Tag Archives: Rest

Forgetting God

I’ve struggled my whole life with pride. Sometimes it manifests itself outwardly in the way I treat others (like that time I decided to mute a conference call, turn on the speakerphone for the benefit of my colleague, and make a few choice remarks on the exquisitely boring qualities of the person leading the call. Pro tip – when the speakerphone turns on, the mute turns off).

But most of the time pride slips its way in through my thought life. I find myself cruising along well-trodden paths of thought, reinforcing narratives about my life that are tailor-made to fend off my greatest insecurities. I  repeat these narratives often to myself, as a rosary of self-defense and self-worship.

Part of what it means to be prideful is to build ourselves false narratives that cut God out of the picture. We try our best to forget God. The old testament is full of stories about the Israelites forgetting God and then sinning as a result (Judges 3:7, Judges 8:34, Hosea 8:14). From a sinful human perspective this makes sense: why think about how you are not in control? Why remind yourself that there will be judgement, and that the true story of our life, not the narrative we’ve created for ourselves, will be told that day?

If it is in our sinful natures to forget God, what can we do to remember? How can I build patterns into my life that require us to dwell on who God is and what he has done?

I think one way to do this is to take yourself out of the race long enough to slow down and remember. To get away from everything, including those things which feed your pride. Doing this forces you to spend time in reflection.

There are many ways to “take yourself out.” John Piper stepped down from his church for 6 months to deal with issues of pride (highly recommend reading that link by the way).

I think another way is through planned times of extended reflection. Our company recently had one of these times, and I’d like to share what it was like.

Going to Big Bear Mountain

I got a taste of what that feels like “take myself out of the loop” earlier this year, when our small team of four squeezed into my suburban and drove up to Big Bear Mountain for our first company retreat. We had been working together for about a year and felt that it was time for some deep reflection and strategemagizing. We were going to be in the mountains for four days, so we brought plenty of beer, food, some more beer, and some extra beer just in case we ran out of the other beer.

Four days is a long time to be out of the loop. Especially when you’re running a business, and especially in the world of startups. Most startups don’t have time for retreats. Or for disconnecting themselves from their email. Which makes sense, since these things are pretty much antithetical to making money.

I can relate to the prevailing urge to “always be moving, reflect later” (which of course never leaves time for reflecting). Taking yourself out of the picture, even for a little while, seems to carry a great cost. But I’d argue the alternative is even more costly and dangerous (more on that below).

So here’s the first great picture:

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Yep, that’s us. Deep in serious reflecting mode.

How To Reflect

During the last year, we’ve started forming the beginnings of a process for how we reflect together as a company. Our  process focuses on the creation of a simple document we very creatively call “Lessons Learned.” It’s a list of the most crucial events that have taken place since the last time we reflected (in this case, 6 months). For each event we write down a brief description of the facts, and then a list of the takeaways.

There’s nothing inherently spiritual in this process. But I would argue that there is a distinct spiritual consequence to what we are doing. Ultimately, these documents are a testament to how little of the time we’ve been in control. If we’re honest, the most important things that happened were not initiated by us – the extent of our “control” was our reaction to whatever happened, and even that’s a stretch.

Believing in Your Own Myth

Why is it important to reflect? Well, the temptation for a company is to forget the past as quickly as possible and focus on the future. But something strange happens when you don’t intentionally reflect: you start forming simple cause-effect narratives that help you explain or justify the past” “Oh yeah, we’re where we are now because we did X and it led to Y and then to Z.”

While it helps the business to have a powerful story, I always get the feeling that it’s not quite the truth: you end up taking more credit for things than you deserve. You start to think that you had it planned this way all along, and that you succeeded because of your own merit.

This is especially true if you end up being successful. You begin believe in your own myth. I’m thinking specifically here of Zappo’s founder Tony Hsieh and the truly frightening story of his $350 million project to build a utopian startup city that ended in the suicide of several of the community’s entrepreneurs. The project had it’s roots in the narrative Hsieh had built up about Zappos, and it’s drive to “deliver happiness.” To an outsider the phrase seems a bit cliche, but I imagine for Hsieh, repeating the phrase over and over again during meetings and conference presentations, and watching his company’s valuation skyrocket into the billions, a connection was made and a powerful narrative was formed.

Reflection is hard though. We shy away from honest reflection because it can be incredibly subversive – even dangerous – for the human ego. Reflection makes it difficult to lace our narratives with prideful illusions. It is humbling. For most people, this process of humiliation is unacceptable.

But I often forget that humble reflection can also be filled with hope. We experienced that in our company’s own process of reflection. While we were made painfully aware of our own lack of control, we also uncovered a startling truth: God has definitely been taking care of us through these last six months. When you muster up the courage to let go control, that’s definitely good news.

