This is part of our microadventure in lockdown series throughout April. You can find the rest of them here. Do keep letting us know what you’re up to during this time!
“You’re just recording whatever you do in your day – these aren’t microadventures!“
Several of you have joked this with me recently, and I must confess, that in my desire to create achievable microadventures that could be done by most people in lockdown, they may have come out as quite basic at times. Particularly the broadening of #microadventures away from purely physical activity. But none-the-less I’ve been heartened by all of you who’ve sent in pictures and stories of you doing similar adventures, I stand by the definition given and now present to you what I think a millenial adventurer may find the hardest microadventure yet. But please excuse the forray through Twitter, into the Judeo-Christian worldview to get there. The Zombies will come on stage later.
Scrolling the infinite feeds of Twitter
Twitter is not the place I usually turn to in order to see where public opinion lies, but occasionally I get drawn in to the rabbit warren of threads and replies on random topics. This one was a local councilor who was campaigning to open the centre of Belfast (shops etc) on Sunday mornings for tourists and others who may want that. One comment beneath was telling, though quite representative of the main thrust of comments (and I paraphrase):
“I used to think those religious nuts who campaigned to lock up swings and shut everything on Sunday were hilarious. I still do. But some of what they campaigned for, I actually see as really helpful now. Keeping shops shut on Sundays gives the worker a chance to take a break from the incessant work expectations. It gives family-run businesses and start-ups a chance to have a break, so that they can compete with the bigger chains in the long-run. It gives the individual worker the chance to say no, when their big company pressures them into working Sundays, despite technically saying they ‘don’t have to‘.”
Christians have embittered some societies in the past with a high emphasis on rules and regulations of what one can or can’t do on a Sunday. The focus was that “God says…” and then the specifics of what they did, made it sound to the rest of society like “God says….lock up the parks” or “God says…you can’t do your gardening”. The untold effects of legalism (going beyond what God actually said) on this issue and many others will continue to ripple in our society today, as the picture of God that is portrayed is a false one.
Even within Christian homes, many have been turned off views of Sabbath, by needless over-extension of authority on the issue – I still remember when a tennis ball was confiscated from two teenagers at a church camp, because the minister did not approve of it being thrown between two people on a Sunday. At the same time many wives (normally) were made prepare “Sunday lunch” which often had them working several hours to get the feast of the week ready. This, for whatever reason, was considered not only acceptable, but in some households, necessary.
Fighting for Sabbath
Such strict or inconsistent interpretation of “resting all that day from our work and recreations, and spending the whole time in public and private worship, except the time spent in works of necessity and mercy” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 60), with no freedom of conscience within these things, is bound to draw the ire of even those who agree that the Sabbath day of rest is a creation ordinance, set up for all time, even before the law was given on Sinai, flowing from when God rested in his work of creation. One of the better accounts of this view is given here.
An increasing body of other Christians, follow D.A.Carson’s lead that the Sabbath is no longer compulsory for God’s people in the same way it used to be.
Lockdown re-teaching Sabbath?
But what all these believers hold in common is that ‘Sabbath’ rests, whether literal or categorical, are still useful for the world, no matter what we believe. A day off in the week has been acknowledged by many societies in the world to be a necessary thing, despite attempts to re-shape the week in other ways (like 10 days weeks). As many millennial drive themselves with such purposeful (often brilliant) work, 24-7, and struggle to stop, it would be a useful tool in our travel bags to have, if we could remember to stop. Ironically, studies would show that we end up being more productive by doing so, rather than less. I’m so glad my parents helped me to pattern life this way, even from early days in studying for school exams and the intensity of sport and music training 6 days a week for competitions.
And similarly for us in lockdown, where all days melt into one. Would re-establishing concrete patterns of work and rest, not be helpful for many us who mentally or physically struggle during these days?
