So the message of the LORD spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The land finally enjoyed its Sabbath rest, lying desolate until the seventy years were fulfilled, just as the prophet had said. —2 Chronicles 36:21 NLT
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There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. —Hebrews 4:9-11
When Bonnie Joy was very young, she asked me, out of the blue, about the Sabbath. She wanted to know why we didn’t observe it and rest. Since that day, all thosemany years ago, I have wrestled with what it means to enjoy the Sabbath. For me, as a Jewish believer, who is also a music minister, many Saturdays I “work.” Therefore I like to think about it as ministry—but it is also work. And in the last few years I have often told myself, Jesus said “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:12) And if healing a man’s crippled hand is a good thing to do on the Sabbath, what about a broken heart—or broken soul? I believe the ministry that we do is a good thing. And yet… I often wonder what it means to truly remember the Sabbath and keep it holy?
For those who may not know, God has called me to a sabbatical time. It started in May, 2022.
It’s hard to sum up what this sabbatical has meant to me. An extended rest was most certainly not something I planned on when we pulled up roots and moved across country to Spring, Texas. I factored in that it would take a month or two to find the house God intended for us. But after that, and a few weeks of settling in, there were projects to plan, concerts I hoped to schedule, a possible book of devotions to assemble.
Sally’s Journal: May 18, 2022
Drinking in the richness of the morning air—thick and sweet, laden with the green of the forest around me, and all its sounds. A breeze trickles through the screens. I am far from what was Home… Far…
So… Lord, You know I want some clarity about Poland this year. I am afraid, and yet I want to do it, if You are in it, though I can’t even say I’m enthused. I just want to DO something again. I thought I heard You clearly at first about Poland.
Only You, Lord, not my wishes or needs, but only what You are doing at this time. Help me discern Your voice above and beyond my fleshly needs, expectation, wants–etc.
Please talk to me about Poland. Help me be open.
Not now. You must wait. I will help you know.
Is there anything else You would say to me at this time?
It’s a Sabbatical –year…
Yes. And you are fighting it. I have amply provided for you. Believe—and Receive.
God, I don’t want it to be a “sabbatical year.”
You must trust Me. Things have changed. More than you realize. This is not retirement. This is rest. This is not business as usual. Learn to really trust Me.
That brief “dialogue with God” turned my whole world upside down. I not only didn’t go to Poland as I had been planning, but I haven’t done another concert since. It shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me well that initially I stressed a lot more about having to take time to rest than I would have if I was planning a project. Yet, despite all my internal angst about whether or not God was retiring us permanently from ministry (even though He clearly said He wasn’t) and all my concerns as to whether I would even be able to pick up where we left off once I was released from the sabbatical along with the ever-popular how will we survive without income—after all that angsting I began to rediscover rest.
Rest is not a concept I related to. If Sundays were supposed to be about rest, they often ended up being more about fear, anxiety, and frustration in the shadow of my father’s rage. Dad worked six days a week as a florist. Sunday he would take the day off and Mom would tend to the flower shop, so my father could have some time to relax.
But my little brother and I were always getting into some kind of mess, and my father didn’t have patience with what he perceived to be our disrespect. Inevitably he would lose his temper and both of us would be punished. Calm and safety were only restored when Mom came home. Cold sandwiches and mushroom barley soup from Cantor’s was our Balm of Gilead, and watching Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color or Ed Sullivan on TV. As I got older, I learned Mom’s prescription for dealing with deep emotional pain, especially all the drama of my teenage years was to keep busy—or at the very least, distracted. I absorbed that lesson into my bloodstream.
I bought a registered quarter horse during the summer of my 16th year. His name was legally, “The Bummer.” Due to his odd coloring he looked like a slice of blueberry pie. I loved him. During that period of my life I rode my bike everywhere—school, work, and out to see my horse. I rode my bike sixteen miles, from Studio City to Northridge in the San Fernando Valley, where I boarded Bummer. I would work him out for an hour or two. I didn’t have a saddle so I rode him bareback with a Bozelle (noseband pressure, no bit) bridle. We would gallop down the sandy wash and I felt so free in those moments. Afterward I rode my bike down the length of Sepulveda into Santa Monica, to work the closing shift at my father’s shop. I was pretty crazy in those years.
Entering adulthood I observed people who were busy most of the time seemed to be important and valued in some way more than others. They were more in demand. they were significant. So, during my second year of college in Boston, I was carrying a full load of credits and working almost 50 hours a week at a submarine sandwich shop across the street from Boston University.
Once or twice a week, after my shift, I would go over to my friend’s apartment to practice. Rodger was a wonderful pianist who accompanied me as I sang old standards. We auditioned for several clubs around town, hoping to get a gig. I was very busy all the time until my body hit a wall, and I had to stop doing everything for awhile—and REST.
