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Sunday, Sabbath, and the Weekend
Managing Time in a Global Culture
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
Copyright © 2010 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
All right reserved.
Chapter One Home Alone — Seeking Sabbath
My life is like yours, a very full life. I wear several different hats, and the days that are really toughest are the days I have to wear all the hats at once. I am the co-pastor and the pediatrician and the doctor and the mom and the wife, and my husband and I have had the privilege of taking care of his mother who has been living with us, and she has had middle stage Alzheimer's disease. At the end of the day, it has been a full day for me as I am sure it is for you most days.
As I think about "seeking Sabbath" in my life, or about Sunday as Sabbath, my thoughts turn to the Gospel of Luke in the second chapter. Here we read of the account of the boy Jesus at the Temple. It begins:
Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When He was twelve years old they went up to the feast according to the custom. After the feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company they traveled on for a day, then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find Him they went back to Jerusalem to look for Him.
Now I'm especially interested in verse 44: "Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day." And I'm going to ask you to very quickly think with me on the topic of "Home Alone." Home alone. I was especially excited to take up this topic. I must confess that when I first received a request to think about "Seeking Sabbath," I had awakened early in the morning and, going through the mail (and in our house mail can sit for a couple of weeks before we actually get to it — thank you, Jesus!) I opened up this mail and the invitation — and I still had sleep in my eyes — and the first thing I read was "Sneaking Sabbath." And I thought, oh my gosh! Isn't this a really deep kind of thought, that we are sneaking Sabbath. It was only after I looked again that I realized in fact the title was "Seeking Sabbath."
The reality is, the reason so many of us might have had the same reaction is because for too many of us we do in fact have to "sneak" Sabbath. When we make room for it at all, we have to sneak that time of rest. I come to you through the medium of this opening chapter in a book on "Seeking Sabbath" in this culture, or on Sunday as Sabbath in a global culture, recognizing the difficulty of what this may mean for each of us. And I come not only as clergy, but as a pediatrician who is very concerned about the impact of the fact that we as a culture do not seek the Sabbath and in fact many times do not even "sneak" the Sabbath. And so my title in these opening remarks is "Home Alone — Seeking Sabbath."
Many of you may recall the title Home Alone. It was the name of a very popular box office hit several years ago. The movie takes place during Christmas time when the family is preparing to go abroad to celebrate Christmas. They are so frantically going through all of their packing and preparations to get to the airport and onto the plane that it is not until they are well in the air and well on their way that they discover that one of their children is in fact not with them. Instead, he has been left home alone. He is home alone, there to fend for himself — and to fend off some bumbling burglars! Much of the movie is focused on this little boy who is home alone and on his efforts to be rid of the intruding burglars. It is a delightful comedy, but also one that drew me to the text of Luke 2:44 as we are drawn to the topic of Sabbath — and of Sunday as Sabbath — in contemporary culture.
In this particular text in the Gospel of Luke we come upon the parents of Jesus as they too have set out on a journey, not realizing, unaware, ignorant, incognizant, unmindful, and not "with it" — caught tripping, not hip-to-the-fact that their boy Jesus was not with them. Thinking that he was with their company, assuming that he was with them, they traveled on. However, like with the little boy Kevin in the movie Home Alone, Jesus' parents were well on their way before they realized that in fact their child was not with them. He was, in fact, making his own way and doing his own thing. In the business of organizing and reorganizing, making lists and "checking them twice," they had assumed that the boy was with them when in fact he was not.
This is a phenomenon that is probably familiar to those of you who like me come from large families. There were eight in my family. In fact there were five of us who were one year apart. And so I can remember some occasions when someone got left behind. There was one occasion when my father took us to the beach. The eight of us used to pile into our old blue Studebaker and he'd stack us into the car in the days before mandatory seatbelts. We grew up in an Air Force family and lived on Guam at the time. Every Sunday afternoon he would take us to the beach. I remember looking out of that car and seeing my mom on the porch waving goodbye. I thought she was so brave because she was smiling even though there was no room in the car for her. I thought of her as making a sacrifice of love so that we could go to the beach; she would have to stay at home, alone. It wasn't until I grew up and had children of my own (by the way, although my mother had eight I have only two — and I call one alpha for the beginning and the other omega for the end) that I realized that in fact she wasn't making a sacrifice of love, she was sneaking Sabbath.
