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?