August 30, 2012

The Fruit of Good Rest

Filed under: Children and Families,Lectionary,Social Gospel,Time and Talent — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 10:35 am

This week’s Collect asks God to, among other things, “bring forth in us the fruit of good work.” But it’s Labor Day weekend, for heaven’s sake! Since 1894 Americans have celebrated the importance of labor in our society by pausing for a day of rest. It marks the end of summer, the end of lax schedules and looser routines. “After Labor Day” is cultural shorthand for “when the kids are back in school, when we’re back to our regular service times, when things get back to normal.”

Labor Day weekend is about as close as we come to observing a great big national Sabbath. Maybe that’s why I found Richard Rohr’s lovely reflection on work so compelling this week:

The final fruitfulness of work is actually found by choosing and living its exact opposite—the cessation of work—or the Sabbath rest. Unless approximately one-seventh of life is also ceasing from work, putting spaces, paragraphs, and parentheses around my efforts, work will always become compulsive, addictive, driven, unconscious, and actually counter-productive for the self and for those around us. We also need not to work.[i]

What a great way to think about the spiritual nature of rest, the importance of taking human pauses in addition to the God-centered observance of Sabbath time. Time for us; time for God; time for work—a trinity of wholeness in our stewardship of time and effort, each feeding and enhancing the others.

The challenge, of course, is that rest and Sabbath are hard, sometimes even impractical. Most of us have been taught to work hard, earn a living, be successful, buy cooler stuff; rest and Sabbath just don’t fit the paradigm. Some of us might remember being scolded “If you have time to sit around reading a book, I have plenty for you to do;” permission to rest is not going to come easily. If we are already working three jobs and still not making ends meet, rest isn’t even going to be on our radar.

There’s no denying that the spiritual discipline of rest and Sabbath is, in itself, hard work. This work has many names: mid-life crisis, wake-up call, unemployment, spiritual awakening. Think about people you know who have talked with you about lying in a hospital bed after a heart attack or a cancer surgery—how often have you heard, “I had a lot of time to think during that time.” or “I knew right then that I had to do things differently.” How many of us have heard our friends say, or even said ourselves, “When I reached the age when my mother/father died, I realized….” or “After I lost my sister, I took a hard look at my own life.” I’ve even talked with people who describe losing their jobs as “the kick in the pants I needed to make changes in my life.”

It doesn’t have to be traumatic. It can be intentional. We have the power to say, “I’m going to take this journey; I’m going to tackle this spiritual discipline.” You might choose to do it through journaling prayer. You might set aside retreat time for yourself, or with a partner, or as a family. You might gather a discussion group, holding one other in prayer and mutual support. As with all things in the life of the whole and healthy steward, there is no one answer. The only truly right answer is simply, “I will, with God’s help.”

I will, with God’s help, ask myself how I might cease from work.

I will, with God’s help, explore why I resist rest, why I struggle with Sabbath, why not being busy frightens me.

I will, with God’s help, open myself to the gifts of time, presence, compassion, and prayer that I might offer—and receive—if I were to observe rest and Sabbath.

I will, with God’s help, give myself permission to re-word the Collect:

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good rest; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.[ii]


[i] The Tasks Within the Tasks: A Spirituality of Work and Non-Work, Richard Rohr, 2007

[ii] The Book of Common Prayer, p. 233; Collect for Proper 17: Contemporary



  1. Lisa, having retired a few months ago, this is a timely essay for me. It has been an interesting journey settling into a much less hectic and less stressful lifestyle. Still a work in progress but I am loving it! Brenda

    Brenda Eckles (Sent from my iPhone)

    Comment by Thom & Brenda Eckles — August 30, 2012 @ 1:54 pm |Reply

  2. I love it, Brenda, that you are taking your retirement transition and your spiritual journey as parts of a whole. This is exactly the kind of turning point that can be a time of blessing and opportunity. Last year I worked with a congregation that did a demographic study and discovered that the big opportunity in their community (consultants never say “weak spot in their ministry”) was a significant population between the ages of 45-65. They became intentional about learning more about this life stage and its spiritual needs and as a result have reached out to engage the very “work in progress” you describe. I’m glad this essay resonated; I love being able to offer these reflections for dialogue and growth.

    Comment by Lisa Meeder Turnbull — August 31, 2012 @ 1:22 pm |Reply

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