Yesterday was Sunday. I think of it as the Sabbath, even though I know that the Sabbath is a Jewish observance that typically happened on the last day of the week, Saturday. But still, from what I understand, Christians co-opted the Sabbath and moved it to the first day of the week after Jesus’ resurrection, so it became both a day of rest and of celebration. And much as Jesus gives permission to overlook “rules” about Sabbath keeping, he still implies that it’s important to take the day. To rest. To let other people rest. To celebrate. To worship. It is one of the ten commandments, after all, and Christians are still pretty keen on the other nine. Even when our behavior implies otherwise, at least we say we don’t think it’s good to lie or commit adultery or steal or worship other gods. So you’d think we would also hold pretty fast to keeping the Sabbath.
And you’d think we might even welcome the Sabbath, even more than some of the more prohibitive commands. Who doesn’t want day without work?
But yesterday, I received emails from a pastor’s wife, a prominent Christian writer, and more than one faithful church goer. Oh, and at the risk of stating the obvious, I myself am a Christian who was both writing and responding to all these other people.
Even on Sundays when I’m able to avoid the lure of email, I tend to putter around the house. What an opportunity–with Marilee and Peter asleep, William and Penny reading or playing–to fold laundry, to tidy the playroom, to wipe down the counters and get the dishes clean. And what a loss, on my part, of the freedom and delight God intends to offer me for this whole day.
I was already thinking about how I spend my Sundays when I opened Andy Crouch’s new book, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power. And I should diverge from my topic for a moment here to say that I could have written a new blog post after each chapter of this excellent, convicting, encouraging, thought-provoking, well-written book. But I’m going to use Crouch’s thoughts about the Sabbath as a window into his insight on any number of highly relevant and yet timeless topics because these thoughts both challenged and encouraged me the most.
Crouch’s contention throughout the book is that power is a good gift. We all ought to have power, and we all ought to use it in the ways God intended–for mutual flourishing as we bear the image of God, as we “play” God. You’ll have to read it yourself to get the depths of this argument–the thoughts on the relationship between idolatry and injustice, the Biblical examples of how Jesus used his power, the reflections on power, privilege, status, and disempowerment, the refutation of the idea that power must be what Nietzsche claimed over a century ago, and the spirited defense of institutions as the cultural stewards of power in time.
Towards the end of the book, Crouch turns his attention to Sabbath-keeping. For me, simply observing (and certainly delighting in) a weekly day of joyful rest presents a challenge. I don’t know what to do with myself when an hour arrives that doesn’t have a to-do list associated with it. And I hear the justifications–I just didn’t have time to get meals ready on Saturday… the cleaning could wait until tomorrow but I have more time now and there will be fruit flies by then… what else am I going to do with this time? All of it stands as a warning to me that productivity has become an idol in my life. As Crouch attests:
There is perhaps no single thing that could better help us recover Jesus’ lordship in our frantic, power-hungry world than to allow him to be Lord of our rest as well as our work. The challenge is disarmingly simple: one day a week, not to do anything that we know to be work.
Crouch goes on to identify the ways his own Sabbath-keeping has identified disorder within his soul as he finds himself out of sorts on those days:
I rarely feel such clear signs of fatigue and anxiety on days that are filled with travel, meetings, and assignments–only when I stop to rest. Without sabbath, I would be dangerously ignorant of the true condition of my soul.
My soul is restless, even though God has invited me to rest in the truth, love, and grace of the gospel. My soul believes that a clean kitchen will give me peace. My soul believes that control over my schedule will give me joy. And as Crouch points out, such idolatry inevitably becomes intertwined with injustice. In my case, the injustice takes the form of insisting other people must serve my needs in a 24/7 cycle, or in denying my children the time they are due, or in failing to receive the rest I need as a limited creature who will then go out into the world for the next six days as one who represents Christ’s love.
But surrendering my power over our household for this one day of the week restores me to my proper place as a steward of it, and as one who does not serve the tyranny of the pages of Good Housekeeping or Real Simple but rather as one who serves the God of order and blessing, the God who can let some dishes sit in the sink so that I can read a book, or take a walk, or cuddle with my children.
Last night, I did the dishes and packed lunches for today while Peter and the kids watched football. Marilee came in, again and again: “Mommy, I want you to watch football with us!”
I arrived with an agenda: to get them into bed as quickly as possible. But Peter, who had been hanging out with them, doing nothing productive, was in a better space to let go of agendas. He tickled them. He wrestled with William. He played catch. And they laughed and laughed and laughed. And it softened me a little to watch them rest and play, with joy, together.
I want laughter to be the hallmark of our Sundays as a family, even if it means dishes to do on Monday morning.
Andy Crouch’s Playing God has opened me up to the ways in which I falsely try to play god, in many ways, including on Sundays. I highly recommend it for any Christian who wants to be both challenged and encouraged to recognize the power God has given you, to turn away from patterns of idolatry and injustice, and to turn towards shalom, the peace and joy of knowing God’s presence and power among us.