This year, 2018, marks year seven for Bryan and I’s journey together!
Last night while laying in bed, we talked about what our goals were for our marriage in 2018. We took time to do some self-inventory, assessing the areas of our personal lives that we could grow in, in order to deepen our marriage connection, as well as what we’d like to see happen for our little family. There are a lot of big changes on the docket for us this upcoming year. Some that are really exciting, and others that feel really hard but we believe are really worth it. Last night at dinner we prayed that the Lord would go before us in this upcoming year; That He would bless us and bless others through us; That He would give us wisdom for the upcoming decisions we know that we need to make; And that He would make His plans for us clear. I fell asleep with those thoughts in my mind.
This morning as I woke up I felt like the Lord gave me the most fascinating and life-giving words as if He was speaking them over myself and my family for this upcoming year. The two words were “Rest,” and “Simplicity.” As I sat with those a moment, I wondered what those actually meant for us, specifically.
A Year of Rest
As I began my normal daily reading, the fascinating part was that I began reading about the Sabbath, and God’s original commandments concerning that law. In Exodus 23:11 it says,”You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, 11 but on the seventh year you shall let it rest, so that the needy of your people may come and eat; and whatever they leave, the beast of the field may eat. 12“Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave, as well as your stranger, may refresh themselves…” This means every. one. Rest.
As an agricultural practice and as an act of obedience, the Israelites would work, prepare, plant, and harvest their land for 6 years, and then on the seventh year, they let it be, allowing the soil to rest and replenish it’s nutrients. Seven is the number of completion. During the seventh year, while the people rested from their labor and allowed the land to also rest and heal itself, the poor of the community were invited in to glean what they could from the remaining crops. This was God’s plan for social justice, for caring for the poor by allowing them to work in order to feed themselves.
It was an act of faith to trust that even if they took the seventh year off from farming, that they would have enough to last them, and that they would be taken care of in the year following. The crop was their income, it was their subsistence, and the land was their inheritance. To let go of control, to let go of their security in an act of trust was epic obedience to God’s instructions. I find that to be fascinating and inspiring. These chosen people trusted in God to sustain them, to provide for them, and to bless them. They had been faithful in stewarding what He had given them to do for six years, as well as faithful to rest when He asked them to.
I read on and began contemplating a bit more on the concept of sabbath, and how rest is to be regarded as holy. The day of rest, and the year of rest belongs to the Lord. While the people were to rest from work, they were to celebrate God’s good gifts to them. The point of the day is to stir up love and good works. God made the sabbath for us; for the people! Their command was to recall their oppression (slavery in Egypt), AND to celebrate their current freedom. They were to emulate God by pausing from their everyday routines and their yearly routines; Pause from their dominion over the creation, and they were to worship God, focus on Him, on themselves, their families, and their communities. This was/is supposed to be a special opportunity to come before God, and to demonstrate their (our) dependence on Him as creator and sustainer, and to reflect obedience to Him.
The spirit of the sabbath is to take steps to prevent finding ourselves burnt out and empty. We are to use our abilities in the other six days, (other six years) to meet the needs of others- but we are called to turn inward and upward on the seventh and rest. The sabbath was to provide true freedom- freedom from turning work into tyranny, and freedom to enjoy fellowship with God, and with our loved ones.
If the Holy Spirit has spoken “Rest,” over my family, what does that look like, given the Biblical model for rest? This is our seventh year. To me, it means that we, above all else, orient ourselves in a posture of trust and faith in God’s provision over our life, and continue to choose to obey Him in the small things. This feels particularly timely and comforting because we are about to rock our own boat tremendously with what opportunities have presented themselves to us, and yet they come at a cost. A huge amount of faith would be required to move on them. We believe that God is asking us to trust Him, and that He’s got a plan for us, so I’m in.
Rest for us then would also mean that we are to utilize this year to celebrate God’s goodness to us, and to allow the goodness he has shown to us to cultivate wholeness and peace in our lives in a deeper way. This is our seventh year, so if God has called us to rest by remembering His goodness to us, to me this calls for a renewed sense of perpetual gratitude and reflection on where He has showed up in our story and how he has used the rough-edged details to bring about his plan and our good. I have learned to appreciate what we have gone through, the good and the bad, and the ways in which we have grown together since our inception as a couple. To reflect on His goodness to us is to live in the freedom we have, and to pause our typically hectic and noisy lives in order to basque in the fullness of what freedom in Christ actually means.
