The Gift of Pause
By Kevin Witt
You are all in my heart as summer moves into full swing and you enter that familiar surge to complete the plethora of preparations necessary to welcome and care for those who are coming. Lives will be touched and transformed through you and your efforts as you walk with God this summer. You are disciples of Christ – people of love – servant leaders. May you be encouraged by the deep meaning within all your doing. I am so thankful to be colleagues in ministry together.
As persons who give so much of yourselves, I want to remind you of a very special gift from God to you – one deeply rooted in a gift to the whole creation – the Gift of Pause.
We live in a society that highly values taking action and contributing. Undoubtedly, we find resonance with this in Christian teachings.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? … faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. James 2:14-17
The saying is sure. I desire that you insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works; these things are excellent and profitable to everyone. Titus 3:8
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:8
Can I be honest? Though we are made for good works, good works cannot sustain us.
I once served as the director of a camp and retreat center where I never felt more called or centered. The ministry grew steadily and we had a wonderful team. Lives changed because of God’s presence and the deep impact of the shared experiences. It was exciting and gratifying to invest myself wholeheartedly because I felt privileged to be there. The opportunity to be a part of something that really mattered inspired and energized me.
Despite all this and my genuine desire to be faithful, I ended up depleted, heartbroken due to the realization that I needed to leave this place that meant so much to me. The joy and sense of call that initially came so easily submerged into a sense of constant pressure to get things done. It went beyond what my spirit and body could recover from. Part of the growth in that situation involved coming to grips with the fact that, to a large degree, the outcome was self-inflicted. It called into question the essence of my understanding of Christian discipleship and spiritual leadership . Accolades that come with unceasing effort though well intended are not the same as wisdom. I excelled at going “full steam” but not “full circle” in my faith and leadership.
Today, I have a much deeper appreciation for the rhythms of life that our Creator and Sustainer has so graciously woven into the fabric of existence, which were also modeled by Jesus. Completeness, wholeness and fulfillment never proceeds from totally jamming our time with unending goals and tasks. As strange as it may sound to our modern ears, it is also sacred to cease from creating, to abstain from advancing, and to brave a break. It is just as holy to stop doing good works sometimes as it is to do good works. This is the sacred tempo of Sabbath, which is a divine gift available to us daily, weekly and annually.
And on the seventh day God finished the work that God had done, and rested on the seventh day from all the work. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work of creation. Genesis 2:2-3
Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work… For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it. Exodus 20:8-11
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Matthew 11: 28-29
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. Mark 6:30-31
One of the most insightful books I have ever read on the gift of Sabbath and the power of pause is "How Firm a Foundation" by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein (Paraclete Press: Brewster, Massachusetts, 1997) ISBN 1557251894
- Sabbath allows us to be fully present. It certainly provides a time of rest and renewal, but its primary benefit is not to simply recharge us so we can just go work again. Sabbath time is a highlight – coming full circle – fulfillment – celebration, rather than just a step toward something else. Sabbath allows us to appreciate the now by taking a break from planning, creating and worrying so we can truly receive and reflect on how beautiful life already is. In pausing we can recognize the goodness that is all around us and available now. Sabbath inspires thankfulness and abiding joy.
- Sabbath frees us. From a Jewish perspective, we must understand the history of being enslaved that is a major theme in the scriptures. A regular rhythm of pause prevents us from returning to a self imposed slavery, which God has freed us from. God desires us to be free not driven. Sabbath is part of loving ourselves – an act of discipleship as much as loving our neighbor.
- Sabbath draws us to God. Sabbath actually strengthens faith – trust in God. It helps us to more fully recognize that it is God who sustains life not us. Our constant effort does not make the world go round. Stopping draws us to our source and to the love of God for us from the birth of time.
So much more could be said, but I can’t say it any better than Abraham Heschel.
“Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy”
Be Good To Yourselves:
Questions to Ponder:
- People come to camp and on retreat to grow in their faith and their relationship with God. How would this be enhanced if the camp and retreat center staff and volunteers actually implement a consistent spiritual “Practice of Pause” that we are trying to provide for those who come?
- How could you collaborate as a ministry team to schedule responsibilities, so all, including yourself, can have the opportunity to receive the Gift of Pause on a daily, weekly and seasonal basis that is seen as an important dimension of spiritual leadership and wholeness?