Every seven years the Israelites took a Sabbath year, letting their fields go fallow, and every seventh day they rested, imitating their God. This was not about deprivation but about freedom. The Hebrew word (shmita) for the yearly Sabbath literally means: Release!
How can our culture today find “release”? Indeed, how can our world find freedom in the midst of the pulsating, incessant global economy? Who in their right mind would voluntarily let their fields go fallow, metaphorically speaking?
Very few would. It is strong medicine and difficult to swallow. Bitter—at least as seen from the perspective of one ‘in the world’. But when one finds oneself on the other side, not ‘in the world’ any longer; or at least pried away from ‘the world’ to some degree—as we now find ourselves thanks to a global pandemic—we may begin to see, if we are fortunate and perceptive, that this medicine may actually be sweet after all.
It may still be difficult for us to swallow, but given no choice, we drink it down all the same. To our surprise it may open our eyes…and awaken our spirits, and restore our souls. If we spend a little less energy fighting it, fearing it, or blaming ‘the doctor’, but instead, let the medicine do its work, we may— if we are willing—discover ‘release’ and freedom that leads to genuine spiritual peace and joy—and a new life!
Psalm 23 from scripture can give us a higher perspective on this pandemic, a spiritual reminder calling us to trust the medicine, have faith in the doctor, and accept with gratitude the gift of a Sabbath rest (even if it wasn’t sought):
“The LORD is my shepherd: I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
This is not about deprivation; this rest that we are now being given (perhaps against our will) is not about destruction. A global pandemic can bring fear, and it is certainly bringing with it the shadow of death, but even in the presence of death—our greatest enemy—the Lord is also giving us freedom and release! We may now rest from our incessant labors, letting the soil of our souls abide in peace; and allowing this strong medicine to restore us to health. This is my prayer for us.