I come to this conversation of finding what Sabbath means in our society with a sense of urgency. As a pediatrician I have devoted over twentyfive years to a professional career ministering to the health and wholeness of children and of their families. Among my greatest rewards as a practitioner is seeing many of my children grow and develop and mobilize their strengths and marshal their resources to successfully negotiate the increasingly daunting package called life in the twenty-first century. Most of these children will do well, but a few will not. Because God desires that none should be lost, a few is a few too many.
From wealthy suburban neighborhoods to impoverished urban communities, too many of our children are experiencing the painfully slow but steady process of going under. Life is killing them softly as our best and brightest gradually succumb to the risky behaviors that attract them toward death at an early age. We are in a crisis. According to the recent publications of the state of America's children, published by the Children's Defense Fund, at the end of every day, including this day, six children and youths under twenty will commit suicide and ten children and youth under the age of twenty will be homicide victims. At the end of this day 186 children will be arrested for violent crime, and 1,354 babies will be born to teenage mothers. Almost 8,000 children will be reported as being abused and neglected, and over 17,000 public school students will have been suspended at the end of this day. These are the victims of a not-too-silent holocaust that characterizes your community and mine. It invades our communities, our churches, and even our homes. Too many of America's children are home alone.
I often receive referrals from the School Department requesting me to evaluate children for attention deficit disorders. And I often find that the problem is less with the child, who is naturally curious and active in his or her own way, with his or her own way of learning, and more an issue with the school which does not want to take the time to discover this particular child's learning style and to set up a structure that will adapt accordingly. Occasionally I do see a kid who is high impact, nonstop energy, who cannot be focused on drawing a nice picture for the doctor and will not be distracted from destroying every nook and cranny of my office. Now that is an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
A couple of weeks ago I took the bus in to work and there was this one little girl I was watching on the bus. She was just a pure wiggle worm. She moved back and forth in the seat, and then she started singing at the top of her voice, "A B C D E F G...." And she would just turn around and around. She was just a busy little girl. And I thought, "My goodness, what a handful she is!" Only soon did I discover, as we both got off at the same stop and went to the second floor of my office building, that she was my first patient for the day. Indeed, she had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
I fear that our culture has developed a malignant case of ADHD, and that it is destroying the integrity of the village that needs to raise the children. It's been said that in order to locate one's heart you must look at one's calendar and one's checkbook. If we look at our collective calendar and checkbook, my fear is that it may reveal a set of priorities in this culture that functionally regards our children as readily dispensable and easily disposable. Too many of our children are home alone.
For many of us the pull to be here and the push to go there, the drive to buy some of this and purchase more of that finds us busy, and in fact too busy to minister effectively to our families. Every day over 351 children are arrested for drug abuse and over 2,000 babies are born to mothers who are not high school graduates. Too many of America's children are home alone. Of course, I realize to a large extent that I am preaching to the choir. I suspect that that is why many of you may be interested in a book like this, because you know all of this to be true. We need to find that Sabbath in our lives that enables us to be present to one another and, in particular, to our children. Many of you, like me, are on the front lines, and we do not have the luxury of simply reading the statistics or simply hearing about the stories. Sabbath has something to do not only with our relation to God but also to one another. We are daily reminded of this as we are challenged to look beyond the matter of facts of the numbers and peer at the strained faces of boys and girls trapped beneath a load of overwhelming cares, for too many of our children are home alone.
My own need for Sabbath comes firsthand, up close and personal. Some time ago my husband talked with the CEO of TJX Companies, which owns TJMaxx Corporation. The company lost several of its buyers on Flight 11 out of Logan in the 9/11 tragedy. He said the most salient aspect of the crisis was not helping people to work through their anxieties about flying again but processing their concerns about the busyness of their lives, and the extent to which their lifestyle takes them away from their families.
