52 Snow Days … and counting
by Rev. Lara “Willis” Greene, First United Methodist Church, Newton
I knew something had changed when I did not completely freak out with excitement when the announcement arrived that school would be closed due to inclement weather – a SNOW DAY!!! Really, who doesn’t love a good snow day? You get to sleep in, binge watch Netflix, eat junk food, read good books, watch movies and most importantly, stay in your pajamas the entire day. A snow day is a day with no responsibilities, no expectations, and nowhere to go. Normally, when a snow day is called, you will find my children and me dancing around the house. Snow days are the bomb! So this past January, when the huge snow storm hit North Carolina and the school closing announcement was made, why wasn’t I high-fiving with my teenage son? What had happened to me? I was not overcome with enthusiasm like I once used to be at the prospect of a day on which I could do totally nothing. What in the world had changed?
It just might have something to do with the fact that over the last year, I have had fifty-two snow days. Yes, do the math, that’s one snow day a week. The “call from the school” comes around 9:00pm on Thursday night and while no meteorologists are involved, I know that the weather will begin to clear up on 9:00pm on Friday. I prepare for my snow days by getting the house in order. I finish up the laundry, pay a bill or two and clear off my desk. For the next 24 hours I will not be checking texts or e-mails so I decipher which ones are urgent, reply to them and inform folks not to expect to hear from me again until Saturday. Around 9:00pm I let go. Whether it is all done or not, I simply stop (and yes, there is a part of me that still wants to get “one more thing” done) but I stop, trusting that the world will keep revolving even if I do not get the spatula returned to its’ proper place or the birthday present wrapped or the light bulb changed or the expired coupons cleaned out or whatever it may be that is enticing me to stay busy. I simply stop “doing” all these things because I trust that God will keep the world (including my little corner of it) spinning fine without me – it is this deep trust that turns my snow days into Sabbaths, a twenty-four hour period in which I do nothing work related. Let me clarify, Sabbath is not my “day off.” To distinguish the two, I try to follow these four guidelines which I have adopted from the work of Pete Scazzero and his ministry, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.
1. Stop: I cease work – paid and unpaid. Sabbath is first and foremost a day for me to stop. The word itself, Sabbath, comes from the Hebrew word that means “to cease, to stop working.” It has always been difficult for me to stop. Prior to celebrating Sabbath, I was always trying to get the “next thing done” and I would not stop until I got everything done. But the truth is, there is always, always one more thing to “do” so now when I stop on Thursday nights, I do so with the assurance that God will keep the world in order without me. I do not work around the house or catch up on errands, as I do on my day off, I simply stop. It’s actually quite fun when I look at a load of laundry and give myself permission NOT to do it! Saturday will be here in just a few hours and then I can do all the laundry my heart desires (as if my heart desires laundry!)
2. Rest: So you may be asking, what do you do if you’re not doing laundry and running to the post office? I take a nap, I take long walks, I read a book, I watch a movie. I do anything which is relaxing and releases my mind from work related issues. I know what you’re thinking so let me just state it – what a waste of time, it is completely unproductive and inefficient – yes it is. But as Catholic theologian, Leonard Doohan, says, “To fail to see the value of simply being with God and doing nothing is to miss the heart of Christianity.” In resting, God reminds me that I am loved regardless of what I achieve and that I am a human being, not a human doing.
3. Relax: Being relaxed and unhurried, enables me to pay attention to God’s amazing gifts and delight in God’s creation. I look at the ordinary things through the lens of delight. I savor my food, smell the grass in the backyard, enjoy the conversation with a good friend and even pay attention to the gift of warm water as I wash my hands. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:
Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God, But only he who sees takes off his shoes; The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
On Sabbath, I take off my shoes and delight in God’s gifts. My husband also celebrates Sabbath, so together we will ask, “What would bring us delight today?” We’ve answered that question with day trips to fun places, long drives on the Blue Ridge Parkway, eating unhurried meals and other experiences that remind us that God’s world is a playground when we look at it through the lens of delight.
4. Contemplate: The focus of every Sabbath is to reflect on the love of God. It is during Sabbath that I am acutely aware of God’s presence in all the gifts which are given through God’s creation. I do not necessarily spend any more time in silence, prayer, scripture reading and reflection than I do on the other six days but what I do is deliberately look for God in the people I encounter, the experiences I enjoy and even in the food I eat. I have a heightened awareness of God’s presence in all that I experience. In many ways, contemplation is an extension of delight. I am intentional about looking for God’s love in all of the things that God has given me to enjoy.
I have been practicing Sabbath for a year now and I am still experimenting on how to fully honor and celebrate this spiritual discipline. Protecting the 24 hour period is on ongoing learning process. For instance, after a long and weighty church meeting on a Thursday evening, I found it impossible to relax on Friday (Sabbath). I learned not to schedule important meetings on Thursday nights. Their proximity to Sabbath had an adverse effect. I’ve also learned that while I delight in other people’s company, if I commit to social engagements on Sabbath, I may be sacrificing my time of rest. In addition, I’ve learned that when a pastoral need arises such as a surgery or a death, I still attend to them on Sabbath but it is not out of a sense of obligation, but rather out of a sense of humble privilege. I have discovered there is no “set” way or “right” way to do Sabbath. I simply try to keep the four principles of stop, rest, delight, and contemplation in each weekly celebration. And to my surprise … the lessons learned from Sabbath have now spilled over into the other six days of the week. Most noticeably, I no longer operate at a harried pace. I pay attention to God’s presence as it is revealed in people and creation. I delight in the small things and I am no longer constantly rushing around. And here is the amazing thing … I am more productive in six days then I ever was in seven, a result of the rest which God gives me on Sabbath.
No other spiritual discipline has changed my life as significantly as Sabbath. It is more than just a Snow Day. I could give scriptural reasons for Sabbath (it is the longest and most specific of the 10 Commandments). I could list the physical and emotional benefits of Sabbath but for me, what it boils down to is the issue of trust. I trust that I am cherished by God for who I am, not for what I achieve. I trust that ultimately there is only one God so I have stopped applying for the position and now I simply accept and enjoy the gift of Sabbath … fifty-two snow days a year!