But rhythms of Sabbath (that have always been more than the weekly Sabbath, in Jewish society), have helpful consequences far beyond a day of rest. How can I protect myself from constant “screen fatigue” or becoming a “Zoom”bie as some have said?!
One useful commentator suggested:
“If one works with one’s hands, take a sabbath by resting with one’s mind. If one works with one’s mind, take a sabbath by resting with one’s hands.“
And certainly the latter has always helped me. Spending an afternoon in prayer while doing something physical, is sheer bliss, to free my mind from worry and over-thinking and analysing things that draw me back to feeling like work.
“If one works with one’s hands, take a sabbath by resting with one’s mind. If one works with one’s mind, take a sabbath by resting with one’s hands.“Rabbi Abraham Heschel
The tricky thing about working on Zoom (or other online video-call applications), is that if one has friends that one wants to connect with in one’s free-time, it is very hard to avoid yet more hours on Zoom! And so despite changing modes (work to rest), I still end up feeling exhausted at the end of the day, having spent it all in one posture. This therefore involves careful planning, and I’ve increasingly decided, intentional time away from screens.
There are many challenges to this, given I read a fair bit on Kindle (on my laptop), and I call family and friends at regular times each day. But without being legalistic, I decided to try for a 24 hour Sabbath from screens.
One day fighting
Given my phone is what wakes me up in the morning, the temptation is already there, to turn it on and browse messages sent in the small hours of night, by those I think are far more productive than me. But today, I must resist, turn my alarm off, and leave my phone on my bedside table.
Somehow, after enjoying my usual coffee during a devotional time with God in the morning (which I would not normally have my phone on anyway), by breakfast, I already found myself with my phone back in my pocket. Still turned off, but in my pocket none-the-less. Weirdly, it felt right to have it there.
Several times that morning, I took it out of my pocket simply to give myself distraction from what I was doing. Distraction because I wanted time away from my book I was reading. Distraction because I wanted somebody to tell me that they’re missing my online presence in these few hours, simply by viewing the “like-count” of a social media account. It’s blank “off” screen always disappointed.
Fighting something deeper than screens
Perhaps this little experiment away from screens was telling me something far greater about my heart, character and reality of my life.
The trickiest thing was that this was a day off. So there was 14-16 hours to spend without screens. One can only read so many books. And all my music was largely screen based these days too. I’d been for a run, but in lockdown that was not going to take hours of time.
Several times during my reading, I tried to persuade myself that I actually would be better off, if I understood the text I was reading better, by checking a reference on Google. My finger loitered over the “on” button.
Perhaps hardest was persuading myself that I could draw my housemate into this mad game, by offering to end our binge watching another series on Netflix, and instead play a game on the table or something else.
However, at the end of a day (where I was all too happy to go to bed at a reasonable hour in the evening), I looked back with fondness with all the things this day had taught me. Had a learnt far more today, than any other day I had access to Google and online educational materials? Would I be able to regularly discipline myself to stop reaching for my phone to scroll at any slight opportunity of boredom or discontent?
The Fight continues…
Perhaps this should become a regular Sabbath for me. And perhaps, just maybe, Sabbath could start being good news for the world – something that the Christian tradition can start to hold out with confidence again.
A few resources that may help convince us of the need of wider Sabbath rhythms, and help you in life:
- Fight Hustle, End Hurry Podcast by John Mark Comer and Jefferson Bethke (yes, the man who did that one-hit-wonder video back in the day). They both have similar books out on the topic, which, you guessed it….I was too busy to sit down and read.
- The Common Rule: habits of purpose in an age of distraction – this book is a lifestory of an American missionary entrepreuneur in China, for whom all of life was rosy. Until small distractions, became bigger issues, and bigger issues started to kill him, mentally, physically, spiritually. In his life story, every millennial I’ve met who has read it, has tended to say “that’s me” to some degree. Well worth reading – I’ll write a longer review soon.
- 12 ways your phone is changing you – this book shines a light on things we struggle to acknowledge but gives hope for us all.