Filling Up Halfway

A couple days ago I stopped at a gas station to refill my tank when I saw the yellow light on my dashboard turn on. I pulled up to the pump and waited for the screen to hit $15 before removing the nozzle. The tank usually fills up with about $30, but I’ve been planning on paying off the balance on my credit card so I can pay for gas with it and get those precious cash back rewards. This has actually already happened twice, in a row. So, with better planning I could have filled up the first time and gotten my rewards.

Oh, well. That’s really not that important.

This may be a silly illustration (it definitely is), but it captures quite well how my mood has been. How my spiritual life has stagnated. How my soul consistently runs on half a tank. And it’s been a while. Too long, really.

Last night, as soon as I got home and put my backpack on the floor, I sat down on the couch and turned on the Xbox to play some FIFA. I was tired, but more than that, I felt empty. When my roommate walked in and said, “You look dead,” I couldn’t help but half-smile and assent. That had been my mood for most of the week. Just going through the motions, trying to find something but not knowing exactly what. My tank running on fumes for a couple days, I needed to find something, but really, I didn’t even want to try at that point.

Every week the story repeats to some extent. I get to Friday night intellectually and emotionally exhausted. Part of me looking forward to reading spiritual/religious books, doing some personal writing, playing clarinet, somehow getting closer to God; the other part staying in bed stressing out about how to best recharge during the remaining Sabbath hours and being so paralyzed that usually not much recharging happens.

To be fair, I do fill up some of my tank. Setting aside and forgetting about any and all schoolwork for the Sabbath is tremendously liberating. It’s the time I can best disconnect from the need of doing—although I can easily end up substituting for other kinds of doing. When the sun sets on Saturday and Sabbath is over, I find myself ready for the week only to find out a couple days later my tank was only half full.

See, Sabbath is a huge blessing, but I just can’t seem to figure out how to recharge. Am I even supposed to figure it out? How much effort should I put in before it all becomes about how well I can perform and then it’s no different from how everything else around me works?

I feel lost in my spiritual practice—if I can even say I have such a thing right now. I often leave church feeling emptier, more upset and frustrated. And I’m just not sure what I need.

This helps. Writing about it. Sharing what’s going on, even if it all comes out as mumble jumble. I will keep looking, trying, searching, and staying still. It’s not about religionand it’s not about correct Sabbath-keeping, although rituals (spiritual practices) can certainly help. I want to better understand how to be present and aware of my place in and connection with a deeper reality.

Sabbath ended not long ago. I hope next time I stop at the gas station, I can fill up the tank all the way.

Sabbath days (part four)

This is the fourth and last post in the series Sabbath days. You can find the previous posts in the archive. Part one. Part two. Part three.


Sabbath is meant to be a refuge, not a prison. It protects the needy, the displaced, and the powerless.

—Matthew Sleeth, 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life

My story with Sabbath from when I began college until now is completed. Yet, there’s still so many more Sabbaths I’ll get to live. So, really, the story is all but over.

I have decided my Sabbaths must change. I need to keep the Sabbath holy again and find joy in it.

When you are in school, your life is measured in semesters and breaks, and every new school years comes with an opportunity to do things differently. Perhaps even more than a new calendar year, this new school year came with many resolutions.

For starters, I need to study more and relax more efficiently. I want to practice smarter and enjoy my last year of college more than I have enjoyed the other three combined. More importantly, however, I want to develop a strong relationship with Jesus. If I prioritize these resolutions correctly, the last should be the first.

If I am only able to succeed in one of the above I want it to be my relationship with Jesus. If I seek God’s kingdom first, He will take care of the rest.

Last week, I stated I had a decision to make. I either asked God for help or I quit. I decided I would ask for help.

Countless times I’ve tried to change my ways. Over and over I have told myself I would spend quality time with God everyday and I would keep the Sabbath holy. Yet, I have not been able to keep those promises.

So, I must ask for help. God can help me spend time with Him. He can help me keep his Sabbaths.

Sabbath is a gift. Sabbath is a blessing. Sabbath is a weekly chance to remember who God is and to put our lives in His hands.

Sabbath is not about the law. Sabbath is about us and God.

May God help me keep his Sabbaths holy.

Sabbath days (part 3)

This is the third post in the series Sabbath days. If you have not read the previous posts, you can read the first one here and the second one here.


