Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson
Blog, Life Issues

Summer Defrag

It’s a sign of my spiritual sickness that I rarely take a full Sabbath until I come to the Pend Oreille River. It is a sign of my spiritual health that, when I get away, I take it. How important is this? More important than I realize. In an essential summer read, A.J. Swoboda’s Subversive Sabbath has conspired with other things to slow me down, at least on this seventh day.

I like to feel I am busy. My culture (and my father) have ingrained this in me. I am a loyal citizen of the “most emotionally exhausted, psychologically overworked, and spiritually malnourished people in history.” Even though I have retired from pastoral ministry, I like to know (and others to know) that I have been hard at completing my next book and carrying out my faculty duties. I resist any suggestions I am slowing down. I bristle at the thought I am not pulling my weight. This is where Subversive Sabbath has worked to subvert some of my distortions—

-rather than being with God, we are often too busy working for God. At the heart of the human vocation is to be with God—not to do anything. But this is hard. I have served in various capacities for over 40 years in the church industrial complex. Like Swoboda, I sometimes felt that there are nine commandments that, if I chose to break, I would lose my ministry. But if I did not keep the Sabbath, I might get a raise. At least people would be impressed I am going at a frenetic pace.

-rather than work to please God, we rest because God is already pleased with the work He has accomplished in us. Do I really believe this? Even on a Sabbath, I can wonder if I am doing enough.

-rather than clamor for the noise and the hurry, the solitude and silence of Sabbath gives space for obscurity. It is in obscurity—not in the lights—that our character is more deeply formed. Earlier this Spring, in preparing for the snow melt, engineers at the dam drained the Pend Oreille to really low levels. Rusted cans, discarded garden containers, and other debris were exposed. Time to clean up. As Swoboda notes, silence and solitude give space to see what is at the bottom of our souls—things odd, even disgusting. In the obscurity of it all, I am able to sort out my intentions and desires. Today has been a day of radical self-inquiry. Why do I get so upset over petty things? How is it I still struggle over acceptance? Why do I still keep certain feelings inside?

Ironically, Heather and I named our cabin Menucha— מְנֻח֣וֹת (rest, quiet, calm-Psa. 23:2). This is where God leads us–moves us along–besides waters of rest. But He can only lead those who follow. To resist is folly. It is to go against the grain, which is how we get splinters (H.H. Farmer).


  • Sharon
    5:10 PM, 8 July 2018

    Beautiful! Great advice. Find rest, my soul, in God alone.

  • Bud
    5:37 PM, 8 July 2018

    You are about to enter the bell lap of the race, my friend. I shall watch with interest how you balance the sabbath with the need to run harder than you did in the earlier laps to run to win.

  • Janice Ezell
    12:01 AM, 9 July 2018

    Thank you for your reflections, John!! You have given me great pause for thought…(I think that is the phrase).

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