“Crap!,” I screamed as I banged my leg against the sharp cabinet corner. After glaring at the eponymous cabinet in the living room, I assessed the damage on my left thigh, which was now in the bathroom with the rest of me. The quickly spreading bruise mocked my already splotchy legs, shameful evidence of my hastily cutting corners for weeks.
On the verge of hyperventilation, I bent down to turn on the shower faucet. As I stood back up and looked in the mirror, my bloated body stared back at me. Months of stress eating and gobbling comfort food on the run were taking their toll. My hair was a sweaty mess, the victim of a sweltering Shanghai summer where ministry happens in only slightly less sweltering buildings and transit systems. The matted mop on my head, pimples on my cheeks, and exploding love handles pouring over my hips were doing nothing to comfort me after that morning’s latest bruising. Now I knew what my nadir looked like.
I stepped into the tub in defeat, my knees aching from carrying thirty extra pounds since starting my job as a pastor at an expat church. “God, where are you? Here I am trying to serve you, and what do I have to show for it?” I choked out a prayer in desperation, resigning myself to yet another day of thankless tasks and endless work.
Maybe one second later, or perhaps after a few, another question formed in my mind: “did I ask you to do any of this?” This inquiry stopped me mid-scrub. I put down the lathered buff puff and stared at the faucet, as the water poured over my now showering self.
Buried beneath this divinely-asked question was another piercing interrogative: why are you doing all of this, Melanie? Why are you busting your ass and bruising your thigh and abusing yourself?
Do I worship a God of human sacrifice, or do I worship a God of sabbath? In that moment, God called me to reckon with my real motives behind the panic: I wanted to be respected. I wanted to please others. I wanted to prove myself. The faulty foundation of all of this madness was not only pride in my own paltry efforts, but also a lack of trust in God’s love, provision, and faithfulness.
I took a deep breath, and slowly resumed my shower. Now, however, I lovingly scrubbed my sore, purpled legs. I noticed each bruise, wincing as I remembered each collision that had caused it. I asked God’s forgiveness for treating myself so badly.
After the shower, I took the time to enjoy the plush bath towel I had brought from the US months before. As I dried off, I gave thanks for that lime green reminder of God’s daily goodness. I attentively re-folded the towel, and then returned it to its rack.
I slowly got dressed, brushed my hair, and retrieved my smart phone so I could scroll through that day’s agenda. As I looked at the long list of items in front of me, I asked myself God’s question: did God ask me to do this? If not, I deleted the task. I sighed with relief as the list became much shorter. And I felt my heart softening so I could better love myself and in turn, better love others.
Melanie Weldon-Soiset loves languages and books. She has explored these interests as a high school Spanish teacher in Hampton VA, a pastor of an expat church in Shanghai, and now as the Intern Program Director at Sojourners in Washington, DC. Sabbath for Melanie includes pleasure reading, biking on greenways, and robust discussion over a good cup of coffee.
In A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles,” Marianne Williamson writes that “as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” In preparation for the launch of my new book, For Sabbath’s Sake (released on October 1st), I asked prominent authors, theologians, bloggers, and ministers to “let their own light shine,” by writing on the joys and challenges of sabbath practices. During this guest blog series, these writers will help us learn from one another, and, in turn, give us permission to explore our own sabbath journeys.
I want to hear from you, too!
Take a photo of yourself—or a selfie—while engaging in a sabbath practice (rest, worship, or a community gathering). Share the photo on social media and include #ForSabbathsSake in your post. Give yourself and others permission to enjoy the gift of sabbath.