How Observing Sabbath Frees Us From Anxiety

Marilee slept late this morning. At 7:30, I rubbed her shoulder as she lay curled up under the covers on her side. When she opened her eyes, though, I could tell she hadn’t really been asleep. She just hadn’t wanted to get out of that comfortable bed. A few minutes later, she had tears streaming down her face. “I don’t feel good,” she said. But she didn’t seem sick.

“Is anything else bothering you?” I asked.

“I don’t want to do the mile run!” she wept.

It turned out that she knew today was the day her class would run a timed mile at school, and apparently it was causing her enough distress to stay in bed, feel sick, and burst into tears.
We sorted it out–I prayed for her and then told her I’d be in touch with her teacher and she probably could just run for part of the time. I told her I would walk her to the bus stop. She skipped her way there.

As it happened, I also read a chapter from Walter Brueggeman’s The Sabbath as Resistance this morning, and the chapter had to do with how intentional, communal, and regular rest protects us from anxiety.

Brueggemann writes about how the first three commandments–which are all about worshiping God and God alone–might very well have seemed to the Israelites like they had a new Pharaoh. Just as Pharoah in Egypt demanded their allegiance to him and him alone, so too God requires worship.

But while there are three commandments about worshiping God, there are also six commandments about loving our neighbors. This God, this “new Pharaoh” is different because he isn’t focused on himself but rather on the whole community, and especially the ones who are likely to be mistreated.
And the commandment that links worship of God to love of neighbor is the the fourth, the one that takes up the most words and draws most deeply on Israel’s history both in believing in a Creator God (God rested after he created the world in Genesis 1) and believing in a salvific God who rescued them from Egypt. The link between worshiping God and loving one another is the Sabbath.

Brueggeman’s point is that celebrating the Sabbath–taking a full day to rest from work–frees us from anxiety. It frees us to trust God. It frees us to operate differently, not in an economy of production and relentless striving for more and busyness and pushing, but instead in an economy of caring for one another and trusting and being vulnerable and rejoicing.

I didn’t tell Marilee about the Sabbath as a way to counter her anxiety about the mile run. But I did think of how God’s love can free her up so she doesn’t need to prove herself in the classroom or on the athletic field. The same is true for me. I can rest in the love of God as I enter this day, free to work , and free to stop working, and free to give to others, not in order to prove my worth but in response to the love that has already been given to me.

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Hi, I’m Amy Julia.

I write about faith, family, disability, and privilege.

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