The classic Christian hymn, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, contains the line, Drop Thy still dews of quietness / Till all our strivings cease. That last part just sounds terrible. You see, I’m a striver. Striving’s my thing. I like accomplishment. Give me a problem to solve, yours or mine, and I will strive all day and night to solve it. One of my latest projects is striving to learn how to take a break from striving, which it turns out is just as complicated as it sounds.
Last week Pepperdine hosted theologian, Miroslav Volf, who in his final lecture extolled the Jewish practice of Sabbath as a weekly event where one stops striving. I have long agreed with that concept but am just terrible at it. Since my new preaching gig sees Sunday as work day, I approach Friday-Saturday as weekend and Friday in particular as a personal sabbath. Well, that’s the idea at least. It hasn’t gone well so far.
For starters, I don’t want to stop striving for a day. I prefer catching up on unfinished striving and go a little bonkers ignoring things that need attention when I actually have time set aside to do them! But even when I try, presumably non-striving activities morph into things to accomplish. A nature walk becomes the quest of the perfect picture or story. A novel becomes a mission that needs to be completed in a certain time frame. A sport becomes a personal competition.
I am more than a little nutty. How exactly do I not strive? I could say that I will work on it, but that is exactly the problem.
John Greenleaf Whittier wrote that 19th century poem-turned-hymn that imagined the cessation of strivings. Ironically, he hated the very idea of singing in church and wrote the poem to promote silent meditation in contrast to musical worship, but his poem became a tool of the thing he despised. Life is funny. He was also an abolitionist, who in his lifetime saw the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing the practice of slavery in the United States. So he was a striver, too!
Well, obviously striving and Sabbath are teammates, not opponents.
Breaks are important for any endeavor, which obviously includes life itself. This may not come naturally to me, but the secret just may be when it no longer feels like something to accomplish. Stopping is the opposite of accomplishment. It is a gift.