Being Alone

That leads to another great, concluding picture:

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I think Jesus’s repeated decision to withdraw into the wilderness to be alone in part had something to do with reflection. We know that Satan tempted his pride when he was in the wilderness. Perhaps there is something inherent to nature that leads us to face our pride. Maybe it’s that nature has the same humbling effect as reflection: it forces you to face your own lack of control. The world is huge, and we are small and when you look out from a high place, you realize this.

Forgetting God

One of the last things Jesus did before he allowed himself to be handed over and executed was to ask his disciples to remember him, regularly:

“The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

Pride often manifests itself as the intentional forgetting of God, and by extension, forgetting the message of the the Gospel. On the other hand, reflection and remembrance remind us of God, who he is, and what he has done for us.

Remembering gives our souls time to ask God “why?” rather than leaving us scrambling to come up with our ego-centric narratives. Remembering protects us from our pride and forces us to come face-to-face with our own weakness and brokenness, and ultimately it points us to the Cross.

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Sabbath Rest

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

My pastor has been giving a sermon series on the Ten Commandments and a couple of weeks ago, we learned about the 4th (or 3rd, depending on how you’re counting): Remember the Sabbath day. It was a great message and I figured I’d write out my notes for this post.

I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. (Psalm 3:5-6)

In this psalm, David shows us an example of what it means to rest. He lies down to sleep before going into a battle where he’ll be surrounded by thousands of people who want to kill him. Many of us have trouble sleeping the night before an exam, a presentation, or a romantic date; how much harder would it be to sleep if we knew that the following morning, we would wake up to thousands of guns pointed at us?

While David’s example may be hard to follow, the Sabbath rest commandment is not one we can ignore. Many Christians often misconstrue this commandment as a mere “suggestion,” one that is no longer applicable to our busy lives today. That sentiment cannot be further from the truth. Because God rested on the seventh day and we were created in His image, we were designed by God to rest on the Sabbath.  So when we ignore this commandment (and any other commandment1), we are inherently violating our design and destroying ourselves. The Sabbath rest commandment is given to save us from our own destruction.

We have to define rest Biblically. To rest doesn’t mean “to be inactive;” we can be weary even if we’re inactive and we can be deeply at rest even if we’re busy. Instead, to be at rest means to be utterly satisfied with what’s been done. Genesis tells us that God saw everything that He had made and declared it “very good,” so on the seventh day God rested from all His work.

Unfortunately for us broken human beings, we can never be at rest in this way because we can never look at our work and be completely satisfied like God was. It feels like our work is never done because we can always do better. Similarly, we can’t shut off our “internal” work because we’re always trying to earn a favorable verdict or prove ourselves; this is what makes us weary. Even the most successful people struggle with this:

This doesn’t just apply to people who try to “succeed” in the most conventional societal ways, but also to those in callings that serve the world more humbly, such as nonprofit work, social work, teaching, etc. In the end, everyone can have the attitude of trying to prove ourselves in some way to the world or even to God.

However, we have to understand that this verdict is already set because of Jesus’ death on the cross. We may never be completely satisfied with our work in the sense that we cannot be perfect like God, but we also have nothing to prove to anyone or to God because of His overflowing grace in sending His son to die for our sins.

How do we apply this Sabbath rest commandment in our lives and encourage ourselves to rest, knowing that Jesus has already finished the work for us?

  1. If we’re asking ourselves how much time to take to rest for the Sabbath, then the answer is most likely more.”
  2. Sabbath is for others. If we do not rest, we’ll begin to see others not as persons but as “equipment” to help us with our work; we will treat others for what they do, not who they are.
  3. When we are sleeping, God is working. This is shown in Genesis 1, where a day is defined as beginning in the evening and ending in the morning (“And there was evening and there was morning, the first day”). While we are sleeping, God works to redeem the mistakes we make during daylight hours.
  4. Also when we’re sleeping, we relinquish control and trust God to be in command, reminding ourselves that we are not God.
  5. We need to balance our Sabbath time in a structured way to include all forms of rest. Avocational time is when we are not working in our jobs. Contemplative time is when we reflect and grow spiritually. Inactive time is when we sleep, rest, and relax in conventional meanings of the words.
  6. There are times in our lives when work/life is busier and we’ll naturally have less time to rest. We have to be accountable and when the busy period is done, stop and rest.
  7. Invite community into your Sabbath time, both to rest and also to keep each other accountable.
  8. Inject Sabbath time in your work if it takes a large portion of your week.

At the end of the sermon, my pastor said these encouraging words to the young adults in the congregation: “The people who are ‘ahead’ of you…. You know where they’re headed when they don’t rest. At least you’ll be sane and whole at the end of it all. What you take into God’s kingdom is not the works you’ve done, but the person you become.”

Then we all repeated at the end of the service: “My work, my parents, my friends’ expectations, my love life, and my money do not define me. Christ defines me.

