Two Fridays ago, I entered the old City of Jerusalem as the sun set and Sabbath began. Our kind host greeted us at the gate and led us winding uphill between stone walls like a maze. I would have been lost in two minutes had he not been leading.
This gentleman hosts authentic Shabbat meals in his home for visitors to the Holy Land, and we were the lucky ones that night. It was Purim and a dark sky. Songs were coming out windows. The Wailing Wall was buzzing with a strange mix of grief and celebration.We were mere streets over from the Via Dolorosa.
On our walk he asked that we take no photographs and leave our cell phones off, and he explained to us all the ways they keep Sabbath. He said, “Often you hear Sabbath explained as a time to rest, but it really means to cease from work.”
By the time we sat at his beautiful table, I had given in to my senses, knowing I wouldn’t remember the event with photographs. I would remember it with what I ingested: the food, the wine, and the stories.
I look back on it now, still in my jet lag, and I’m left with scenes of foggy laughter and a spicy sauce made to mix with homemade hummus. I’m left with a flickering candlelight and the tune of a song we sang in Hebrew. But more than anything, I remember the thud in my stomach when our host said “cease from work.”
Cease from work. Hasn’t my life-long desire always been to work my way into good grace?
A few years ago, I was explaining my latest, greatest scheme to serve the kingdom of God, expecting my dear friend to give me a pat on the back. Instead, she offered her side smirk and knowing glance and said, “We like the striving, don’t we, Amber?”
It still echoes inside me. I sure do love the striving.
I wouldn’t teach you this in Bible Study, no, but if you look at my life, you would see a woman who loves to think she’s the one who brings about the kingdom of God, as if I’m an usher for King Jesus and He won’t come unless I do right.
But isn’t He the Shepherd? Doesn’t He lead us into the kingdom?
My entire faith journey has been an unveiling of the many ways I’d like to work my way to God, and it makes me laugh that maturity means learning how to cease.
If we never cease from work, we’ll never see the thin line between working in faith and humility and working in an exhausting pride.
It has been a week of jet lag for me, and I’ve felt ridiculous for it. I’ve hardly accomplished a thing, but in my exhaustion, when I push the guilt of un-accomplishment aside, I see it. He’s the one who leads. He’s the one who loves first. I am so grateful for the flickering light within me, the freedom I have but didn’t win for myself.
I can picture it now, walking the streets of Jerusalem, King Jesus up ahead. He has gone before me.
Be still, even on a Tuesday, and know that He is God.