Two floors down, an expanse of near-nothing is corralled by a rickety fence and feeble wood. Poles that were once solid and stable lean awkwardly. Wire dangles above the weedy desolation by measly, rusted staples. Like an overrun Middle Earth, this landscape is no place for the domesticated. Thistle and thatch govern the once-lush garden. Abandoned for months, there’s little sustaining life in the used-to-be Eden of peppers, Swiss chard, green beans, lettuce and peas. But all is not as it appears. Intentionally forsaken, the energies of sprouting, budding and fruiting were allocated to the more noble activities of rest, recuperation and regeneration.
I intentionally let my garden go fallow this year. Early on, a few plants sprouted from last year’s growth-gone-to-seed. A spinach plant poked its head up in late Spring. Lettuce peeked from the earth, one here another there. Tomato seeds, tossed by last year’s rotted fruit, bore various straggly plants barely supporting even the smallest orb. Although amused by these volunteers, I was not self-satisfied. I knew these spotty growths were only happenstance results of hard work done a year earlier. And then a thought arose as I gazed down from the window.
A harvest is gathered when we are actively and intentionally working. I’m a strong believer in, “we reap what we sow”, especially when it comes to relationships. But all too often we sow vigorously for a while and then we stop (married couples can identify with this). Although fruit is still produced, it’s cast off and casual. And like my plants that appeared this year, our growth is weak, sparse and unpredictable at best. We need to realize that if we’re to be successful, and by that I mean produce desirous fruit, we have to be intentional and tend to what we plant. We cannot work for just a short time and expect the yield to continue for years and years. We need to actively prune, weed and water the work begun. Yes, the kind and intensity of the work changes, but work must still be done.
Then another thought grew. We’re not made to produce constantly. Just as the trees in the North East Sabbath with the coming of the winter chilled winds, so too we must enter into times of “wintering” as God determines. I’ve learned to embrace these seasons as gifts of mercy and expectation. The Scriptures say that every good and perfect gift is from the Father of Heavenly lights (James 1:17). These gifts are often the soft beckoning of the Spirit towards us to rest and recuperate, to solitude and silence.
I just spent time with a good friend who recently spent 4 days in silence. He sheltered away from the noise and confusion to settle his heart, energy and soul to creativity in art. In order to produce, he had to Sabbath. He had to rest. Just as my garden rests from it’s normal production, so too we must from time to time, in a regular and timely rhythm, rest. To do otherwise is inhuman.
As I’ve learned about the depth and breadth of Sabbath I’ve come to hold sacred my times of producing nothing of significance. I’ve found it completely counter culture, especially church culture. But I’ve also found God smack dab in the middle of those occasions. That’s where He waits for His beloved to meet Him. He does not race back and forth as we do. No, He waits for us to draw near to Him and then He speaks. How often have we missed out on the voice of God and exchanged it for productivity? Innumerable, I believe.
So here are the two lessons we must face and embrace. 1) To produce desirous fruit we must work with intentionality and regularity. And, 2) We must learn to rest with regular rhythm, so the fruit produced can be enjoyed. The Genesis story of Creation is marked with a rhythm, with intentional work and then rest. Have you ever noticed that rest doesn’t happen just on the 7th day? Read the passage carefully. Each day is decorated with a distinct, “evening and morning” pronouncement. I believe there’s a pause, a slight, intentional rest between each account, “And there was evening and morning, the second day” (rest). The crescendo comes with the 7th-day ceasing that punctuates the entire narrative. And it is all very good.*
To the undiscerning eye, a plot of weeds can look like neglect, irresponsibility or laziness. And in some cases it is. But to those who understand the essentiality of the rhythm of working and ceasing, it’s the precursor to life. When we rest, we allow the world to spin without our concern, we allow the soil of our hearts to regenerate with nourishing riches and we allow our souls to draw near to the Master of rest, the Creator.
So, take time to establish a regular rhythm of rest, a Sabbath, each week. You can begin to do this each day through the day, in little moments of quiet and prayer. I believe that what is produced as you allow your heart, soul and mind to lay fallow even for brief moments, will be greater than you can imagine.
*Whether you believe in a literal 24-hour day or not doesn't matter for this point. It's more important to grasp the passion of God for rest and ceasing for our good and the manifestation of the Kingdom.