Parable of the Sabbath

It was our first year as cross-cultural workers in India. While on a walk in the Himalayan foothills, we passed a painted cement house. There a lady sat pounding her family’s soapy clothing with a rock. She looked up as we passed by.

“Namaste,” I greeted her.

“Namaste,” she said, using the back of her hand to remove a stray hair from her sweaty forehead. “I see you and your family walking every Saturday. Don’t you work?” She winked, teasing me. I laughed.

“Yes, I work. I do laundry, too. But on Fridays, I work extra so we don’t have to work on Saturday. It’s called ‘Sabbath.’ It’s a day our God gives us to rest and remember that He created everything. We spend time with each other, and with Him.”

“How nice,” she said, pausing for a moment to look up the hill. “Our gods would never tell us to rest. They never give us a break!” She continued pounding, and we walked on.

That evening, after sunset, we worked. We reviewed Hindi vocabulary. We discussed strategy while catching up on dishes. We prayed for our new friends.

As I thought about the complexity and immensity of our task—church planting among the Parvata people—a familiar heaviness settled on my shoulders. This must be something I had read about, that beautiful conviction called “the burden for souls.” 

Four years and two babies later, we found ourselves eating lunch with our landlord’s family. We had a lively discussion on Hinduism and Christianity. Then the patriarch of the home leaned forward.

“We’re okay with Jesus,” he said. “But don’t think you can make us into Christians!” The rest of the family leaned forward, tense.

“Don’t worry, Uncle,” I said. “We believe God gives freedom of choice. It’s against our religion to force belief!” There was an audible sigh of relief as everyone leaned back again.

“There is one thing I like about your religion,” the patriarch’s son admitted. “Your Sabbath. Our gods never let us rest.” The family nodded in agreement.

For the next two years, we labored on our knees, trying to share in a way that was understandable and unoffensive. Then my precious Hindu friend, Darshika, gave her heart to Christ. This surprised me, the way seeds surprise me when they grow into plants and bear fruit. 

One afternoon, I was drinking warm, spicey tea with Darshika and Martha, another more mature Indian Christian. 

“I don’t know what I would do without Abigail,” Darshika told Martha. “Probably die!”

“You must never speak that way, even in jest,” Martha said. “God provided for you spiritually through Abigail. But what if she had to leave India? Would God forget about you? No! The same God who brought you Jesus will continue to provide for you, whether Abigail is here or not.” 

Shortly after this discussion, under less-than-ideal circumstances, we made the decision to leave India. 

I mourned. Sure, I had laid to rest my privacy and introversion in Indian graves and had fought hard battles on that land. But I also loved my Parvata friends, had cried with them, had worked alongside them in fields. I knew they needed the rest that only Jesus can give. How could I leave?

We made our decision on a Friday afternoon. The next day was our last Sabbath in India. My husband, Joshua, played the harmonium, and we sang, “Jaise Mata Sambhaltihain,” a song which means, “Like a mother cares for her child, so Jesus will care for me.” Darshika and I laughed and cried and clung to each other. 

Later, as I looked around our living room at the little group gathered there, I thought about the nearly 365 Sabbaths we had celebrated since arriving in India.

Was it possible that the Sabbath itself had preached to me every week for the past seven years, but I had not had ears to hear? Was it possible that our Parvata neighbors, though few had accepted Jesus, had perceived the parable of the Sabbath more readily than I had? 

Jesus taught that mankind wasn’t created just so there would be someone to keep the Sabbath. The Sabbath was created as a gift for Mankind. Our God, in contrast to the gods of this world, wants to give us a break.

Maybe the Sabbath is a weekly reminder that we are not created to accomplish, but to witness—to watch something unfold, to notice it happen. To say that we see it. To enjoy it. To believe in it. To be in awe of it. To interact with it, with all our faith, passion, and creativity. To join something God is already doing, like children “helping” in the kitchen. Certainly messier than doing it Himself, but how else are we to learn?

Of course, we have work to do—we learn languages, we diagram cultures, we wrestle our hearts over matters big and small. But maybe, in the midst of all that work, we can rest, too. The Lord of the Sabbath, after all, created something from nothing. 

Can He not carry the burden of souls, too? 

In what ways is Jesus inviting you to enter His rest? What burdens is He asking you to place on His shoulders? Is there anything getting in the way of trusting Him with the results of your work?

2 Comments

  1. Rochelle July 27, 2022

    Thank you so much for this post and sharing from your experience… My family and I are very much at the beginning of our journey still. We are about to celebrate our first year in France on August 16, and as we begin to transition from language only focus to also focusing on our vision and mission among the muslim diaspora here, we are finding it such a challenging and lonely season. Our son is about to turn two and we are expecting twins in October. Our first year on the field has NOT gone as we thought it would! But I think that Jesus is calling me into his rest in this season verses trying to take complete responsibility for the work to be done, already struggling with feelings of being “behind” even though we have only lived in our brand new neighborhood for a month and a half and are expecting TWO new family members in just a couple of months! I think that Jesus is reminding me that I can release it ALL to Him, that he wants to be the one to carry the burdens for our family and our lost neighbors. I love the image of being witness to what God is already doing, getting to join in with God like a child helping him in the kitchen… may I let go and rest in his Presence, trusting him completely with what is and what is to come during our time here.

    1. Abigail Follows July 29, 2022

      Rochelle, I’m so glad that my sharing our experience is part of what God used to invite you into His rest… God is so good! May He grow your faith by leaps and bounds during this time. And wow, twins!! There are quite a number of twins in my husband’s family, so I hear lots about twin parenting and pregnancy. 🙂

      I wrote a book about my first seven years as a missionary and I wrote quite a bit about my own pregnancies overseas. I understand SO well what you mean by feeling “behind!” I’d love to send you a digital copy of my book if that would bless you. <3 You can email me at [email protected] if so. And if not, just know that I understand the feeling and I'm rooting for you!

      Enjoy every moment of your growing family! And enjoy being new on the field… both are such faith and wisdom-growing experiences, even with the growing pains. <3 Abby

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