1   In the opening sermon of this series on the Ten Commandments, my pastor talked about how these laws are for freedom not bondage. This kind of freedom is defined as living the life that we were meant to, i.e., freedom comes as a result of honoring our design. For example: a bird that flies is free, but if it wants to learn to swim, it’s not acting in accordance to its design.

Give us this day, our daily bread

Fusion

This post is going to be a bit of a strange one, melding the topic of food with work. A fusion of sorts if you will, although … to be honest, I’m usually not a fan of the whole fusion thing when it comes to food. It … it’s okay usually, the food tastes interesting and is sometimes good, but many times, the fusion of cuisines is pretty much forced. Hmmmm, well, if I’m honest, I haven’t really eaten much fusion, so perhaps I’ll reserve judgment on that topic for another topic.

Anyways, back on topic, I’ve yet to really write about my “real work” and how the Gospel speaks into that. Instead I’ve just been focusing on the topic of food, something I dream of doing for work someday. I work in economic consulting; briefly speaking, that means my firm generally will provide economic analysis/support to legal matters. At some point, I’d love to write more about my job and how I think the Gospel speaks into the industry as a whole, and how it speaks into my work as an individual in the firm.

Sabbath

For now, I want to take on the topic of Sabbath, or at least finding rest. When I first started work, I wondered if what taking a Sabbath would look like, given that I would have the weekends off. In college, it can often be very difficult to take a Sabbath because those weekends are actually the days where you can finally catch up with all the homework/studying you didn’t get to do during the week. But now, with the whole separation of work time and play time, things looked to be much easier! A lot of the topics/points that people will mention are that taking a Sabbath is not merely just “not doing work.” That’s certainly true, and that’s a mindset that I held going into the job. Little did I know, I would end up working my first real weekend, both days, haha. Throughout my first year (it’s actually been exactly one year to this day!), I’ve had to work a lot more weekends than I initially expected. I’ve greatly enjoyed my job so far, but it’s certainly made taking a Sabbath a lot more difficult. So what does it mean to take a Sabbath for someone who has occasionally has to work the weekend? (and what about those bankers who pretty much always have to work the weekend?)

There’s much to say about the topic of Sabbath and its purpose, but for now, I’ll just start with this part of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day, our daily bread.” Obviously, there’s much to say about this clause of the Lord’s Prayer as well, but for me lately, this verse has been coming to me as a reminder to rest in God’s provision.

The cliché-ish part

One of the biggest barriers for me when it comes to taking a Sabbath is the concern of getting finished the work I am supposed to complete. In college, I often found this concern to be less impactful, given that my work only really affected me. It was a lot easier to trust that God would help me with a problem set or study for a test or write a thesis because at worst, only I would suffer. But in a corporate setting, where people depend on me to get things done, I’ve struggled to maintain a healthy trust in God’s provision. Can I really finish this exhibit in time for the deadline? Am I prepared enough for tomorrow morning’s meeting in front of my manager? Will my code for creating this dataset run fast enough, so that I can pass it on to my coworker? I often find myself asking these questions as the night approaches on weekdays or when considering whether or not I should go into the office on the weekend.

As I’ve gone through seasons of work that involve many late nights and weekends in the office, it’s amazing to see how much God has provided, in many regards. Whether it’s strength to work late nights, focus to provide quality work even when tired, insight into the problems we are solving, and more, God has truly given. And yet, even during weeks when I don’t have to work late nights or the weekends, I’ll constantly worry about needing to put in extra hours to get more work done, forgetting all about God’s provision in my time of need.

“Give us this day, our daily bread” is a request with very powerful implications. When we say this prayer, we are asking God to provide food for us, each and every day. If I think about it, my ability to eat food comes from the money I make at my work. By extension, my prayer for God to provide my bread, is actually a prayer to provide in my work. Ultimately, as cliché as it sounds, my ability to complete work is not something in my own hands. I can put hours and hours into a project, yet ultimately the success of that endeavor is in God’s hands. Quite the sobering thought. Yet also a very reassuring one as well. When God calls me to work, I should do so faithfully, knowing that God will see to it that my work is fruitful. When God calls me to rest, must I not rest? He is the provider, and as hard as I strive on my own power, it will not bear fruit.

So what about that Sabbath question you asked?

So what does taking the Sabbath mean for people who have to work the weekends and may not be able to take the whole day off? I haven’t quite figured this out yet at a practical level. But I do know, there are many reasons for us to take the Sabbath, and one of them is that it’s God reminder that our work is not what provides for us, it’s him. Even if there are weeks when I can’t take a full day off, I hope that I will remember that my work is only fruitful because God is providing my daily bread. Remembering this gives me the confidence to take real breaks while I’m working (I’m not talking about going on Facebook while working, which isn’t really a break), to block out my Sunday morning to go to church, to leave the office at a reasonable time even if there is a lot of work for the next day, and to not think or stress about work when I’m go home or am out with friends. While none of these are what we traditionally consider a “Sabbath,” I think it’s a right start towards finding true Sabbath rest at a demanding job.