October 14, 2008
If You Give a Donkey a Day Off . . .Today's Donkey Tale lands in the Old Testament once again, in the Ten Commandments to be exact. (How many of you knew there were donkeys in the Ten Commandments???)
According to author Laura Numeroff, "If you give a mouse a cookie, he's going to ask for a glass of milk." "If you give a pig a pancake, she's going to ask for some balloons." And "if you give a moose a muffin, he'll want some jam to go with it." She hasn't written a donkey book, but if she does, I suggest she start it like this: "If you give a donkey a day off, he's going to want some thought-provoking books to read."
Since donkeys are popping up everywhere these days (if you haven't seen them, you must not be looking hard enough), I imagine she'll want to do a donkey book soon. And she's welcome to take my suggestion for an opening line--but I didn't actually come up with the idea of giving your donkey a day off by myself. The idea has been around for a long time:
Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.Now, I am all for giving my donkey a day off. And my ox and my manservant and maidservant, not to mention my son or daughter or any foreigners. If I had responsibility for any of those, I would definitely give them a day off each week.
Furthermore, I myself quite enjoy days off--both weekends and holidays or vacation time. I cherish my vacation days and count them closely, carefully planning how and when I'll use each one. Rest is hugely important, I know; I finish each weekend and vacation by moaning that I want more time to rest. So reading God's commandment to the Israelites should make us almost giddy with delight. "What?? God's commanding us to take a day off?? Is he for real???!?"
And yet, for most American Christians, I'm guessing it's in the bottom five for most-followed commands out of the ten commandments listed in Deuteronomy. I certainly don't do it, even though every day I feel my tiredness, my exhaustion, my need for stillness and rest. While I do guard my Sunday afternoons carefully as my "introvert-recovery/introvert-readying-for-the-week-ahead time" I often do work, or laundry, or dishes, or cleaning, or any other number of "urgent" tasks that, while not always pleasant, feed some type of addiction to productivity and usefulness in me.
Why is this invitation to rest often so hard? I know why it feels so difficult for me: I'm afraid to admit my own uselessness, and I feel unable to grasp my inherent value apart from anything I do. Our workplaces, our busy culture that keeps us running, even our churches often communicate to us that we are valuable because of what we do. There's no clear line between "lazy" and "resting," so we seem to stay far away from both.
But God's list of people and animals that are to rest on the Sabbath reminds me that we're created for work and play and rest; rest is part of his intention and desire for us. Undomesticated animals don't seem to fight this. For example, they don't run all the time (some of them, like turtles, never run at all). They run when they need to, when they want to. And then they rest.
How much more should we--the most complex of God's creation, created to be over the animals--be able to recognize our need for rest and take it, obeying his instructions?
Obedience isn't the only reason for rest, though. Practicing the Sabbath was supposed to remind the Israelites of the way God had freed them (in his own power, without any help from them), and what he had freed them from (lives of labor and slavery to work). And that's what our practice of the Sabbath will remind us of as well. I believe that if we really begin to consistently incorporate a day of true rest, we'll be freed from slavery to productivity and to proving our worth based on what we do. Instead, we'll be free to live securely in the knowledge of our own value in God's eyes, apart from what we do, and free to trust God to accomplish things so that we can rest--things that he can accomplish in better and wiser ways than we could anyway.
So this week, give your donkey a break. But even more, give yourself a break. God has an opening line for your story too: "If you take a Sabbath day, you're going to start to know your value, and . . ." First rest, then tell us how the rest of it goes.