Thomas Keating says, “Addictions are the ultimate way of distracting oneself from the emotional pain one is unwilling to face.” He contends that as many as 98% of the western world suffers from the “the addictive process.” But then he writes, “Personally, I have never met anyone from the other 2 percent!”
I think he’s right. To be human is to be hungry, and we all find ourselves looking to satisfy that hunger with something that’s not able to fill us. In fact, it might just be that one of the most important things we do is acknowledge our hunger, our misplaced appetites, and our desperate need to be filled. As Keating points out: “The advantage of being an addict is that you know that you will never get well without help.”
So, what are your addictions? What are mine?
Of course, there are obvious ones: all manner of drugs, all manner of screens and the things they provide to us instantly. There are plenty of obviously detrimental addictions. But there are also plenty of more acceptable ones, too. Barbara Brown Taylor goes Keating one better, when she writes: “I am convinced that 99 percent of us are addicted to something, whether it is eating, shopping, blaming, or taking care of other people.” Taylor says that, for her, “the simplest definition of an addiction is anything we use to fill the empty place inside of us that belongs to God alone.” With that definition, just about anything can be used to fill the emptiness we are left with when we are left to do life on our own terms.
One obvious area of life that can be either healthy or addictive (or somewhere in between) is work. We all do it; most of us for pay. And when we retire, we still need meaningful work to do. Work is an essential part of what it means to be human. Working and creating are a vital part of how we reflect the image of our God, who is a creator.
But work can also be all-consuming, and it can make us feel god-like. By its very nature, work involves stewarding our gifts and abilities for the task at hand. And stewardship often leads to taking ownership of the job before us. And taking ownership can easily lead to taking control. And taking control can often take control of us.
I believe this is one of the reasons why God gives us Sabbath. It is a time of rest, yes. It is the ability to put aside the work of life, which never ends. But it is also a reminder: We are not God. We are not in charge of the world — or even our little piece of it. Taking sabbath/choosing rest/letting go is key to the discipline of letting God be God. Stepping away from work for a day or a season is a spiritual practice of remembering that God is in charge, and we must continue to learn to let Him take care of the things we can’t fix or control (which is to say, most everything).
What does this look like? Some suggestions:
Sleep. I’m a big believer in aiming for a good night’s sleep, every night. I don’t always get there, but it seems clear that most of us need at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.
Take at least one day off from work. I don’t care if you are a pastor or a plumber, a teacher or a tech wizard, a manager or a managed — putting aside work for at least one day a week gives you time to rest, and to remember that it’s not all on your shoulders. In my pastoring days, I took Thursdays off — and amazingly, somehow, church went on just fine without me.
On that day off, do something life-giving and energizing. The beauty of seeing Sabbath as gift is that we don’t treat it as a day of have-to — but as a day of get-to. Instead of things we have to do or have to avoid, Sabbath is an invitation to step away from the daily requirements and step into the things that give us life and joy. Maybe for you that’s gardening. Or working with wood. Or going for a long run. Or sitting on the bench, silently watching the people that walk by and the birds that fly by. Maybe you get up early and read, or it’s the one day you don’t jump out bed to the sound of an obnoxious alarm. Perhaps for you Sabbath is time with family, or maybe it’s time alone. Either way: How different does your life look when you take 1 day out of 7 to be a human being rather than a human doing?
Find moments of Sabbath every day. Even on our busiest days, it’s helpful to take moments where we step off the hamster wheel. In fact, it can start at the beginning of our day, before we even get on the wheel. Don’t get on email or facebook when you first get up. If you drive to work alone, take time for silence and prayer (note to myself: especially if traffic is frustrating). Get outside, even if just for a few minutes. Talk to at least one person each day where you deliberately choose not to rush the person to “get to the point.” Turn off phone notifications at 9:00 or 10:00 at night. Finding Sabbath moments might not look the same for all of us, but how different does your day look when you find moments not to rush or respond, but to receive?
The writer Andy Crouch says this is why we need to set up a “rule of life” — a pattern by which we live and schedule our days. He says: “Until you have a rule you don’t know what your compulsions are.” Until you take a sabbath, you don’t know how much you feel compelled to work. Until you choose not to pick up your phone in the morning, you don’t know how much you depend on it. Until you try a day without coffee, you don’t know how much you depend on caffeine. Until you stop and rest, you don’t know how much you are addicted to going and doing.
In the end, I am more impressed with leaders who don’t simply say they trust God — but who live like it by turning off, dialing down, stepping away, and releasing control. Sabbath, after all, is primarily a gift, not a duty — a gift the wisest among us embrace as an essential element of a faithful life, of a life well-lived.