He said that many of the people with whom he met were trying to come to grips with the reality that nobody on their deathbed ever regrets not making just one more meeting. They regret the breakdown or loss of relationships. I know that especially on this side of September 11, 2001, God is calling you and me to be examples of behavior that manifests the good use of time, to wade through the rubble of life and to begin to rebuild from the ruins that characterize too much of our spiritual lives. We must raise up the solid foundations of our homes that have been chipped away at by the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desire for other things; repair the broken walls of our fractured churches which, because they have been divided against themselves, have not been able to stand; and restore the streets of our neighborhoods with dwellings that signify life, real life, rested life, for us and our children, and that is the life that is more abundant. It takes Sabbath space — and many of us ground this in Sunday as Sabbath.
I write this opening chapter not only as a pediatrician, and not simply as a fellow choir member, but as someone who urgently understands the need for rest. Our family has emerged from what was for us a low point in our life. The wounds are fresh, too fresh to share a lot of the details. Suffice it to say that some time ago, after I had injured my back and slowed down for a half minute, I got busier than ever. Then followed a jolting pain, but I did not stop because I was too busy. Next, I found myself stretched out on the floor in excruciating pain, but the physical pain that I experienced paled to the emotional pain that my other family members were experiencing. It was a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day, extending for several days and then several weeks. As the psalmist declares, my tears were my food day and night. And as I lay on my back at Brigham and Women's Hospital the Lord reminded me that He had been trying to get my attention for several months and in fact in some areas for several years, but I was too busy with the Work of the Kingdom to address some things. He had warned me that either I would slow down or I would break down. I did not slow down, and so....
Sometimes the trauma is obvious. Sometimes the way that we are unavailable for our children is obvious, but sometimes it is more subtle. It is "the little foxes that destroy the vine." It's the short fits of anger and rage and the small seed of bitterness and the teeny tiny unforgiveness which over time, because of our lack of time, according to the Epistle of James becomes full grown and gives birth to the death of hope and vision and leads to a breakdown. And so depression and discouragement and disillusionment had moved into our home, and I had been too busy to address them — and our own family experienced "home alone."
And I felt I was being told that the back injury was not about me toting and lifting. Rather, it was about the Lord talking to me and me not taking the time to listen. It was a breakdown, not a trick of the enemy. It was God trying to get my attention, and it was not about new stuff but about the very old in my life. Stuff that with time and lack of attention had become old and smelly and rotten, and it had not been addressed and it was time to clean house. It was not a test; it was a true emergency.
I come at this opening chapter with the intent of encouraging you to take to heart the notion of seeking Sabbath in your life, and to know that Psalm 34:18 is true: the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and He does save those who are crushed in spirit, and God says that if you will stay still long enough, if you will listen and be quiet long enough, He will take you from a breakdown to a breakthrough. The word of encouragement for us as a family is that we made more progress in our life together following the crisis than we had in many years previous to it. I am writing this to let you know that God is faithful and that if you will slow down long enough you can proclaim to the enemy for your family and for the families in your congregation and for the families in your community and for the families in this culture that they shall not die but live and proclaim what the Lord has done.
And so you must be present. You must take the time to be present.
Studies show that the average father spends thirty-seven seconds a day in significant interaction with his children. That is unacceptable. We must demonstrate better by the lives that we live, by the sermons that we preach, by the relationships that we establish in society and among our congregations a different standard. The psychologist David Elkind from Tufts University has written about the "hurried child" and about his own anxiety that our culture is in too much of a hurry. Writing about a day when he visited his son in the classroom, he tells of his observation of a group of boys, including his own, who sat in a circle nearby. The conversation went like this: One little boy said, "My Daddy is a doctor and he makes a lot of money and we have a swimming pool." And another child said, "My Daddy is a lawyer and he flies to Washington and he talks to the President." And then the third child said, "My Daddy owns a company and we have our own airplane." At which point Elkind's own son, with a proud look in his father's direction, declared, "My Daddy isn't any of these things but my Daddy is here."
My Daddy is here. And so we must take the time to be here, and when you leave wherever you may be, and think about home, if you're not there, and you will go to wherever that might be, whether Boston, New York, Charlotte, or some other place or town, and you will go to all kinds of cities and places, then you must go home, and you must be present with the children whom you love and the families who love you back, and you must be there physically and you must be there emotionally.
Excerpted from Sunday, Sabbath, and the Weekend Copyright © 2010 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Excerpted by permission of William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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