Discipleship,  Life

Stepping Out of the Hamster Wheel

How is your life progressing?

How do you measure that progress?

Perhaps for the day-to-day, you use a calendar and a to-do list. I know I do. Frankly, I do not know how I would properly function without knowing where I am to be, what time I am to be there, and what I am to do.

However, clicking (or checking) off a list of tasks and keeping appointments does not make for a full life. We may be productive, but are we effective? (I have long argued for effectiveness over productivity and efficiency, although each of the latter are important.)

And if we are effective, what is the benefit?

I know that I feel good about the day when I have completed my list. But tomorrow is another day. And much of my schedule is repetitive from week to week. Each week I have a sermon to prepare, other lessons to create, blogs to write, interviews to schedule and conduct for my podcast, meetings to attend, etc.

So, even in the midst of being productive AND effective in the day and the week, it all begins again. This truth leads me back to the original question – How is your life progressing? Or more specifically, How is my life progressing?

In other words, what is the destination? And how will I know when I have arrived?

As I have been exploring Sabbath, I have been reading Wayne Muller’s book on Sabbath. A few weeks ago, I read the following regarding our hopes for reaching some future promised land:

If the promised land is the good and perfect place, then where we are right now must be an imperfect place, a defective place. If the future is sacred, then the present is profane. Every day we are alive, every day we are not yet in paradise is a problem – our daily life is an obstacle in our way, it is another day short of the end time….

This means we have to work hard and long and never, ever rest because our main goal is to get the hell out of here. We cannot rest because we are in ungodly territory, the land of suffering and tribulation, and the sooner we get into the good and future perfect – the only place we will ever be truly happy and at peace – the better off we will all be.

But there is no place to go. Every time we finally reach the future, it vanishes into the present. This perplexing tendency of the future to keep eluding us does not, of course, teach us to be more present, but rather to accelerate faster. (1)

I can relate!

Perhaps you can too.

This is the aim of efficiency. The more efficient we are, the more we can accomplish. Or so the thinking goes. But the more we accomplish, the more we feel we should accomplish. The more we feel we must accomplish. And the more efficient we try to be become.

And the cycle continues. Or, to use the word choice of Muller, the cycle “accelerates.”

Now, mentally, I do not fully support Muller’s premise. Yes, this world is not what it can be or what it should be. But I do not think of it as “ungodly territory.” The territory is certainly lacking the fullness of God, and thus we run, and run faster, and often find ourselves getting nowhere. We are seeking purpose and seeking progress, but we run like the hamster in the wheel. And that is Muller’s point. For the Christian, we may see something different – as through a haze – but we know it is there. But for those who do not know Christ, well, this “ungodly territory” is the only territory they know.

And, thus, Muller continues,

This is the theology of progress. Only when we get to the end can we lie down in green pastures, be led beside still waters, and allow our souls to be restored. This is the psalm we sing when people have died. This is the psalm we save for death, because in the world of progress, you do not rest in green pastures, you do not lie beside still waters, there is no time. Never in this life, only in the next. Only when we get to the promised land. (2)

And that is the benefit of Sabbath. Let me continue with Muller’s thoughts:

Sabbath challenges the theology of progress by reminding us that we are already and always on sacred ground. The gifts of grace and delight are present and abundant; the time to live and love and give thanks and rest and delight is now, this moment, this day. Feel what heaven is like; have a taste of eternity. Rest in the arms of the divine. We do not have miles to go before we sleep. The time to sleep, to rest, is now. We are already home. (3)

That is what I have discovered during Sabbath. Yes, I work my list and my calendar for six days each week. But on the seventh day, I don’t care. No schedules. No agendas. It is freeing. It is not only physical rest, it is mental rest. It is beautiful. It is peaceful. It is…SABBATH.

So, now I am trying to redefine progress. I am trying to reset my expectations. I still have goals. And I am still every bit as purposeful as I have been. But those goals and purposes include rest as I have not experience in years. Even decades.

And I wouldn’t trade that rest – or at least I hope I won’t – for anything. Because it is truly a part of realizing, “Let Your Kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven.”

I don’t know how you might measure progress. And I don’t know where my final thoughts on my own measurement may land. But what I do know is that the journey has been fruitful. The thinking has been stimulating. And the rest has been refreshing and ironically invigorating.

So, what does progress mean to you? Are you willing to have your thinking challenged? If so, don’t wait until you are dead to rest and be still. Don’t have others recite Psalm 23 about your future. Surrender to Sabbath now so they might recite the psalm about your past.

If you do, perhaps your example may encourage others to surrender to Sabbath as well.

(1) Wayne Muller, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight In Our Busy Lives. New York: Bantam Books, 2000, p 78.

(2) Ibid., 79.

(3) Ibid.

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