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A Rest from Rest?

My family and I continue to enjoy our time in Orlando, with the last two days having been spent in the theme parks of Universal Studios:

Of course, if you’ve spent any time at Universal, Disney, or similar tourism hot spots, you’ll probably understand what I mean when I say that while visiting these destinations is fun, it isn’t exactly restful and renewing. Once you’ve navigated the crowds, the noise, the walking, the heat, and the frequent waiting in line, the experience can actually be quite draining. And that’s why my family and I will be enjoying a “down day” today, before we go back to Universal tomorrow for one last day of vacationing before we head home.

I’m reminded of some reflections that I read not too long ago in a book called Subversive Sabbath, by a couple seminary professors named A. J. Swoboda and Matthew Sleeth. They observe:

We must distinguish a biblical day of rest from the world’s way of rest—a biblical Sabbath should be distinguished from vacations and “days off,” although even those we are not proficient at. Studies reveal that 37 percent of Americans take fewer than seven days of vacation a year. In fact, only 14 percent take vacations that last longer than two weeks.Americans take the shortest paid vacations of anyone in the world. And 20 percent of those who do, often spend their vacation staying in touch with their jobs through their computers or phones.44 The point? Even when we do vacation, we do it poorly.

But even if we did vacation well and took great amounts of time off for restorative rest, vacations are a poor substitute for a weekly day of Sabbath rest. I think the devil loves taking that which is of God and giving us cheap knockoffs.

Vacations are what Jürgen Moltmann has called the “Coca-Cola philosophy” of Western life. In the 1990s, Coca-Cola had a well-known campaign depicting people doing hard work, then popping open a cold bottle of Coke and taking a swig. We yearn for the “pause that refreshes.” Unfortunately, we try to refresh ourselves with empty calories, or vacations, which are not what we really need. Our souls stir, longing for Sabbath.

As my family and I begin to wrap up our days in Orlando, I’m thankful for this break, for the sabbatical grant that has made it possible, and for the members of my church family who have supported me and ministered to each other during my time away. But I’m grateful, too, that this sabbatical is more than just a vacation or a “pause that refreshes.” Because my heart is still “longing for sabbath.” And by God’s grace, there remains a sabbath rest for me and for all His people.

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