I am a pretty self-absorbed person. I would like to think that I’m not, but when observing my day, it’s fairly obvious. Admittedly I do not desire to be so, yet not much in modern life encourages me to be different.
From the little device that draws my eyes from the person standing next to me in line at the grocery store, to the personally crafted advertisements and entertainment options offering to assuage my attention a dozen or more times a day, to the mildly obsessive refreshing of my latest post, to the very fact that I drive, alone, in my car from work and pull into my ally-facing driveway never once having to interact with another human (except in rage at the guy who kept me from making that one light that lasts forever because he was on his cell phone, though I am not sure he was aware of our interaction). Much in our ordinary day draws us into ourselves, rather than requires us to give of ourselves. At least on the surface.
So what is the solution? How do we, a self-absorbed society, live in a manner that is selfless, “considering others more highly than ourselves?” Such existence seems un-natural, even requiring a new nature.
Something about us has to change in order to live selflessly. Ultimately the change is effectual, what we love changes from primarily ourselves to our neighbors. But we cannot simply transform our affections by wanting them to change.
For those of us who recognize a need for our lives to change and recognize that such change is not ours alone to make in our own power, we wonder how do we participate in the transformative process sure to be completed by Him who started it? Well, we Sabbath, and we work. Okay, by “work” I mean something a little different, or at least slightly slanted, from what you are probably thinking about when you read the word, but I’ll explain what I mean shortly. For now, let’s start with that vaguely familiar word that is even more blurry in practice.
Sabbath is a rhythm that does not fit into the flow of our culture. Most often we move from performance to entertainment. Sometimes we refer to these movements in the symphony of life as “vacations” or “weekends;” others choose a more nightly movement to Netflix, video games and vegging out.
Every so often the back-and-forth that feels like no stoppage at all catches up, and we collapse out of sheer exhaustion. We have stopped, only to fill ourselves with something to consume or because we physical or emotionally cannot go any further. But we have not Sabbath-ed.
Sabbath, in the words of Eugene Peterson, “is the time set aside to do nothing [we get that part!] so that we can receive everything [we miss this part!]”. Early on in our history, the God who made everything good gave us a day to rest from work, not so that we could consume media, experiences, movies or Doritos, but so that we could be filled with the gifts He so graciously gives.
A day to receive…everything. A time to receive the memories of a week gone by in which our daily bread was daily given. A day to receive friends and family, faces and voices that we have passed without pondering. A motionless moment in which we receive the grace of existence and wonder at the miraculous reality that we have breath and life with little of our own effort to take credit.
In Sabbath-ing, ceasing doing so that we can receive, we find ourselves not at the center but rather in the middle. We are in the middle of something grand and glorious that encompasses all the earth and its inhabitants, this creation and salvation continuing as long as we call the morning today. And at the center, the giver of all good things. Perhaps this is why the people of God are warned throughout the Hebrew scriptures to not forget the Sabbath; for what life can be lived outside of the middle?
The more we set aside a time to Sabbath, the more we recognize the world is not limited to us, and the more we are compelled to enter into the middle to work. And I am not talking about the specific 9-5 work you do to pay the bills; though such work is indeed good. No, I am talking about working in a manner consistent with the nature of the One at the center who has given us everything. This is the work which allows us to see the endless opportunities, to be selfless in an ordinary day.
In Matthew’s gospel story, Jesus’ ministry begins with an elaborate teaching on the nature of God’s kingdom, this world as God has graciously engaged his creation. Here Jesus describes a world in which those, whose nature is made like their Father’s, seek to reconcile where there are anger and division between friends, co-workers and kids. Ones who are devoted to squashing the using of others as commodities for pleasure, opportunities for success, or even obstacles to the same. People who will fight for unity, especially in the home, but also in the neighborhood, the faith family and the office.
Such new creations will abstain from manipulation and control and will counter conflict with generosity and lavishly love especially the most difficult. For such has the One at the center done, and still does. Only a person at rest, who has received everything while doing nothing, can live so selflessly in the middle.
Want to be less self-absorbed? Sabbath and work. Stop to receive and find yourself in the middle of God creating and saving. Go and do what you see and hear Jesus doing because you have received everything. Lord, help us (me especially!) live selflessly.
Photo by Shoot N’ Design