Working for peace and justice is hard. It is grueling. It is relentless. It can often feel like as soon as you are finished celebrating one win, there is a seemingly never ending black hole of need, pain, and injustice into which your efforts can seem to be almost endlessly engaged. In the midst of a culture that rewards people who work themselves to the bone "saving the world" can we ever give ourselves permission to rest? Is it betraying the "movement" or the cause to make sure we eat right, sleep well, and actually take a break sometimes?
Over the last 15 years I have floated in and out of communities in church life, politics, policy, business, direct service and community advocacy. I have been led to these communities as an expression of my faith as a committed follower of Jesus. And in each of these communities I have seen the heart and the hand of Christ in the tireless advocacy, in extremely hard working and ethical business leaders, and in pastors, policy makers, and direct service providers who work around the clock to respond to texts and emails, to organize for change, to go the last mile for their clients, or their community. I have seen all of these men and women work, strive, push, and burn both ends of the wick to truly do their best to make the world a better place not just in the hereafter but in our lifetime.
However, I have also witnessed more blow ups, breakdowns, affairs, indictments, moral failures, scandals, bouts of depression, and relapses than I care to admit. I have seen leaders frayed, fried, and burned out with everyone around them being able to see it but them. I have seen men and women live as though they actually think that they are invincible only to wake up in a hospital room or on an operating table because after saving everyone else, they forget about taking care of themselves.
In his work Sabbath as Resistance, Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggeman reminds us that there is something about taking the time to rest that stands as an act of protest to a world that praises workaholics, that tells us that our value is in how much we can produce, buy, trade, or own. If we are honest, working for positive change in the world does not make us any less vulnerable to the temptations of the merciless demands of the "gods" of this world. The gods of this world say you're worthless if your calendar isn't full, you're a loser if you don't have enough "likes" or "followers" on social media, you're inadequate if you aren't constantly giving, striving, struggling, and pushing. We lie to ourselves if we don't think that this way of thinking isn't especially prevalent in our churches, our nonprofits, and in our social enterprises.
In the midst of all of these demands to prove your worth Sabbath simply says, STOP. REST. RESIST. Sometimes the biggest cause you can ever fight for is you. Sometimes the greatest peace we should be advocating for is inner peace. Sometimes the justice we need to be fight for is to be just and fair to ourselves. This is not selfishness. This is the path to selflessness. By resting we allow ourselves to be human. By resting we restore our reservoir so that we have something to give from. By resting, we remember that we are not God. Scriptures teach that even God rested on the 7th day to enjoy the work from the previous 6 days.
So, particularly, if you are the kind of person that justifies your workaholism, your unhealthy eating habits, and your moral failures because you're "being the change in the world", "spreading the gospel" or any other way to make a difference, STOP. REST. RESIST. Turn your phone off. Go for a run. Make a dental appointment. Take a 10 minute nap in the middle of the day. Schedule a day off of social media each week (No cheating). Go for a hike. Call your mom. Call your dad. Get your hair cut. Make a home cooked meal. Share intimate sex with your partner. Pray. Meditate. Play with your kids. Text your sister. Have a meal with your brother. Read a devotional before you check your phone in the morning. Make an appointment with a therapist. STOP. REST. RESIST.
The work that we are charged to do is too important for us to poison it with our own toxicity.
So this past week, before I went to a protest with friends to advocate for housing for the homeless here in Los Angeles, you know what I did? I went on a breakfast retreat in the mountains and got my very first facial. And you know what? It won't be my last. Sure. You can judge me for not being "down" if you want. But I refuse to be defined by the values of this world that tell us only certain kind of people get to take care of themselves. We can't give anybody else a love that we aren't willing to receive for ourselves.
So yes, keep up the great work you're doing. But remember that rest is resistance, too.