Arriving here from a very urban context, I recall being warned of State College’s strange seasonal transition: that weekend in May when the town goes from heaving to seemingly deserted, leaving the rest of us to enjoy a summer of empty restaurants and uninterrupted sleep.
Ours is a community that expects excellence from cradle to grave — excellence in children’s music lessons; excellence in elderly professors, never quite retiring; excellence in all we do, professionally and personally. Alongside excellence comes, of course, great effort, productivity, grit and determination. This is a town that does all things well — young people with extraordinary skills in the classroom and on the playing field; academics and professionals at the very top of their game; a community of restless, striving people.
Despite our infinite supply of wisdom and success, I wonder if we have forgotten how to relax. Talking to parishioners about their plans for these quiet summer weeks, I hear a familiar story: children spending weeks at rigorous camps; adults cramming conferences, meetings and international travel into two free months.
Even clergy are not immune. I recently spent a week with colleagues from across the country at a retreat center in California. Our national church periodically brings clergy together in groups to address wellness; Research reveals we are high risk for stress, depression and all manner of related maladies — particularly because we refuse to stop and relax.
In the Genesis creation narrative, God is exhausted at the end of the sixth day — weary from the creative act — so God stops and rests, delights in the beauty of all that is, weaves Sabbath rest into the rhythm of creation, and commands us to do the same. Recreation is literally “re-creation” — the act of being made new.
We understand this ancient wisdom, yet it grates against every ounce of our being. Wherever we are in life, we have a perpetual sense that our work is never done. We must be busy; we must over-function. We are loaded down by pressures of work, family and expectation. But we also harbor a deep urge that we must do more, try harder, prove ourselves yet again. It’s the hardest work in the world — and it never ends.
In the Gospels, Jesus names us “weary.” Come to me, he promises, and I will give you rest. With all our intelligence and success, can we respond to this man’s invitation? There is, of course, a burden. He names it a “yoke,” but this burden brings life. Christ tells us that His yoke is “easy” — a Greek word just one letter different to that used for “Christ” — and translated elsewhere as “good” or “kind”. This is the work of goodness and kindness and is, I believe, the best offer we’re ever going to get.
We have just a few weeks of summer left. However scheduled the remainder of the season is, please find time for something pointless and fun. And, once we’re back in our fall routines, stop and pause every single day. Notice something beautiful, and remind yourself of our God who commands us to rest.