Those of us in the Christian church are happy to announce our affection for the Ten Commandments, regardless of our resistance to live according to such commandments.
I think of two of these commandments in particular, commandments I believe related to one another. The first of these commandments, commandment No. 2, is a prohibition against the making of any idols. The second of these commandments, commandment No. 4, commands us to remember the Sabbath day. As I mentioned, I believe through our general resistance to honoring these commandments, we link these commandments in common disobedience.
What I mean by this is that, rather than adhering to the words of the second commandment, I believe we make an idol of our overcrowded schedules; our “busy-ness.” I fear such an idol only grows in prominence as the school year begins anew.
I shake my head as I hear us complain about our hectic schedules, as if such hectic schedules are unique to us; no one else has to suffer such “busy-ness” as we do. I also can’t help but notice a sad irony: though we complain about our overcrowded schedules, we do nothing to lessen the burdens we impose upon ourselves by way of such schedules. It is as if we say we are too busy, but at the same time say we have nothing to do with being so busy; we are not responsible for this; we cannot possibly be expected to say, “No” to anything.
Now it may be that such “busy-ness” supported by overcrowded schedules does not seem to violate the commandment forbidding the establishment of idols. We think of idols as those things which are obviously evil; we may think of the golden calf worshiped by God’s people as recorded in Exodus; we may think of false gods condemned by God’s prophets in Hebrew Scriptures.
But given that idols are those things around which we shape our lives; those things to which we give attention; those things to which we “bow,” those things that prevent us from enjoying a vital relationship with the one who has made us: How are these overcrowded schedules not, in some way, idolatrous?
Which brings us to the other commandment I mentioned, the commandment instructing us to remember the Sabbath day. The rationale for this commandment, we may know, recalls that as God found it good that he should rest after six days of creation, so the people of God should find it good that they enjoy a regular time of rest.
But again, as we look at overcrowded schedules, schedules of our own making, we find we have made it terribly difficult to honor this commandment. Is this because we fear being seen as unproductive or lazy if we take time to rest? (I remember recently sitting with other customers waiting for their cars to have the oil changed. One man said to the lady next to him, “It’s been years since I have had a day off.” He said this with great pride.)
Is it because we fear what we may see if we stop to look in the mirror? A quote from the late country singer George Jones comes to mind: “All my life I’ve been running from something; if I only knew what it was.”
It may be that we see these commandments as burdensome and legalistic words; words fencing us in with “Thou shall not.” I understand this, but I also find such a view of the commandments to be off the mark.
For the truth is, the commandments direct us to find life lived fully as we live it in relationship to God. The commandments identify us as people who belong to God. The commandments are to bring God’s order into lives we all too often make chaotic. And, yes, the commandments are countercultural.
While we try to keep up with our neighbors by feeding the idol of “busy-ness”, the commandments tell us such a life is ultimately unfulfilling. While we pride ourselves on saying “yes” to everything and everyone except God, the commandments tell us life is to be found in renewal and refreshment with him.
Rather than being burdensome laws, the commandments are ultimately liberating and life-giving words. It is not too late for us to listen to them.
Keith Ritchie is pastor of First United Methodist Church in Martinsville.