I’m going on renewal leave. What does that even mean? I’ve spent the last six months trying to get my mind around it, preparing for it, and anticipating it with a strange mixture of joy and dread. I do believe, because I’ve seen how it has helped others, that renewal leaves can refresh us for the new things God has in store for us, things we sometimes can’t see when we are in the midst of the day-to-day. It’s also good for us not to imagine that we’re so indispensable that God can’t manage things without our help for a while.
I’ll be doing a lot of writing, which means I won’t disappear from this space, but I’m trying to fight against the urge to produce. One of the lessons of Sabbath that I am learning with great difficulty is that rest is a great antidote to our tendency to justify our worth based on what we’ve done. It’s very tempting to direct God’s attention to a pile of accomplishments and say, “I must have earned a spot in your heart, God. Just look at how busy I’ve been.”
God loves our work, but God blesses our rest as well. Even our play. Because God invented Sabbath and God knows that the world is not in our hands, but in God’s.
In her poem “Camas Lilies,” Lynn Ungar uses Jesus’s image of the lilies of the field (Luke 12:27) to explore our obsession with being ‘useful’:
Consider the lilies of the field
the blue banks of camas opening
into acres of sky along the road.
Would the longing to lie down
and be washed by that beauty
abate if you knew their usefulness
Ungar then goes on to imagine taking that image seriously:
And you—what of your rushed and
useful life? Imagine setting it all down—
papers, plans, appointments, everything—
leaving only a note: “gone
to the fields to be lovely. Be back when I’m through blooming.”
Then she concludes:
Even in sleep your life will shine.
Make no mistake. Of course
your work will always matter.
Yet Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these.
So I’m not going off to be useful. I’m going off to be lovely.