Wednesday Words, August 9, 2023

Pastor Steve Young

Are you asking yourself the same question I am asking myself: It is the middle of August! Where did all the time go? Next week the school year begins for many of us in McHenry County, meaning for all intents and purposes the summer is over. As a life-long procrastinator the summer was always the time when I told myself I would catch up and finish those tasks I never got around to completing during the school year: “summer is coming,” I told myself, “I’ll get it done then, as well as relax and experience free time.” Let’s just say I have never gotten as much done as I have ever told myself I would. For a long time that has been a source of guilt and shame. Future-summer-me turned out to be no more productive than past-school-year me.
Well, I have to say I have learned to be more gentle with myself over the years for not accomplishing as much as I felt I should. I hope you will be gentle to yourself, too. Tuesday is August 15, which Eastern Christians mark as the “Falling Asleep of the Virgin.” It commemorates the death of the Virgin Mary and thus her entrance into God’s eternal rest. For me it is a reminder that the summer is (or soon will be) over. It is a reminder that all our plans and efforts have a deadline – when, like Jesus’s mother, like it or not, we can do no more, but must move on. We’ll have no choice but to set our plans and timelines aside.

Traditionally summer is a time of rest. It is a sabbath – that religious word that does not mean Saturday or Sunday, but that actually means “rest.” It has taken me a long time to learn that the Creator built sabbath, rest, into the whole framework of creation. Each night brings rest of sleep, and is a necessity for our well-being. God designed the week to be marked with a day of rest for ourselves and others, such that when we don’t built in rest, it eventually can wreck our health. Each breath is a balance of work (breathe in) and rest (breathe out). Every meal is a reminder to take time not just to consume, but also to commune, to talk, to pray, to set work aside for a short while. And then there is summer, a time to catch up on not catching up: to vacationing by vacating our schedules; recreation for re-creating ourselves.
The ancient philosopher Socrates said that philosophy was practice for dying. I think that sabbath rest is as well – the rest that ends a day, that ends a week, a season, a career, and eventually (as for Mary) a life. As a child I was taught what I later came to think was a horrific prayer to teach a young child:

Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I ‘wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take
But somehow as a child I never focused on the death part (that came only in my teenage years! What were my parents thinking?). But as the summer comes to an end and we let all our summer plans rest, and we go back to work, as we enter a new year in many of our jobs or school or other endeavors, it is OK to not have done everything.
I hope you will be gentle with yourself. At some point every falling asleep is a letting go of all we have not yet gotten done. We may not do everything, get everything done, cross off each item on our to-do list. That is OK, skip to the list’s bottom, and get ready to cross off “rest.”
There will be a new to-do list tomorrow, next week, next year. At the end, like the virgin Mary, God will welcome each of us to eternal rest. Sabbath is practice, a rehearsal for that last rest. Until then, the peace of Christ be with you.