I think it all happened because the eighteen-year-old boy behind the counter called me ma’am.
It was at a grocery store in South Carolina, during a long-sought family vacation, the first “event” of my sabbatical from church. This trip had been part of the ‘grand summer plan’ for some time—staying at a cousin’s house, eating our fill of southern food, and introducing our New England children to the miracle of ocean water which didn’t turn your body blue with cold every single month of the year. I had yearned for this first sabbatical—a sabbath rest for the caregiver patterned on the role of resting, trusting in God, for the people of Israel in scripture.
The planning and hopes around this first family foray into sabbath time—not with family, not with a side hustle, not with any other agenda in mind—had been carefully planned and executed to date. All I wanted, I kept saying to my husband, was a little bit of freedom during this sabbatical—a gift after (then) fifteen months of social distance, online school for one child and online therapies for the other, children too young to be vaccinated, no good answers at each turn. I just want to get away, to enjoy a breath of freedom, during this gift from the church of time and space.
And then I got called ‘ma’am’. “Would you like me to take those groceries out to the car for you, ma’am?”
So I did what any middle aged woman with some sort of complex might do in that situation: I thanked the young man, made a quick joke about my strength and ability, hauled a heavy carton of groceries up and out the door, and then immediately fell off the curb into a cement parking block, and into a sea of cement gravel.
The groceries were fine. My ankle and leg were not.
I wish that concern had flooded me at that moment—a bid for assistance and acceptance of what had just happened, which was, at a glance, pretty bad.
But no. My ego immediately began the ‘DID ANYONE SEE ME DO THAT?!’ dance of shame. ‘PLEASE GOD, I’M SO EMBARRASSED’.
In pain, swelling, and in a series of verifiably poor choices for someone who should know better, I hauled myself and my leg to the car, deposited groceries, called my husband, and drove myself home. Asking no one for help. Admitting no error in judgment. Inviting no one in.
For the next three days, I was leg up with ice, painkillers and a deep frustration with myself. I had ruined our vacation (I couldn’t walk down the driveway, never mind the beach). I had brought this upon myself. The freedom and abundance of this sabbath time changed for the next two months: no hiking, no long walks, going up and down stairs one step at a time for weeks. Even more, my husband was now needing to care for me—and I needed to rely on him, along with the kindness of friends to assist with the movement of children from one place to another.
I have now come to understand that this limited agency was more painful than the actual injury.
Sabbath, I kept reasoning, was for me to have fun. It was a time for me to do what I wanted to do (instead of what I had to do), to allow myself some freedom from the regular rota of producing life with young children and work.
Instead, under threat of being ‘booted’ by my doctor, I spent my sabbath relying on others to assist me. Moving far more slowly than I my fragile ego could bear. Not producing or achieving a single thing on my ‘Sabbatical To-Do’ list.
I complained and moped to God, “I’m not able to get anything done!”
And that still small voice replied, “Yup.”
Sabbath days have for so long been ways of catching up or getting ahead for me. Meal planning for the week ahead. Laundry from the week prior. Speed reading the book from the library because it’s due (again) in two days, and this time they are gonna fine me for real. Sabbath became a to-do list of life maintenance, rather than relationship maintenance, connection enhancement.
I hated relying on others, and yet, sabbath is entirely about relying on God and God through God’s people. It wasn’t about freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted, it was about trust—trust that there would be enough to get me to the next step. Trust in God’s people to share the love and care with me. Trust that I could step back and accept that love, freely offered, freely given, with no ‘exchange’.
I sought freedom, and instead I received assurance during that sabbath time. That I was still loved and valued, even though what I could *do* to earn that love was nearly nothing. That honoring the healing of my body and soul was necessary enough work. To consider all the ways I could have said ‘Yes, please and thank you!’ to a young man in a South Carolina grocery store, who was willing to assist a mom with her groceries, with grace and trust. Next time, I will.