“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

—Isaiah 58:13, 14

Sabbath had become kind of a pain. I certainly waited for it every week, but once it passed by I’d realize how disappointing it had been. I had great expectation for the Sabbath that never materialized.

During my sophomore year in college, the Spanish Sabbath school continued under new leadership, but it never took off. I can’t exactly remember when we stopped doing it but there was no point in continuing there when we could all probably have a more fulfilling Sabbath experience attending other groups.

So I began attending another Sabbath school which I liked because it combined feeling and rational thought. Many great professors are part of this group and they bring thought-provoking perspectives. Yes, I am a nerd.

Despite the great fit, I started to show up less and less often. I would stay in my room thinking I had things figured out. I thought, my relationship with Jesus is personal. I don’t really need to be part of a group. I can just stay in my room and read the Bible. You know, have my own devotional. That’ll be more fulfilling.

Deep down (or not so deep) I knew things would not get better. However, that’s what I told myself on Saturday mornings to be okay with myself for sleeping in. After all, I had been really busy during the week and was really tired by the time Sabbath arrived. I deserved my break, my alone time.

This changes to my Sabbath came as a result of how I felt during the week. By the end I was not only tired but extremely frustrated. Perhaps I did not get as far as I wanted or needed in my clarinet repertoire. Perhaps my ear was still as bad as the previous week. Perhaps my writing did not seem to get better. Whether it was knowing too little or failing at accomplishing relevance, I felt as frustrated as never before.

Sabbath became my day. It was a break, or so I told myself. Little by little, I made Sabbath a day where I could get ahead on the things I was behind. What if I worked on my ear or read a good book? It is for a good cause and, besides, there is nothing inherently wrong with those activities. So, I began doing those things. I began taking advantage of that day of rest to not rest.

I quickly noticed that doing these things frustrated me even more, because I knew I was cheating God. I did not feel okay going my own way on the Sabbath. And even if I wanted to blame my guilt on conservatism, that’d be futile. As Ezekiel 20:20 says, Sabbath is a sign of a commitment between God and me. This is not legalism, this is about a commitment with God. Sabbath is a sign of that and a reminder of who God is.

Whether it was trying to advance on my musical abilities or adding something to my brain or maybe even playing video games to give vent to my frustrations, I felt empty. The more I left God out of the picture, the more dissatisfied I became.

I had willingly distanced myself from God. Sabbath was no longer a Sabbath, it was just a day off.

When I went back home this summer, it hit me how much my spiritual life had changed. Before I left Mexicali in the summer of 2012, my relationship with Jesus looked like a linear graph with a pretty good slope. Three years later, I couldn’t help but see a parabola.

Going home was my reality check. It was time to realize where I really stood. I had to categorically admit I had screwed up.

I only had two options. Ask God for help or quit.

Sabbath days (part two)

Keep my Sabbaths holy, that they may be a sign between us. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.

—Ezekiel 20:20

It’s Sabbath again. The week has finally ended and we get to rest once more. That is, if Sabbath has not become  a time of regretful reflection or, even worse, a day of non-stop activity. But hopefully, it is just a beautiful day filled with God’s Word and Spirit.

I began telling you last week about how my Sabbaths changed since I started college. While I thought my spiritual life would consistently move upward in whatever scale there is to measure this journey, I found myself in a game of snakes and ladders landing on snakes every other turn.

The year started and I looked forward to listening to a new pastor in a new church and leading my own Sabbath school. Being away from my home church and the conservatism that to me felt like a hindrance to developing a personal relationship with Jesus, handed me a wonderful chance to grow.

If I remember correctly, the Sabbath school averaged about 10 people the first semester. I was really excited and woke up relatively early so I could be the first one there. At the beginning, people shared responsibilities. One lead in singing, another person would tell a missionary story, and maybe then I would lead in studying the quarterly.

Soon (perhaps by the end of the first semester), we were down to five regular members who came at different times, which made us begin about 20 or 30 minutes late. Leading the Sabbath school became a burden I did not want to carry any longer. But I would, if I had to, because after all, I liked being involved in a kind of ministry.

Attending the Friday night vespers put on by the students (or one student) from Campus Ministries I started to feel like I didn’t belong here. It’s not just that things were different, I had expected something else.

When I came to visit the campus and sat through their Friday night service, I thought they had found what I was looking for. It was a service where balanced had been achieved between liberal and conservatives, where it actually felt wrong to use either of those labels. Although it still was neither conservative nor liberal, it showed poor showmanship. Not that showmanship is good in a worship setting, but a poor one is even worse.

