I'll Rest When I'm Dead?

When I was in 7th grade I somehow got preferential treatment by my parents and was driven to school, unlike my older siblings had. In reality, I think it gave my mom 7 minutes with her youngest who was at a difficult stage of life (ok, seriously y’all, what’s the deal with middle school. It is terrible. As I have always said, I don’t trust anybody who enjoyed middle school). Nearly every single morning I would listen to the voice of David Bazan play “Lullaby” from his band Pedro the Lion’s first EP, “Whole.” My memory preserves this ritual in amber. Truly a meaningful time between me and my mom. As I prepared to enter school, where I would face bullies and uncertainty about my academic performance, I started the day with the words of God to David Bazan, “Rest in me, little David, and cry all your tears, you can lay down your armor and have no fear, cause I’m always here when you’re tired of running, I’m all the strength that you need.”

As I would walk the halls I would sing the chorus in my head, I would substitute “David” with “Paul” and imagine God slowly wooing me to rest and sleep (At the time I was so confused who “David” was. I thought his name was Pedro?). Ever since the song has been like an anchor in times of trouble, one that can always be reached back out to, always trusted to calm me.

A few nights ago while laying in bed, the song came back to mind and I sang an imperfect rendition. By the end, I felt better but also proclaimed, “dang! Pedro the Lion is so sad.” My wife, Karyn, responded “we need more sad Christian music.”

Right now is indeed an anxious time. The East End is a neighborhood that is always a little bit ill-at-ease. With many undocumented and mixed-status families, an ICE raid could mean losing your parents overnight. As rents rise, who knows what life will look like if you have to move farther out from jobs and public transit. The United Methodist Church is also at its most anxious moment of it’s history- the special called session of General Conference in February. Though some call for prayer and calm, others desire to push the dialogue one way or the other by rising the anxiety level. But this is nothing new, the church is a political beast just like any club, government, or human gathering. But with all these special reasons for heightened fear and anxiety, the truth is we were already tired. Work, eat, sleep, and maybe a few moments to distract yourself from work. Take care of your obligations, care for your loved ones, try to be healthy. We are just trying to get by as a world. And we are tired.

Recently an article sparked lots of conversation about overwork, self care, and rest. Millennials as a face much lower wages and more uncertain economic futures than their parents. So while every generation feels burnout and stress, many have wondered if Millennials are now the burnout generation. What is left out of the conversation is also the challenge of sleep if you are a person who is Black. As one friend put it to me after detailing a slurry of frustrations around life and work, “i’m just tired.”

In college I would often hear friends yell things like “we’ll sleep when we’re dead!” either while at a party or studying. Or, at a party that you have to leave to go back to studying. This hilarious statement of energy-drinking college students has begun to feel like an actual death sentence. Will I finally feel at rest in this life? In seminary, as I imagine happens in other professional schools, we were taught about burnout and the importance of “self care.” I was told by a professor “if you don’t rest, sickness will become your rest.” That lead me to accept that I could deal with a few sick days for Jesus. Also, too often “self care” becomes coded language for a spa day, a shopping day of “treat yo self” or doing everything in your power to distract yourself from the thought that you should be working right now. In other words, “self care” is just as vacuous and lousy as the work we are supposedly trying to avoid. The reality is that “self care” was language created by those who were more interested in us being harder workers than being whole human beings.

Despite the temptation to photoshop a cape and superhero mask, I will leave your imagination to insert such elements.

Despite the temptation to photoshop a cape and superhero mask, I will leave your imagination to insert such elements.

At this point, riding in like a superhero, comes Walter Brueggemann. Brueggemann’s writing on Sabbath such as Sabbath as Resistance describe a new way to imagine rest and sleep. Sabbath is that thing God did on the 7th day after making the whole earth. It does mean not working on day of the week, but it also means resting and restoring oneself. It is also a commandment! So important is sabbath, you can’t even make somebody else work on your behalf on the Sabbath day. Furthermore, Jesus had plenty to say about Sabbath, not as a rule to follow, but something we needed for ourselves.

Here is the meat of what our caped crusader of theology wants us to remember:

  1. We have to decide who we will follow, God or Money. In money there is only work and restlessness. But in God there is rest.

  2. Sabbath counters anxious productivity with committed neighborliness.

  3. Sabbath tells us that you have enough. You don’t need more.

  4. Sabbath is to be followed by everybody, and you can’t make a servant or an immigrant do the work for you. So Sabbath demands inclusivity.

  5. Sabbath frees us from the burning feeling like we should always be working to be valuable.

  6. Sabbath reminds us that we are human.

Friends. We need sleep. We need rest. We need Sabbath. Let’s do something about that. Let’s do something together. Intrigued? Want to know more? Let’s talk! Hit me up.