It’s the start of Lent and in our household we’ve been thinking about what we’d like to do to mark the season and the build up to Easter. In the past we’ve either given things up, or tried to do Lent more generously, with various degrees of success! I find, regrettably, that I tend to get very cranky without chocolate, and although fasting anything is clearly a discipline, I’m not sure my family should suffer for my religious inclinations!

We liked the idea of generosity at Lent, and I think we’ll take our cue from Stewardships 40 Acts or maybe Christian Aid’s Count Your Blessings as a way to be mindful and thankful of the good things we have and find ways to bless others at the same time.

My son Toby has decided he’s going to give up crackers – which for those of you who know him, is a BIG deal because he’s a savoury boy and crackers are his go-to foodstuff. I admire his willingness to engage with Lent in this way and I hope he finds it beneficial and not frustrating!

So if I’m not giving something up, and I’m trying to do generosity with my family, what about me as an individual?

I’ve been pondering on the last few months about the importance of rhythm of resting, or to put it another way the discipline of the sabbath. Sabbath is an old word we rarely use these days, but it means rest and originates in ancient Jewish tradition.

In the scriptures, it tells the story of creation and explains that on the seventh day God rested. Now, I’m going to bypass the ‘literal versus metaphorical seven days’ debate and move on to what I think is the more important part: God rested.

God.

Rested.

Yahweh – the being who sculpted mountains, scooped out the seabed, fashioned parrots, oak trees, whales and millipedes; he who set the stars in motion and the seasons in swing…he had a rest. And more importantly he set it as an example for his people that they should do the same.

Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy [special and set apart]. Six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work – not you, your family, your slaves, your animals or the foreigners who live among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day and consecrated it [made it special]. Exodus 20:8-11

During the summer of last year we went on a family holiday to the Lake District, and our Italian family came and joined us. We had a lovely time catching up and enjoying the beautiful countryside. It happened that all my daily Bible readings during that week and leading up to it, were all about the sabbath. Two things specifically stuck out to me:

i. how fiercely God guarded and spoke about the sabbath. In the Old Testament God got very cross with people about worshiping idols, but he also got very cross when they neglected the sabbath (by cross, I mean burning and wrath type cross)

ii. the contrast between how Jesus spoke about and engaged with the sabbath, and how lightly he held it, compared to the religious restrictions imposed by the Pharisees

My sister in law (who’s been studying theology) and I debated this whilst on holiday, and we concluded that there’s something about the discipline of the sabbath and the gift of the sabbath.

The discipline is about prioritising and making time to rest, recuperate and recharge. To spend time with God and those we love. To value ourselves and the importance of our own worth as people – not merely producers of things or completers of to-do lists. To make sure that we do it, to make sure that we rest even though (and perhaps because) there is still stuff to do.

And then, if we can manage the discipline of sabbath, it can become a gift: a space which values us, not our productivity. An opportunity to pause, reflect, breathe in and out…

There’s a lot more to say on this and I hope to unpack it a bit more over the next few weeks… But how does this tie into Lent?

Well, I’ve decided that my Lent discipline and commitment will be to create something new and original each week, for the next six weeks. I want to try and use a different medium each time, and use the themes of rest, repentance and restoration as the focus for my work. I did think about trying to create something new everyday, but I think I might be setting myself up to fail, and creativity takes time!

So there it is: my Lent challenge! I will endeavour to share the fruits of my labour in due course but now, ironically, I have to go to work!