Rest

I had an easy time selecting a major at Williams College.  I have always felt more at home studying the sciences, specifically biology, because each line of thought is rewarded with a definitive answer.  For example, discovering the unique profile of a cancerous tumor cell can yield answers about the kinds of therapy that can recognize these cells and destroy them.  Or understanding the way that our body physiologically processes carbohydrates shines light on our country’s obesity and diabetes epidemics. Atoms are the building blocks of molecules, organisms create complex ecosystems: in science there is a satisfying linearity and cause and effect relationships are easy to spot.  I loved this about all of the science courses I took at Williams.

My junior year, when I took a personality test called the Myers-Briggs, I wasn’t at all surprised by the results.  I was an ‘INTJ’, which has also been assigned the heartwarming title of ‘The Scientist.’  I’m joking, of course, because in reality the psychologists’ description of the Scientist paints a picture of someone with whom spending time is akin to eating a bit of dry toast with burnt crust. It appeared that I was destined to spend the rest of my lonely days isolated in a cold (but hermetically sealed and germ-free!) lab somewhere. Still, it helped me to understand at least a little bit about myself, especially why I find logic, order, and organization to be so compelling.

It’s this same mindset that has always drawn me to God, but more specifically the many stories that depict His character throughout the Bible.  The hundreds of narratives that collectively make up the Old and New Testament are exceptionally diverse, but like the many spokes of a wheel they all connect to a central thematic hub.  The same logic that undergirds my scientific studies can be found in the Biblical story. The underlying thread that weaves these stories together is the timeless cycle of God freeing broken people from their burdens.  In the Pentateuch we see this quite tangibly when the Israelites are released from bondage to the Egyptians, or, over a thousand years later in the New Testament when Jesus gives sight to the blind and enables the lame to walk.  In addition to these stories that demonstrate physical restoration, there are numerous examples of God releasing people from the bondages of their own heart.  For example, Jesus encourages a rich young man to sell all his possessions so that his heart will no longer be a slave to his wealth. [1]  Ultimately, in some fashion each account typifies the linchpin of the Christian faith: that God offers His Son as a sacrifice to reconcile all broken people to Himself so that they may be freed from their burdens once and for all. God’s story of restoration resonates with all of us because we all sense our own brokenness and the brokenness of the world around us and yearn to be made whole.

In the past year, God has helped me uncover yet another way He untethers the heavy stuff of life.  But the story begins even before I declared a major at Williams.  My freshmen year of college, a friend and mentor, Yue-Yi, shared with me that each week she took a 24-hour break from her all academic responsibilities.  This day was characterized by sleeping, reading, cooking, tea, conversations, and the like.  Though this idea seemed quaint, a day without obligations sounded like a day I didn’t have time for.  It even sounded stressful to me.  Trying to compact an already overloaded schedule of academics, sports practice, club responsibilities, and diligent mascara application into six days instead of seven sounded less than appealing.  I remember telling Yue-Yi that I admired her for taking a “Sabbath” while simultaneously thinking that it wasn’t something I could possibly work into my schedule.  The only thing I really knew about Sabbaths at this point is that I was no longer legally bound to observe one like the Israelites in the Old Testament. At that point, I identified with the words of Michelle Garrels, wife of my favorite musician: “keeping the Sabbath ‘holy’, to me, had always meant going to church on Sunday.” [2]  And furthermore, the churches I attended talk about the Sabbath only in relation to legalism.  I imagined myself alongside Jesus and his disciples in the grain-fields eating wheat on the Sabbath while telling the on-looking Pharisees that it is “lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” [3]   I felt all of my time spent at Williams was both important and good.  And that’s where my thoughts on the matter ended.

Fast-forward five years and I am in my first year of medical school.  It was nuts.  I couldn’t believe how busy I was, and after six weeks I had no idea how I was going to sustain that level of busyness over the next four years.  I felt like I was taking twelve Williams’ courses at a time.

My older sister, Kate, happens to be my classmate in medical school.  Kate and her husband Chris have been taking a Sabbath for a long time and she encouraged me to do the same, to take one day completely off.  My first instinct was that this sounded like an even worse idea than when I had first heard about it in college.  But after watching her take a full day off once a week I was, well, jealous.  I yearned for a day without the usual responsibilities, filled with God and my handsome husband, fiction novels and good coffee.  And so I took one day of complete rest.  No school allowed.

As I fell into a cycle of intentionally resting one day a week, sun up to sun down, the trick for me was following the spirit—not the letter—of the law.  In other words, I was not bound to strict observance like the Israelites in order to find God’s favor.  In Isaiah 59, for example, God says that “if you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day … then you will find joy in the Lord.” [4]  Similar edicts are peppered throughout the Old Testament mitzvah like, “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” in Deuteronomy. [5] However, because I am no longer bound to the law because of the freedom offered by Jesus, I instead sought to capture the heart behind the concept of a Sabbath.

In Genesis 2, after “the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array”, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.” [6]  So, from the beginning of time, God has established a pattern for living: create, rest, create, rest. God’s own action immediately after creation was to take a break. Through imitating His practice, I have repeatedly found that His presence is a safe place where I can find rest for my soul. [7] To me, the Sabbath is yet another way in which God seeks to free broken people and make us whole.

God speaks of the Sabbath as a day in which we should “delight.” [8] Now, three months into my second year of medical school, I can truly say that I delight in taking a weekly day of rest.  On this day I feel a freedom from my burdens that only God can provide.  It’s a day of healing and relationship that makes me whole.  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.” [9]

[1] Mark 10:21

[2] https://groundedmag.com/article/finding-rest/

[3] Matt. 12:11b

[4] Isaiah 58:13-14

[5] Deuteronomy 5:12

[6] Genesis 2:1-2

[7] Psalm 91:2, Matt. 11:29

[8] Isaiah 58:13-14

[9] Psalm 23:1-3a

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