I can’t believe it’s been a full 2 years since I posted anything here. Not that I didn’t try. But during many of the months of 2008-2009, I found myself living a desert/wilderness experience unlike any that I have ever experienced. I felt dry, untamed, useless, and barren. Looking back, though, I now see it as a time of mysterious and mercifully imposed rest. I recently reread a passage from Leviticus that had never had much significance to me before: “When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the LORD. For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.” (Lev. 25:2b-5) In other words, the Israelites were to leave their land fallow, or set aside, every seventh year. It’s an interesting commandment to consider. From an agricultural standpoint, Ed Hamer wrote in The Ecologist in 2008, “the benefits of leaving land fallow for extended periods include rebalancing soil nutrients, re-establishing soil biota, breaking crop pest and disease cycles, and providing a haven for wildlife.” (http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/other_comments/269443/fallow_and_fertile.html) And what about the “soil” of our lives? After all, Jesus himself used soil as an illustration in one of his parables (parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-8). Is there a benefit in fallow periods for us as well?
If it were up to me, I would probably never intentionally enter any period of prolonged rest or non-productivity. I have always been driven by a need to be productive, useful, and perhaps maybe even a little bit overworked. But there is a theme of sabbath rest that runs through Scripture that we ignore to our own detriment. God has engineered rest into the very fabric of creation. It is essential in order for anything (or anyone) to continue to thrive and be fruitful. We tend to lose sight of that in our modern society. In addition to the constant sabbath rest that we are invited to enter into as Christians – i.e., a permanent rest from salvation by self-effort because of the finished work of Jesus Christ (his life, death, and resurrection) – there are also seasons of rest in which we cease from the rhythm of busyness and productivity. The important thing to realize is that these seasons of rest may not necessarily feel restful or peaceful. It’s not like spending a few weeks sitting on a white sandy beach on a Caribbean island drinking cocktails decorated with funny little umbrellas. Quite the contrary. Based on my own experience and on what I’ve observed, these seasons of rest are often ushered in by things like sickness, unemployment, painful disillusionment, death of a loved one, a broken relationship, isolation, or just plain exhaustion. We get the wind knocked out of us, and we find ourselves unable to move, work, or produce, and without the means to sow or reap. This provokes different things in us. I felt at various times depressed, anxious, grieved, lost, insignificant, angry, resentful, vengeful, and other feelings that I cannot put into words. I wanted restitution. I did not find it. I wanted answers. There were none forthcoming. I wanted to retaliate against those whom I felt had done me and those I loved a grave injustice. Above all, I think I just wanted relief. I wanted to feel better, to be better, to be out of this undesirable desert land in which I found myself living in obscurity and barrenness.
I think as people we like happy endings and good punchlines. We look forward to the dramatic revelation at the end of every mystery, to bring the suspense and expectation that we’ve felt throughout the unfolding of our story to a satisfactory place of closure. But sometimes there is no stunning revelation, no phrase that finishes the sentence, “This all happened because…” We simply realize that God is doing something in us that is intangible yet profound, imperceptible yet significant. I did eventually come to realize that the circumstances that had captured my attention and emotional life for so long were possibly peripheral to something else that God was doing. Although the idea of fixing a problem had felt so central to my experience, it was the problem that God used to bring me into a time of solemn rest. And He alone determines the boundaries of such times, according to His infinite love and wisdom. We’re not often privy to what God is accomplishing in us through these times. And besides, we simply don’t have the vision that He does in order to perceive it accurately anyway. But we do have the choice to trust Him and to believe what He says. He alone is worthy of our trust. “Oh,the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36)
Categories: Spiritual Formation