protect us, pay tribute to us, coddle us, in all our created frailty and God-imprinted beauty and hard-won liberty, in our status as men and women whom God made in his own image and freed by his own hand and own blood. It is a father’s gift to indulge his children.
Sabbath = Trust
So that time of stepping away for me—though periods of rest in that actual furlough were intermittent, and my husband and I were both still be working/schooling for several of those months—was a faith-filled release.
Our Western Christianity, often so intertwined with achievement and appearance and ambition, must listen to the heartbeat of the Gospel. We must start from the place of God’s acceptance, and work out of that love–rather than working for that love and acceptance.
It was trusting that in my doing less, He does more, multiplying loaves and fishes. It is an intentional loosening from the purpose of productivity, into the downy acceptance of accepting God’s seasons.
We’re communicating to ourselves and those around us nothing short of the Gospel: an ability to rest from our work and trust God to do his.
When my previously exhausted young friend returned to sit on my porch six months later, she was…sparkling. (The Sabbath can do that to a girl.) God’s rhythms, she told me, had changed her.
They certainly change me.
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