While many people shared my annoyance, many others enjoyed it just as much as I didn’t. So things continued the same way. In return, I started to get more and more frustrated each Friday witnessing how no one seemed to try anything different despite an inspection and overhaul being so obviously needed. Together with my Sabbath school dissatisfactions, Sabbath days became a time of spiritual frustrations.

During my first semester, I did not grow in my relationship with Jesus. But it also did not move backwards. However, my second semester of college suffered a huge regression in my Sabbath keeping and devotional life overall. I was still being obedient in actions but not in spirit.

I don’t want to blame anyone for this. It is not the fault of those organizing worships who do it with the best intentions. It is also not the fault of those who stopped coming to Sabbath school.

Although these are situations that need to be changed, it is my fault for letting these things get in the way of my personal relationship with Jesus.

I am learning, but things don’t get easier. It is a constant struggle to fix my eyes on Jesus and let him guide me.


Next week, I’ll continue looking back on how my Sabbaths have changed.

That is it for now.

Have a great week!

Sabbath Days (part one)

Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you.

Deuteronomy 5:12

Last week, I traveled back to Lincoln, Nebraska. While I was in the plane, I wrote about how worried and tired I am. It was a Sabbath, a stop day. Yet, I couldn’t stop the fears of failure. I worried and worried about the future. I also mentioned that Jesus gives me a Sabbath. He wants me to surrender my life, including all this burdens I’ve been carrying. I’m supposed to let go and take his yoke.

While last week’s post was about the Sabbath, I only tried to show how Jesus gives me a time when I can stop worrying. This time, I want to reflect on what I do with that time God has set apart, the Sabbath day.

Since I left home for college in June 2012, my Sabbaths have changed quite a lot —sometimes for the better and many other times for the worse.

When I moved into the dorm, I realized there was no one who would wake me up Saturday morning to put on my  Sabbath attire and sit on a pew in the church across the street. Moreover, once in my room, I would do whatever I want. I could break as many “Sabbath rules” as I wanted.

With my newfound freedom, I decided I would attend church and keep the Sabbath because I wanted to. Pretty boring? Hey, with more freedom comes more responsibility (thanks, Uncle Ben!) and I wasn’t going to betray my principles just because I could.

The thing is: my Sabbaths did change.

I came to Union College excited about being in a Seventh-day Adventist school. I had felt God leading me to this place against my will a couple months before, but over the summer I learned to accept and even enjoy God’s plan. In this new school, I felt my spiritual life could blossom.

The church across the street looked so big in comparison to my home church in Mexicali I was scared. When your church is small, you get involved in everything. Here, I probably would just sit and listen because I was, and still am, too scared of being up in front in a church that size.

Even though the college only has about 800 or 900 students, I had never been in a community sharing a block with so many people. I did not want to rise as a leader, but I did want to have a smaller group I could be part of so I started a Sabbath school in Spanish. This, I thought, would help me study the Bible consistently and hold me accountable in my devotional life as I lead this small group.

Before the school year actually started, I judged that year would change my life spiritually. With great music and a new worship service structure and a small Sabbath school I did not expect the many spiritual struggles I experienced that year.


More on that later.

Today, I’ve had a blessed Sabbath. I took Jesus’ yoke because it is easy and his burden is light.

Shabbat shalom.

Sabbath

I am flying back to Nebraska today. In fact, I write this as I fly to Minneapolis. It is sad to leave home, but at least I’m almost done with college. Life is uncertain, though. I don’t really know if I’ll go home after I graduate or what I would do there.

Last night, I thought about that while I had coffee with my mom. It was our last time hanging out before I had to go back to Lincoln. We talked about my siblings, taxes, and my life after college. Lately, I avoid talking about grad school or whatever else has to do with being an adult. Well, I’m actually okay talking about it as long as I don’t have to talk about me. The thing is: I really wish I knew what I need to do.

I can’t even write about this. And I won’t.

While I hope I can soon figure out what I will do after college, I need to remember Jesus’ words:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”‭ (Matthew‬ ‭11:28-30‬ ).

Jesus offers me a Sabbath rest.

Jesus doesn’t want me to worry. He’ll take care of me. I must remember that. Whenever I forget it, uncertainty overwhelms me. It’s a burden I don’t need to carry.

Jesus gives me rest.

Shabbat Shalom.