God gives sleep to the beloved

As the year draws to a close, many of us are engaging in the great December tradition of running harder than ever. Work is crazy-busy, and our calendars are filled with end-of-year deadlines, functions and events – so much so that some of us have already said we won’t be at church until February. As one person said a few years ago, “I barely have time to breathe in Advent, let alone reflect.”

But if you are tired of the hustle, here is a Psalm for you. It paints a picture of a peaceful city moving in what Eugene Peterson describes as the “unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:28-30, MSG). That is, each person is working alongside God, doing only what they need to do. There is no need to strive, because with God working beside us we can trust that what we do is enough: and having done enough and no more, there is time aplenty for prayer, for conversation, for evening walks, that is, for all the things that enable the blessing of good sleep.

Unless God builds the house,
in vain the builders labour.
Unless God watches over the city,
in vain the watchman keeps vigil.
It is in vain that you rise so early
and go to bed so late;
vain, too, to eat the bread of toil,
for God gives sleep to the beloved. (Psalm 127:1-2, Emergent)

One thing that helps me align with this vision is the discipline of inaction, facilitated by using a daily inaction planner. What is this? Each morning, pause for a moment before you start your day. Take a deep breath, and exhale. Then wonder: What do I feel pressure to complete? What can I let go of, and what can I do with minimal effort? Wonder also: What would give me joy today, and how can I prioritise these things? Allow your obervations to lead you to unforced rhythms in your day.

Of course, this discipline is a privilege, just as the Psalm is a vision of a righteous city moving with God’s economy. In our world, with casual  employment, minimum wages which don’t cover rent, sweatshops and factories churning out impossible quotas, professional cultures which idolize work, and nuclear families trying to raise children alone, not everyone is able to choose inaction or rest. The challenge beyond critiquing our own priorities is how we, as a society, can structure work and relationships so that all people can know God’s rest: but for many of us, this change must begin at home.

Shalom,
Alison

Emailed to Sanctuary 30 November 2021 © Sanctuary, 2021. Inaction questions drawn from Inaction Planner. A Year of Doing Less and Enjoying More by Mark Van Steenwyk at the Centre for Prophetic Imagination (Minneapolis, MN: Mennonite Worker Press, 2020) CC BY-NC-SA 3.0. You can download the full booklet with introduction here, or a single day planner here. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

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