Later in life, as a wife, mom, and minister I was doing something almost all the time. In fact, I was often not entirely present, because I was always thinking ahead and trying to use my time efficiently—or so I thought. And I won’t lie, it felt good to be in demand, to be needed, to be pseudo-significant. But I could never completely unwind or relax. Even on a retreat or vacation, I could only “let down” to a certain point and then, of course, I would amp all the way back up again.
But this current season in my life has been surprisingly different. I am not saying I have finally arrived in my understanding of rest and the Sabbath. But I will admit that during this time I have had more fun with Michael than I can remember in a long time, and that has been healing for both of us. We have enjoyed furnishing our new house, exploring restaurants nearby, visiting estate sales where we have found large and small treasures. In addition, it has been very nice to visit with Dusty semi-regularly for coffee and writing sessions—or just talking. In the process my driving has slowed down because most days there is nowhere I have to be at any particular time.
I’ve discovered walking trails near our house and spotted a little herd of deer, turtles in the drainage ditch, egrets, and an occasional vulture. And if I feel momentarily drained during the early afternoons I curl up on our little sofa in our bedroom and nap. But the absolute dead giveaway for me that God is in the mix is actually laughing at Michael’s jokes. I don’t remember the last time I genuinely enjoyed his humor when we were still living in California. So much of it has to do with enough time and space to unwind and really be present in the moment.
In short, some parts of me have, quite literally, unclenched.
I have a very wonderful voice teacher, Fred Carama, who has put up with me for the last twenty or more years. And finally, some of the basic elements of his teaching hit home in a way I have been able to regularly apply during this sabbatical. When I let go internally I’m able to sustain higher notes with greater ease. Of course, remembering to relax in front of a crowd may prove challenging when the time comes. But it has been such a revelation in this time.
Throughout this season I have discovered how much of my previous stress level has had to do with ego—with being seen and appreciated. And make no mistake, I have enough ego to supply a small army of narcissists. Looking back, I can see more clearly how my need for significance was wrapped up in so many aspects of my life and ministry.
For example, while recently walking into the new church we have been attending, it occurred to me that no one there knew who we are and what we do. It was kind of disorienting after all our years of ministry to be a complete unknown. I wanted to be seen but, at the same time, wanted to be invisible. Being seen always carries a certain amount of pressure and expectation. And yet, not being seen left me struggling with my identity.
Nothing changed in the eyes of God. I was still who He created and called me to be. What was exposed was my need to be noticed and how that played into my need for significance. And while I believe God has certainly used Michael and me in our less-than-perfect state, I feel the Lord has revealed these things so that repentance and healing can take place. So, in this time of rest, I have begun asking God to show me how to serve Him wholeheartedly.
Recently, I was perched in my little office chair which is continually shedding its thin, shiny top skin. I was sipping cold fresh-squeezed orange juice in my fleecy holiday socks and sweatshirt—cozy, comfortable, all my peeps close by for the time being as the girls had all come home. I was suffering absolutely no sensory deprivation at the moment. I didn’t have to be–ANYWHERE. There was no rush to do—ANYTHING. But, it was—and is–still a foreign concept. After all, what is my life if not a series of what I need to do next?
Despite all the aforementioned, I am beginning to enjoy moments of this sabbatical season and wonder why I wrestled with them for so many months. Make no mistake—I still have fleeting thoughts of what I could be doing during this time. But I just might possibly be learning how to let go a little better and wait on the Lord for His timing
. Today, perhaps. I make no promises for tomorrow.
When I look around the body of believers, so many of us are driven. But I have to wonder who is doing the driving? This has never been a pure thing in me. God has definitely called me from time to time, but the way I responded was not always ideal. And a lot of people who I love, and who love me, have suffered because of my driven nature in responding to God’s invitation. This is something I have only let myself think about in the last few months. While I don’t feel any condemnation, I do feel some conviction.
I have laughed more recently, slowed down, been more aware in many ways of the people I love than ever before. I am very grateful. But I am aware that everything on the planet, in this very finite, mortal life, is fleeting. And as I wind up this period of rest, sometime in mid–May this year, I hope and pray to retain at least some of the lessons learned in this season.
Good and committed believers often point to the Great Commission and say we need to do everything we can—we are blessed to be a blessing. They relentlessly pursue what they feel God called them to, and they ultimately burn out, unable to sustain God’s calling in their own strength. I know, because I have certainly dabbled in that arena. But I believe we need to follow Him in all that He leads us to do—or not do. Why is there a Sabbath rest at all if we need to do for Him 24/7?
It is His incarnational life I am seeking after: Christ in me—the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27) Not to sound too cosmic, but it’s actually scriptural. I can’t live my life FOR Him. My flesh will always betray me. I need Him to live His life IN and THROUGH me by His Spirit. My part is to yield, surrender, say Yes, Lord—and MEAN IT!
Whether He calls me to a packed concert schedule or project, or He invites me to wait on Him and rest, I want to do it all as unto the Lord—because His Spirit abides in me, And by God’s grace I am hopefully abiding in Him.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains* in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
*(abide, dwell, stay)