but during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard…then the land will yield its produce, so that you can eat your fill and live securely on it
Leviticus 25:4, 19
I hate being unproductive. This is why you may sometimes catch me reading a book while brushing my teeth, or listening to the news on Podcasts while cooking chickpea curry (this may have happened two hours ago…). Perhaps this slight OCD bent is a byproduct of the necessity of such multi-tasking while in Princeton.
The professor would be gesturing animatedly fifteen rows ahead of me and I would skilfully switch between the multiple tabs open – my Pinterest board of recipes where I was trying to decide on the menu for tonight, my Google Calendar of different colored appointments stacked on top of each other with fifteen minutes of walking time in between, and of course, my Evernote of bullet-pointed notes.
I came across the concept of the fallow field during my time in China. Nestled in between the exact differences between the wave and sin offering, clean and unclean animals, was an agarian principle so crucial that the Lord spends the last three chapters of Leviticus talking to Moses about it.
The fallow field was essential for maintaining the health of the land. Continuous growing of crops on the same piece of land depletes the soil of nutrients, leading to poor drainage and low productivity.
On the contrary, when the field is left unseeded for a year or more, the earthworms return, enriching and aerating the soil. Organic material revitalizes its natural microbial health, restoring nitrogen and phosphorous levels and breaking crop disease cycles.
As an Israelite farmer who depended on crop yield for his livelihood, letting the field fallow must have been one of the most difficult commands to follow. Not murdering was pretty straightforward, bringing a tithe into the temple routine, but leaving their plot of land bare while the Canaanite neighbors had fields of sprouting wheat had to require trust.
The harvest was going to come, not because the farmer had worked hard, but because of His goodness.
By letting the field fallow, the farmer relinquishes profit and productivity. He recognises that the earth is the Lord’s, that we do not live by bread alone, and that we are not defined by our work. Instead, the ability to work is a gift, and so is the product of that labor.
While I was completing my bachelor’s in chemical engineering, the need to work the fields continuously for fear of losing out was a constant battle. I would stay up into the darkness of the early morning, thinking I could crack the code on my differential equations problem set with my sheer brain power; meanwhile, my brain was deteriorating with each hour.
It took humility to recognise my limitation, stop work – and sleep. I had to learn not to feel guilty for sleeping, or choosing to keep Sunday totally work-free.
“How do you have so much time? I could never afford to do that,” was the reply from those who learned of my work habits.
It wasn’t that I had more time, or any less work, but it was a conscious choice to remind myself of who I was: not the Creator, but the created.
It was a choice to feel weak and vulnerable, dependent, and very human.
Our bodies weren’t created to run on no sleep and caffeine. Our minds weren’t supposed to always be processing information: social media feeds, news articles, endless work demands.
If you’re feeling a bit worn, perhaps you woke up this morning having trouble answering the question ‘What am I looking forward to today?’, or you wish you could press pause on your life for a day, it could be a sign that your field needs to fallow.
This concept could be intimidating to implement at first – what will my friends think if I’m not responding to their texts within the hour? What if there’s an emergency at work? What will happen to my GPA? But trust me on this – close your eyes, unplug your device, and do something that fills you.
Create a space where your soul can come alive.
It may look different for you, but for me, it was Sundays in Starbucks with God. I always had a mocha and an almond croissant. Then, I would watch the world go by. We would have light conversation, God and I, like the kind you would have on a coffee date – nothing too serious, just heart to heart. Sometimes, I would jot down some of my thoughts, and other times, we would simply be silent together. It was whole, and altogether beautiful.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We need to work heartily, with all our might. Work is biblical. But, so is rest.
And as we fall into the rhythm of a biblical work-rest cycle, I believe we give the Lord a chance to demonstrate His goodness to us. Just as this agricultural practice was a trust exercise of seeing nothing but soil while the ground was being replenished underneath its bareness, so too, as we release control of their work, we wait with expectation for His promises to be fulfilled in our life:
Test me now in this, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.