"For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, but in the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow" Exodus 23:10-11
As the Israelites sojourned through the desert for forty years they were sustained by the hope of the LORD's promise, a promise that when they reached the place marked out for them they would find peace and prosperity, a "land flowing with milk and honey". In preparation for this new land, the LORD laid out for his people a set of commandments through their guide, Moses; principles and laws that would serve to sustain them in their new home. Among these laws, Israel was called to abide by an adherence to the practice of sabbath, prescribed periods of rest for the purpose of rejuvenation, the enjoyment of work already accomplished, and fellowship with their God. Even millennia ago, in an agrarian society, the need for rest and time away from the normal routine was a concept instilled into the very fabric of this people group, not merely a suggestion to them but a commandment from on high.
In contemporary times, much has been said and written about the need for time away, from our jobs, from our screens, from each other. Despite these platitudes, which I am as guilty as anyone of perpetuating, I find it increasingly difficult to pull away. In work, in training, in relationships, even in recreation, the quest for productivity and efficiency seems so often to fly in the face of deep fulfillment, of being so completely at peace and immersed in the moment as to let every externality disappear. Here, then, I feel the pull of God's prescription for my life being played out in the unexpected circumstance that our world's pandemic has imposed. For the first time in seven years my summer has been devoid of the normal travel and racing that typifies competitive track and field. In a typical year, the collection of races that make up a season are electronically timed, videoed, logged online, and analyzed ad nauseam in the pursuit of excellence; chasing a time standard, making a team, winning a title. Training, travel, competition, recovery, holding a job, collectively these things point towards an ever changing end goal, a finish line that seems to keep moving itself forward each time it seems within grasp. While there is passion and joy in this pursuit and I count myself truly blessed to be able to devote so much of myself to something as self-serving as running in circles, it can become difficult to appreciate the experience in the moment.
Contrasted against this normal state of affairs has been a spring and summer as abnormal as I could have imagined. There has yet to be a single sanctioned track and field competition in Canada since the beginning of the pandemic and the prospect of international travel in the name of sport still seems distant to most. The scheduled date of the Canadian Olympic trials has come and gone and with it the qualifying window that had preoccupied my thoughts for months prior. Instead, I have been training at home with a handful of close friends and my coach, pouring my competitive appetite into ad hoc time trials at a local high school. And I have loved it. For the first time in years my running has been something I've treated purely as a source of joy. Years of hard work, focus, and vying for achievement have given me abilities that I am only now fully appreciating for what they are. Stripped of the need for performance, the act of performing has become an act of joy, using the abilities and freedoms I've been granted to glorify God the best way I know how. Much like the fields of biblical times that were carefully tended to through back-breaking labour, and indeed like the labourers who toiled away, years of hard work are being met now with the opportunity for rest. This year has given me a chance to let go of the need for progress as I would have previously defined it and has ushered in a season where there is joy in simply making the most of the here-and-now. And much like a field that is left fallow for a time gains the ability to return more vibrant in the future, I have faith that this season of rest will set the stage for greater things yet to come.