Combat between couples is a many and varied thing. Some people yell and scream like Manchester United fans. Other people bang dishes, pans and slam doors. Others pull on the “deep-freeze” with each other. Like portable Antarctica. But Cathy and I are none of the above. If someone was watching, they might not even notice when we fight. Usually, it starts with a sentence or two that is a little sharper than normal. Maybe an eye roll (that’s me) or a shake of the head (that’s also me), then we retreat to opposite sides of the house to process it and maybe have a little rant (that’s me too). One of us always approaches the other and we work through it in a fairly rational way. Our counselors told us once: “You should fight more.” Really? Are you kidding?
In the first ten years of marriage, conflict was almost always about one thing: working on the weekend. My contemplative thought processes and performance issues meant that at week’s end I was never quite ready for my next teaching session. I would be stressed so my work week always soaked through into my weekend. On the surface, it didn’t look like it. I went out, played games, had dinner dates, went to parties.
It looked like time off, but it wasn’t. Not really. I was never fully switched off; work always made an appearance. Late arrivals home on Friday. Early morning writing. Practicing a presentation. Discussing an issue. And I was mildly resentful when anyone made a demand, impinged on that activity; when they wanted to take a bike ride, go on a picnic, sit outside. There was never a day in which I totally unhooked from my work to just be, to engage the main business of living. I wanted to excel. Be eminently knowledgeable. Be ready. But I was stealing time to get there and that came with a cost: the consistent grind in the gears of my marriage. Even more telling was that my creativity crashed and my humour died, starved of life. And I faked being ok and wore a lot of stick-on smiles. I was coasting toward being a zombie.
It’s not that I want to ignore the voices of my wife and my own mental state. But I cannot get off the work train. Not for years. And yet through all that time, the Book is also speaking to me: old words, seemingly irrelevant.
By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. (Gen 1:2-3)
The words sift me, diagnose me, tell me that I have no larger rhythm of rest; no stopping point. I merely drag my work, my mental to-do list from the structured environment of 9-5 into the unstructured hole of the weekend. But, at first I don’t see that. It merely strikes me that God rested on the seventh day. And in case I didn’t get it, the words were repeated in various ways multiple times.
Seventh… God rested… from the work he had done.
The questions swirl and the jester breaks out of his box. What was that about? Did God get tired? Did he get bored? How could that be? Was he a weakling? Didn’t he have a calendar to fill up with activities? I imagined God with his “To-Do” list:
Sunday: Make a Big Bang. Cool the Earth. Excite some photons and get light going.
Monday and Tuesday: Do Landscaping. Everywhere.
Wednesday: Focus on stellar and planetary formation. Remember to get the spin right.
Thursday: Let the birds out. Put the fish (plural) in the ponds…
Friday: Make some mammals and other critters. (Platypus, just for fun.) Whip up some human beings.
Saturday: Develop the atomic bomb and internet banking.
Sunday: Get the Justice System working. Judge some people.
Monday: Lots more to do…
I smile at the thought. Have a different one: that my mode of operation is different from God’s. If I was god – Gord Almighty – I would have started on creation and have stayed at it until it was done. Or gotten bored and quit. But I am reminded that God doesn’t get bored. That he likes himself and he likes the stuff he does. And he doesn’t have to prove anything; he’s already done that.
Despite this insight the questions keep coming, unrelenting. Dogs worrying at a beautiful rug. So why did God stop? And why was he repeating himself over and over about “stopping”? The repetition is parental. Patient. The wearing of grooves in a child’s understanding. It is underlining and highlighting. Boldfaced to stress importance. All this repetition is a marker pressed hard into the fabric of the world. A brand burned into the skin of reality, proclaiming ownership. Saying that he is done. Six days are enough for him. And then he gives a space.
But then why this seventh day? Why make a Sabbath and make it Stopping Day? A special day. A space in the world that he doesn’t need? A space I don’t need? Or do I? It is a thought pulled out of the tapestry of words. God doesn’t need Stopping Day. But maybe I do. If six days are good enough for him, perhaps they are good enough for me. Ideas click into place. My head does that intellectual thing, says Aha! but something deeper resists. That part in the shadow of my to-do list. The part that is in rebellion. I want to push on into the 7th and 8th and 9th days. For in my unrest and dissatisfaction, I feel like I must complete these things. And yet, when I stop and really look at the list, all the lists, I realize they never stop growing.
My To-do List and Bucket List and Wish List, they are already overwhelming, so massive that if I let them rule me, I might never be able to stop. The mountain of tasks is daunting. Yet time is finite. And I cannot stuff everything in it, no matter how many days straight I work. I admit to myself that I’m not built for that. Can’t survive like that. Grinding away in unceasing dullness. Killing my heart in the process. My failure to recognize the weekly cycle of stopping is a failure to admit my humanness. It sounds ridiculous, but my propensity to work all the time is in some way an attempt to be godlike. More than I am. Indestructible. Glorious. It is to say I know better than this God. Can do better than this God. It is a strange realization. An odd combination of weakness and pride. This inability to stop. This idolatrous drive to do it all by myself. I don’t like it.