Three Things That Stand Between You and a Sabbath

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A Sabbath is 24-hour period of time (more or less) to remind yourself that you are not defined by what you buy or own. Do you practice a Sabbath?

Lent is the art of elimination.

I have a friend who, during this season of Lent, has given up non-water beverages for six days each week. On the seventh day he is allowed to drink pop and juice and things that aren’t water. He is also able to choose which day each week this falls on. So if he goes back to back days with non-water liquid consumption, he has to wait at least 7 days for his next.

So many rules. So much water.

All of this has me thinking through what exactly we mean by Lent. What if we crafted our artful elimination in Lent around consumerism? What stands between us and the true meaning of Lent?

Consumerism happens when we find identity, belonging, and meaning in the things we own and buy. Often, the result is blind obedience to the gods that say More Is Always Better. What is at stake here is how we know ourselves to be, how we find meaning, and where we belong.

It’s about identity, belonging and meaning.

1. Identity

When we find identity – a sense of self and who we are – by what we own and buy, we battle the larger forces seeking to reduce ourselves to our consumer preferences. We have to keep up with the latest and greatest by way of maintaining identity. It’s exhausting. In Lent we ask, “What would we eliminate to remind ourselves we are not what we buy, and that my identity comes from somewhere else?”

2. Belonging

If my inclusion in a group of people is based on what I buy, what I own, and (quite literally) what I am willing to go further into debt for, consumerism is reinforced by a desperate, lingering thought: If I don’t own this, my people won’t accept me. We say to ourselves unconsciously, “Buying these things is what I have to do to belong here.” True friendship is found with those who don’t care what we own. In fact, the most authentic community is found with those who challenge our purchasing decisions.  In Lent we ask, if I stopped spending like my friends would my friends still be my friends?

3. Meaning

A life without meaning is dangerous. We are searching for meaning. We make meaning. I was once asked, “What is the meaning of meaning?” Meaning is the location of our hope. In the film, Cast Away, Tom Hanks’ character waits years for his rescue, and along the way writes a face on a volleyball and names it Mr. Wilson. They converse. Meaning is not optional, and it tends to find us. In Lent we ask, “How have I constructed ultimate meaning in my life around the things I’ve decided to buy?

When our identity, belonging, and meaning are at stake, we have to ask ourselves honestly about the practices we engage in. Lent is a time for such questions.

A Sabbath Day

Do you practice a Sabbath? Sabbath is 24-hour period of time (more or less) to remind yourself that you are not defined by what you buy or own.

Sabbath is playing with our friends, exploring new sandboxes, getting into trouble. Food fights and games nights. A Sabbath is a day of improvising – a day of availability to loving others and availability to see with new eyes the startling and freeing truth that the best things in life are free.

A slow dripping glass of wine savored over the course of an afternoon. To see the miraculous process from idea to seed to vineyard to grapes to farmer to bottle to store to cup to lips. We drink very slowly on the Sabbath because there are no points for finishing early.

That is why a Sabbath is so tough at first. Extremely counter-cultural. It’s a terribly confronting and almost depressing experience. When “time stops” (that’s how my Jewish friend says it), we are left with ourselves and who we truly are. You’ve been going and consuming and producing and writing and selling and driving and standing and talking and making and proving yourself all week. When the day of Sabbath comes, you will almost undoubtedly feel depressed. You will see all the ways you’ve been defining your life by the quality of items in your closet or garage.

Embrace this. Work through it. It’s temporary. Soon you will be lifted to a new place of freedom. Jesus reminds us, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath is packed with warning signs of the danger in finding identity, belonging and meaning by comparing ourselves to others and what we consume. In fact, Sabbath allows for the space to sort out true friendship and meaningful relationship. We intuitively identify the friends we have who accept us despite that fact that we aren’t paying lots of money to be entertained. True friends show up on the Sabbath.

When is your next day set aside to be truly available to loving others? When is your next day to remind yourself that the value of your life is not defined by what you buy and what you own?

As we approach Easter, let’s not forget that the space in time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is a day of Sabbath. 

Written by Tim Schuster


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