Slavery is easy.
I don’t mean that life as a slave is easy. I mean it’s easy to live as a slave. We do it all the time. Lots of us.
Freedom requires practice. It is maintained only by vigilance and attentiveness. Without practice, it grows weak and easily slides into unexpected and easy slaveries.
I may not be baking bricks under an Egyptian sun or picking cotton in Alabama fields, but I find myself snagged by slaveries I’ve become shackled to without even realizing it was happening.
As I looked at my iPhone for easily the 300th time today (no exaggeration there), I shook my head at myself and said, “Addict.” And of course, “addict” is simply another word for “slave.”
It was not long ago that we were shuffling kids from one sporting event to another and barely sharing meals together as a family. It demanded our time, our attention, our money. And like so many idolatrous slaveries, it asked us to sacrifice our children.
Chasing dollar bills is a familiar slavery, even for those who have plenty of them. There’s a reason why some jobs are referred to as golden handcuffs. And for those who live from paycheck to paycheck, there’s a reason why it’s referred to as nose to the grindstone. Far too many jobs kill the body, while others kill the soul.
Slaveries to food, to lusts, to abusive relationships, to buying things, to video screens, to health and fitness, to drugs and alcohol, to watching sports or the news, to school — pretty much any activity we engage in on a regular basis has the potential to become our taskmaster.
Each slavery makes a promise, an over-promise, and reneges on it with a classic bait-and-switch. Happiness replaced by chains.
Again, practicing freedom is essential. It’s the only way of keeping these potential masters from dominating our lives and stealing our joy.
Like all forms of practice, practicing freedom requires a rhythm. It must be practiced regularly. Skipping practice means getting out of practice. But just like the basic rhythms of practicing a sport or a musical instrument, practicing freedom is rhythmic, regular, persistent, the backbeat to the rest of life.
As a volleyball coach, my players and I arrive at regularly scheduled practices and start with routines which prepare us for what’s to come next. And once we’ve practiced, we finish with another set of routines to solidify what we’ve just done and to send us out to our regular lives until the next time.
Practicing freedom is similar. The regular practice is called sabbath. It’s a weekly time of saying an emphatic NO! to all the things that get their enslaving hooks into us during the week so we can say an even more emphatic YES! to the freedoms God intended us to live in when he created us in the first place.
One of the beauties of sabbath is that we don’t have to go to it like my players to the volleyball court, sabbath comes to us. As Abraham Joshua Heschel put it, “Sabbath is a cathedral in time.” This holy time comes to us no matter where we are and no wall or prison bars can keep it from us.
It comes no matter how prepared or unprepared for it we are. Sabbath arrives and says, “Here I am! Deal with me.” And sadly for us, too many of us ignore this life-giving grace and shuffle along in our addictions and slaveries.
But when we practice freedom, we greet the Sabbath like a queen, thanking God for her with prayers and embracing her with joy. Freedom has come! Freedom is here!
Gently but firmly, Sabbath strips us bare of all of the uniforms we wear. In her presence, we are neither CEO or custodian, quarterback or bench warmer. Our bank accounts become unimportant. The strength in our arms or the weakness in our legs means nothing. This is not a day for doing or achieving. Nothing is required and so nothing can be failed at. We are who we are at our most basic, our most human. We have no medals, no accolades, no letters after our names, no numbers. Just you. Just me. Just us.
But as basic and simple as sabbath is, it’s not easy. This return to our basic humanity is tough for most of us.
We like being known for what we’ve achieved. Some of us even relish our status as failures. And we like being needed. We like having something to do, something required of us, something that gives us a sense of accomplishment. And we can smuggle our slaveries into our sabbaths. We can surrender to the tyranny of the urgent and put in a few hours “just this once” on tasks that bleed over from the work week.
But if we are to be free, we must practice our freedom, saying, “No! This is not the time for that. Work has its time and this isn’t it. This is a time for celebrating, for enjoying, for laughing, for playing, for praying, for loving, for making love, for sitting in silence and simply being human, for paying attention to our thoughts and the beating of our hearts, for drinking the best drinks and eating the best foods even if that means meager fare during the rest of the week.”
Sabbath is a taste of heaven. It’s a downpayment on the age to come, when all things are as God intended them to be in the first place.
Sabbath is living the saved life.
It points its finger at all our requirements and says, “You don’t own me! No one and nothing owns me. I may have bent beneath your weight for the last six days, but not today. Today, I am soaking in my freedom and I will carry it with me, even as I return to you tomorrow. The fact that you do not own me today means you will not own me tomorrow when I deal with you again.”
Where diets may prevail during the other six days, the freedom of indulgence reigns on sabbath. The fear of fatness has no place among the free.
And those who practice freedom best end up extending it to everyone else. Their sanity is sweet and desirable, and those who meet them get a taste for it in their presence. For those who live in freedom refuse to become enslavers; they recognize the humanity in everyone, for they’ve tasted of their own.
If only freedom were truly contagious. But it’s not that easy. Slavery is easy. As glorious as it is, freedom requires practice.