Reflecting on… Sabbath as Anointed Irresponsibility

“There are many kinds of stress.  There is good stress, which we call eustress, and bad stress, which we call distress.  A house fire causes distress, while renovating a home is eustress.  One is a stress that builds up, and another is a stress that tears down.  Distress is the kind of stress that comes from our implicit belief that the future of the world depends on us saving it.  Distress can be caused by thinking that if we were not here, continuing to work, fix, mend or maintain, the world would not continue.  These stresses do not build us up; they tear us down emotionally.  On the Sabbath, when you are no longer attending to the system of the world, you find that it keeps going on without you.  There is a beautiful tradition in the church that has often been called ‘holy indifference.’  One might call it ‘anointed irresponsibility.’  The Sabbath is an act of obedience to God to give up, for one day, carrying the burdens of the world.  We are returning to God the responsibilities he has given us to hold for a time, and we are returning to God, whom our ultimate responsibility is toward.”

A. J. Swoboda, Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Non-Stop World, pp. 58-59.

I hope you have enjoyed these weeks of reflection and meditation on the excellent book by A. J. Swoboda.  It has been rich for me—a persistent sabbath maker of almost twenty-five years.  Sabbath cuts across the grain of my upbringing, personality and gifts.  Giving myself to a regular rhythm of sabbath has been both grueling and grace-giving.  It has been a journey of obedience.  Today I start two months of anointed irresponsibility, giving back to God for a season the responsibilities given me by the Lord through the EFCA Central District.  I place them back in his hands so that I can give myself to him as my Rabbi and Lord.

This final installment on the topic of anointed irresponsibility is an important and timely word to those of us with a hyperactive sense of responsibility.  Leaders are leaders in part because there are responsible.  They refuse to let balls drop and when ball do hit the ground, they scramble to pick them up and get them back in queue.  Sure, there are irresponsible leaders and pastors, but they seldom remain in those posts for long.  Like Swoboda, I’m concerned for the over-responsible.  How do we know if we struggle with over-responsibility?  The regular practice of sabbath will teach us.  We may have an aversion to making a sabbath because of the fear of finding out that we are indeed addicted to being needed . . . being responsible . . . not trusting people or God with the responsibilities of life.

Henri Nouwen tells the story of a woman being admitted to a mental health facility he was serving.  She entered the facility clenched fist that she would not open.  The staff had to be certain she wasn’t in possession of something that could cause her or others harm.  It took three orderlies to pry her hand open.  What did they find in her clenched fist?  It was a small coin.  For Nouwen it was a vivid picture of how we can be before God, fiercely clenching our small coin when God is offering us the riches of himself.  For me, this is also a picture of what over-responsibility can look like.  Refusing to release what is a stewardship from God, not believing that God can cover for us for a short season so that we can enjoy a feast day with Jesus.

We are three weeks deep into June.  The change of pace that summer offers is disappearing quickly.  The light of summer days will soon be growing shorter.  Can I encourage you to find a day, a weekend or even a week of anointed irresponsibility?  Make a sabbath for yourself, your wife, and /or your family.  Be irresponsible—in a Judeo-Christian way—to experience eustress through the sabbath.

Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath, teach us the value of a momentary, holy indifference for the things we cannot . . . will not release.  Teach us like agrarian saints of old those that let land lay idle for a growing season to trust in and see your provision.  Refresh us through an hour or day or anointed irresponsibility.  Thank you for these praying friends and their encouragement through intercession.  Bless them, I pray!  Amen!