This week when I asked Joel what he had on his mind, he hesitantly asked, “Would you answer a personal question?” As he leaned back from the table at Chick-Fil-A, I prepared myself for whatever a young unmarried engineer might want to know that was personal. Normally, our conversation revolves around his experiences and challenges designing some bridge or highway. He leaned back from his meal and simply asked in his quiet Georgian accent, “How do you handle STRESS?” I breathed a sigh of relief.
He had been a poor student through his schooling and I knew that he was studying every day to pass a difficult licensing exam. At our last lunch meeting we had worked through a strategy that would take about eight months to study through several key subjects. There were many reasons why he had not studied this past week and he was thoroughly discouraged. His solution was to double down and study every evening for three hours and all weekend. I knew that this was not likely to succeed. He had already failed the exam three times and needed a much better approach.
Through the rigors of seven years of engineering studies, I had always taken one day off per week and began every exam with quiet prayer. On that one day, I never studied and was never burdened about my studies. Exams, which are miserable things, were not fearful – God kept my heart steady. My counsel was daily prayer, Bible reading, and a day of rest each week. And never more than two hours of study a day, unless he felt inspired. Tomorrow will be our last lunch as our mentoring cycle ends, and it seems to me that the working out of this simple advice will be just what he needed.
The power of rest after wearing responsibility and labor is well exampled by the experience of the missionary company on board the schooner yacht Coronet in May 1908. They had rounded the treacherous Cape Horn Passage and for thirty days had been in storm and almost constant peril from the sea. (The following account is from the book, Golden Light on the Two Americas.)
After a month of extreme weariness, weeks where “rain and snow squalls are frequent; and spray is sweeping the decks most of the time,” the crew of the Coronet left Cape Horn and the Tierra del Fuego archipelago behind. “It is the most uninviting region along which we have ever sailed, and we have had the most wearisome experience … unenlivened save by the pleasures found at the right hand of God.”
Now the storms had passed and they came to anchorage at a quiet, green haven they named Harbor Beautiful. “The anchor drops: and if ever mariners felt grateful for a haven, those on board the Coronet do … our entire beings seem fairly starving for quietness and devour the stillness as hungry animals devour food.” [Aren’t we often starving for the Sabbath, by the end of a busy work week!]
Yet their labors of faith for the souls of men were kept to the front and instead of taking a well-earned sleep all hands were up at midnight to celebrate the Passover. “Tonight we all partake of Him that all God’s people may be safely carried through their Cape Horn experiences and brought into the harbor where they will find rest to their souls.” The mental and physical fatigue of the preceding weeks had passed, and they found a refuge that brought the rest and renewal needed to continue their mission of prayer.
The Sabbath day is a place of refuge for God’s people. Each week we need to put aside the cares of employment, schooling, personal finance, politics, etc … and enter this refuge. This includes establishing healthy Sabbath norms for both ourselves and our children.
We can give our families healthy alternatives and they will come to treasure them. A Sabbath meeting, a nice movie, a special brunch Saturday morning, walks and hikes, reading, games and sports in the yard, Airsoft, writing stories, building something, and playing with Legos are some routine Sabbath activities for my family. By establishing healthy norms we establish a refuge where we’ll come to love God’s ways and be renewed and ready for the coming week.
We can in a sense be shut out of the storms of weekday responsibility and grow in ways that will build us up for a bright, healthy future.
I love the below poem as a reminder about children.
The Little Chap Who Follows Me
A careful man I must always be;
A little fellow follows me.
I know I dare not go astray
For fear he’ll go the self-same way.
I cannot once escape his eyes,
Whate’er he sees me do, he tries.
Like me he says he’s going to be;
This little chap who follows me.
He thinks that I am good and fine,
Believes in every word of mine.
The base in me he must not see;
his little chap who follows me.
I must be careful as I go
Through summer’s sun and winter’s snow,
Because I am building for the years to be;
This little chap who follows me.