This last year (2017) we experienced an unusual amount of deaths in our family which felt emotionally depleting for me particularly as both of my grandparents of whom I was incredibly close with passed away just 3 months apart. Learning how to be a good friend to a grieving parent was a new role for me this year, but I was honored to be that for my mother. Having to tend to my small children has not yet left much room for genuinely grieving them, but I’m appreciative of the heartache I have in their absence because it reminds me of the type of person I want to be while I am here for my own children. We encountered some unexpected and tumultuous variables in my husbands career, but God has sustained and provided for us through it nonetheless. I personally felt a huge emotionally gouge from the uprooting and displacement of some my closest friendships that resulted from a business deal gone bad. The severing of connection and trust is a harsh wound of which I still grieve, but I am incredibly thankful for what I learned through it. All of those things on top of the already draining load that is raising two small children under the age of 3 was really difficult at times, and yet it was equally life-giving because of their knack of bringing joy and eager hope to all things.
There’s ups and downs like that for everyone, our story is not unique. However, what is different about this last year is that for the first time, I have struggled well. Put in another way, I have struggled differently than I ever have before, to the glory of God. This is the healthiest, happiest, and most content i’ve ever been in my life despite it being one of the most difficult years of my life. I believe that is due in full to the very real presence that I have experienced with me every single day, there abiding with me in the details, reminding me that He will never leave me or forsake me. That reality changes reality.
For our situation, in our seventh year, we may not necessarily need to stop working in order to rest. I think the symbolism is perhaps more so a guidepost or a reminder to step back from what is demanded from us and allow freedom to be true of us; to pause, to break from routine, and to usher in the ordering of life that God has for us in Himself. Rest is also an action word, for us to care for and bless others in new and fresh ways as a result of the ways that he has blessed us over the last 6 years. If the seventh year was meant to offer restoration and healing, and as an opportunity for the less fortunate to be given opportunity to help themselves, perhaps this is our year to offer up opportunity to others in a way that feeds their needs. The maker of our souls likely knows what we need better than we do.
Lastly, I love the heart posture of an intentional response to God’s outpouring of love, by opening up a new chapter in our spiritual journey this year for what it means to trust God at His word. By entering into this new year by viewing it as a special opportunity to respond to His goodness to us, we will be pausing with regularity to remember and to rest in who He is, what He has done, and what He has promised for those who love Him. Just as the sabbath belongs to the Lord, we offer this year up to Him to use our time, our resources, and our family in new ways to bring about wholeness and peace in the lives of others- but beginning in our own home.
It’s as if He has secured permission for us just to release ourselves of all of the demands on our life- and to remind us that He is the giver of peace, and that He is deeply interested in taking our faith to new heights. Distraction is a thief, and I believe He is calling us into a more narrow focus. In rest, we’re quiet and still enough to listen as He reminds us of the secret of the easy yoke: to learn from Christ how to live our total lives, how to invest our time and our energies of mind and body as he did. Maybe this is our season of following Christ’s preparations (the spiritual disciplines) for a life that enabled Him to receive his father’s constant and effective support while doing his will.
Rest sounds a lot like deep breaths. Wholeness. Joy.
The Year of Simplicity
I may very well love this the most. Simplicity is really a matter of an inward order. As Dallas Willard puts it, “It is a person who has grown to the place that he or she can finally say with Paul, “This one thing I do.” (Philippians 3:13). This is a person who has entered into simplicity.
This ordering of life represents the sort of person that can easily put all the demands that come towards them “in their place,” and yet deal harmoniously, confidently, and peacefully with the complexities of life that seem incomprehensible to others, because they know what they are doing. They know what they’re deepest calling is in life and they are single-minded in their focus and in the appropriation of their time, energy, and resources.
In the spiritual life, simplicity is not opposed to complexity. And really, simplicity makes complexity bearable. There is so much to be said for ordering our lives to flow only in the direction of our truest selves and in line with our truest tasks. Simple does not mean boring, and it does not mean easy. Our lives should speak volumes about what matters most to us. Most of us however get caught in the entangling hustle and the distraction and the busyness that it’s easy to sacrifice what we are wanting most for something less meaningful if we are not intentional about how we order our lives.
As I go about this next year, with the anthem of simplicity over my life, this is an ordering of what I say “yes,” to, and what I say “no, to.
It’s assessing what and who I allow to flow in and out of my life.
Spiritual transformation and the cultivation of the life of the mind are what motivate me to wake up each and every day. The goal is to become more like Jesus, and in doing so, to become more like my true self. The raising of my children and the quality of my devotion and time I give to my husband are the highest ranking items in my life outside of my relationship with God. Yet if my love for them is not informed and seasoned by the Holy Spirit, and if my heart is not tuned into the words and life of Jesus, I find that my best efforts are mediocre at best. So it is in my best interest, as well as theirs, that I say yes to the things that deepen my apprenticeship to Jesus, and say no to the things that do something contrary things to my heart. Who we are matters, and who we become is dependent on our habits, our environment, our relationships, and our worldview.
An inward order that responds from a place of wholeness and freedom is what unleashes our effectiveness and our purpose, because then we only do the thing we are designed to do and we thrive in it.