Pretending You Are My Friend Again

9 06 2011

Reflections on chapter 6 of Dan Allender’s book Sabbath: “Sabbath Play: Division Surrenders to Shalom.”

How do you enjoy and enter into the Sabbath when you have suffered loss? “Nothing wears our hearts down faster or deeper than division in our closest and dearest relationships.” King David pours out his broken heart in Psalm 55:12-14:

It is not my enemy who taunts me – I could bear that. It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me — I could have hidden from them. Instead it is you – my equal, my companion and close friend. What good fellowship we enjoyed as we walked together to the house of God…

“The lament sings from thousands of years ago” and expresses my grief exactly as “the faces of those I grieve hover…and I know those whom I remember as my betrayers also sing the same song and remember me” (103).

Allender describes the bitterness of division so well:

We are divided, and the day of reconciliation seems farther away than the bright moon that still shines in the early morning sky. Division always enlists, forms, and feeds new communities. Division breeds new alliances that provide us with the ability to survive the heartache. We tell our story to a friend who suffers the injustice with us. This friend sides with us to some degree, and as a result he judges the one who brought the pain. The new alliance spills out to others through gossip, and deeper fissures are created in relationships much the same way that an earthquake tears a landscape to bits (103)

Division never stays between two people and it never keeps the “facts” straight. It is multi-layered, complex, tangled, one perspective lined up against another; and then there are the accusations — you against them, and they against you and even you against yourself — making the crevice even deeper. The effect of all division “brings a kind of hypervigilance that arrests the joy of surprise and wonder.” (112)

Division, I can’t believe I have to admit this, is inevitable. It is the thing I hate the most: people at odds with one another; people at odds with me me; me at odds with people. I have worked my whole life to avoid division and loss; yet at 43 I have experienced more loss than (sometimes I feel) I can bear.

So then I come to Sabbath, the day that is, among other things, a day of reconciliation. But the thing is, I am not reconciled. It is a day where I am reminded of my ultimate reconciliation with God, but my reality is, I am living with painful losses. What now?

2 Corinthians 5:15-19 calls me, us, to something:

So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view…

This verse is essentially saying, we pretend. We step out of our natural point of view and try to see things another way: “Sabbath is the day we put to rest all tension strife and fighting. It is a day we pretend all is well, our enemies are not at war with us…” (108). Sabbath tells us, “One day you will be seated with people you right now are at odds with, how might you imagine a different future?”

Pretending, Allender writes, is imagining a new future, a new time when there is no division, accusation, or “dark loyalty “ of one side versus another. Sabbath is a day that celebrates a future of true reconciliation; “Sabbath asks, how would you live if there were no wars, enmity, battle lines, or need to defend, explain, interpret, or influence another to see anything differently?” (110). It isn’t asking us to deny heartache, but to imagine a redeemed and perfected relationship.

The Sabbath is the day we set aside to look at one another from the vantage point of eternity and then to operate in time, in an actual hour or minute, as if it is true. What might it look like if we lived as if we will not be endlessly divided from those who have brought us harm and whom we have failed as well? (111)

Where accusations have stolen our joy, what divisions have exhausted us? Sabbath, this day of celebration, asks us to celebrate, in advance, the restoration of relationships.

The Sabbath cannot happen when “all is well.” The Sabbath must happen in the presence, in the reality of having enemies.  Allender invites us to think of 3 things as we do so:

  1. Curiosity. We are to bring curiosity as a guest into our Sabbath so that we can ask, with a sense of wonder, “is there more?” Is there more to these broken relationships then just brokenness? This question will lead our hearts to “explore the unexpected, nonlinear paths that often create a new unity that could not be expected when one first began” (112).One Sabbath, Allender’s wife asked him, “If we were to pray today for our enemies, who do you most hope to be united with on this earth? And who do you most hope not to see until heaven?” It was, he says, a “brilliant” question because it brought out who he missed and who he was most hurt by. Instead of just pretending he didn’t have enemies, or looking for a bunch of answers, he began to play with the idea of what it meant to care for his enemies, knowing one day he would again be face to face with them. What would it be like with them then? There was goodness ahead; a goodness he could imagine on the Sabbath (112).
  2. Coziness. The Sabbath, Allender writes, is a day to experience “rich and abiding safety” (113). It doesn’t mean we will have no difficult questions on the Sabbath, yet we can think and pray on a day of safety where we are acutely aware of the goodness and warmth of God. He is not our enemy; He is the lover of our souls and there is no condemnation in Him. We can even think of difficult things when we are allowing ourselves space, and time and company that nurtures the soul instead of crowding it, rushing it, and bruising it.
  3. Care. “If peace is the promise of Sabbath, then there is no need to make progress on long-term conflicts or attempt to resolve current struggles. We do not allow it to be a day to make decisions or plan for the exigencies of work. The Sabbath is a day to care for one another…” (114). Who are you finding time to care for, and who are you allowing to care for you? Care, Allender defines, “requires a commitment of honor” and it “means to tend to something with diligence and delight” (115).

This chapter is so important. How long can one live with a storm raging in one’s mind and heart? How many times can you turn questions over and over? My part, their part, the fix, the unfixable. The “undone-ness” of life, the injustice, the longing that all would be set right; the reality of the still broken pieces. The earth is weary from spinning, set off-balance by people who keep moving apart and the Sabbath beckons, “Come.”

The Sabbath says, come and eat, and play, and celebrate the bigger picture. Yes, in the middle of loss and pain, come every week and be with your Father, your Brother, who was rejected and despised, betrayed and mocked, misunderstood and discarded and ultimately murdered. “Who can mourn when they are with the Bridegroom?” Jesus asked at one point. Though everything beyond the Sabbath may be a mess, Jesus sets a table for us in the very presence of all of that. And it is not a solemn table; it is a table of joy, goodness, rest, laughter, freedom, discovery and hope for the Better Day.

It is the neutral day where I might just catch a glimpse – pretend, imagine – how the person who was my friend and is not…might one day be again.

— Teresa Klassen

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