Fresh from a breakfast of piping hot spaghetti on toast and loud laughs, I headed back to work for the day on a New Zealand dairy farm. There was important work to be done.
The smell of sweet silage hung in the air and the grass fields shone brightly in the early morning sun. We drove past a patch of turf that was unwieldy and overgrown. Still new to this whole dairy farming thing, having grown up in the Los Angeles area, I wondered aloud why this pasture was different than all the rest.
“That field is lying fallow,” said Lawrence, the farm’s owner. “It will be rich for the heifers to enjoy next season.”
Leaving a field to lie fallow means leaving a patch of grass or area of farmland to be unseeded, uneaten, and unspoiled for a season or more. It helps the land refresh itself and grow back stronger.
When fallow, the field is at rest so that it can serve its function to feed the heifers for years to come.
We need to let our fields lie fallow.
Just as fields need to lie fallow, so do we. In a world that is rife with addiction to busyness, it is imperative that we rediscover the lost art of re-creative rest. Only then can we effectively serve in our various callings and capacities.
The esteemed rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in his book The Sabbath that the biblical practice of Sabbath—the idea of a weekly day of rest or time for recreation or worship—is that such a day is meant to serve as a “sanctuary in time.” The invitation to take a “Sabbath” is to step into a different flow of time, to turn from “the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”
The idea is that the very fabric of the universe has rest stitched into it. This idea has served as the basic concept and cadence for agricultural, pastoral, and industrial work for ages.
And yet, we still often feel oppressed by our labor—estranged from our loved ones by the demands of daily toil, and surrendering to a constant stream of messages, demands, and obligations. Even the good work of social justice can be degrading to the sinews of human life.
Compassion for the world and practice of the Sabbath for the body and soul are connected. We cannot serve the world without setting time aside to be renewed for the work ahead. We cannot do the work of social justice from a place of exhaustion and burnout.
The call to those who labor, in whatever calling—personal, social, professional, religious—is to both rest from their work and work from their rest. It is to seek asylum in the “sanctuary in time.”
In our current culture, this can be downright revolutionary. We carry a pervasive idea that we are defined by the volume of our work or the sweat of our brow. But sometimes the best way we can celebrate labor is to rest from it—to discover relaxation, restorative delight, and a sense of the sacredness of time itself.
In New Zealand I enjoyed going out on the farm to do some solid hard work, to get my hands dirty, to feel like I did something with my day. But the best part of my time out on the farm was breakfast, when we took an hour or so to rest from the milking and feeding and eat some spaghetti on toast, drink some coffee, and talk.
It was one way we let the fields lie fallow, but it made all the difference.
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on rest from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.