Throughout the Bible, we read about this idea of Sabbath. What is Sabbath?
In the ten commandments we read:
Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
It seems as if God is pointing to benefit to resting. Nevertheless, it would be fair to say that the Sabbath is probably one of the most ignored pieces of the Bible.
In our busy world, resting doesn’t come naturally for us. With two kids, rest often seems like a huge luxury for me. Rest is when the kids are watching television on Sunday afternoon and I can take an hour nap.
I once attended a church, where the idea of Sabbath was interpreted very loosely. This particular church was incredibly busy. We had meetings throughout the week, and it was not uncommon for us to spend all of Sunday engaged in activities. This was a church that never had any time for rest, or rather they reinterpreted rest to include a full day of church activities. The result was a profoundly unrestful rest. We thought that God’s kingdom somehow depended on us, and if we somehow faltered, God help us. If we took a day of actual honest to goodness rest, the result could be calamitous!
For the past three weeks, I’ve taken a kind of Sabbath experiment, to discover the meaning of Sabbath and to consider what God might have been thinking when he said, “take a Sabbath.” This experiment was also partly inspired by my reading of Mark Scandrette’s Practicing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in the Kingdom of Love. In one of the chapters Scandrette describes an experiment in Sabbath keeping.
Sabbath Keeping: Taking a day of rest is a way of expressing faith in what God provides. What does a deeply regenerative day look like for you? How would you feast and celebrate what God has given you? What would you abstain from to pursue deeper rest? (Scandrette: Practicing the Way of Jesus)
As I set out to take my own personal Sabbath, I had several realizations beforehand. . .
First of all, I understood any Sabbath would need to have some clear boundaries. For example, we still needed to take care of our children.
“Sorry, Emma, Papa’s taking a Sabbath. Can’t give you lunch. Grab a yogurt and slice of bread.”
No, I can’t get out of feeding our kids.
Second, I realized that any Sabbath would have to involve getting off the internet. I’m the sad victim of internet and email addiction. I compulsively check my email throughout the day. I check the news. I check the number of hits on my blog. I do any number of things on the internet, and most of these things are totally unnecessary. So, for me Sabbath would have to mean no blogging, no tweeting, no email and no surfing the internet.
Third, actually trying to keep a Sabbath required some intentionality. I would have to plan out my weekend and probably get more things done on Saturday, in order to have a Sunday of rest. As the father of two very needy little girls, rest doesn’t just happen. I needed to plan this out. But having planned it out, I would also need to trust in God a little more. Resting would require me to let go of anxiety and fear. Even if a few tasks went undone, life would not fall apart because I took a rest.
Fourth, I didn’t want Sabbath to be a legalistic exercise. In the Gospels, we read how the Pharisees constantly criticized Jesus and the disciples for not keeping the Sabbath. Jesus heals someone on the Sabbath and gets nailed for it. The disciples get something to eat on the Sabbath and get criticized for it. No, this wasn’t the kind of experience I wanted for myself. I had lived out legalism for several years of my life and I found it singularly unfulfilling and tiresome. If I kept the Sabbath it couldn’t be about guilt, self-hatred, shame or trying to look better than other people. This had to be about rest.
I wanted what Jesus promised in Matthew 11:28
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Fifth, I understood that this Sabbath thing might take experimentation and a little trial and error. There was going to be a learning curve to Sabbath keeping. What is restful for me? What does it mean to take a rest? What’s restful to me, might not be restful to Carla and vice versa. Moreover, I didn’t want to over-spiritualize things. Sabbath doesn’t necessarily mean reading the Bible, praying all day, or listening to praise music. The last thing I wanted to do was treat Sabbath like some kind of religious chore.
My Sabbath Experience
For three weeks I tried to be deliberate and intentional about taking Sabbath. I took my Sabbath on Sunday, because this would be easiest for me. In many respects, my Sabbath represented a subtle but significant shift in the way I spent my day. There were a lot more walks. We walked to the park. We walked around our local Mass Audubon habitat. Enjoying nature was a huge part of enjoying Sabbath. There was also a lot of down time with the kids.
Three weeks is probably not enough time to get any kind of scientific results, but it was long enough for me to have a few realizations about the meaning and importance of Sabbath.
Lessons Learned from My Sabbath Experiment
Taking a Sabbath helped me be present to the day, to my family and to God. What do I mean? Too often, during my day, I realized how, while I may be physically with my family, or with my friends, I was mentally somewhere else. I was thinking about the chores that need to be done. I was thinking about checking my email. While I’m with the kids at the park, I’m checking my Blackberry. While my kids are playing in the house, and “I’m watching them”, I’m on the computer doing something “important.”
So, while I might be physically “there,” I’m not really present. I could be walking through the park on a beautiful spring day, and my mind’s several miles away, thinking of what needs to be done and the plans for the coming week. If I open my eyes, really opened my eyes, I would see the beauty around me. I might even hear God speak to me in the quiet of the day. Taking a Sabbath and resting, I didn’t have to think about “what was next,” because there was no real “next” on my schedule. I was free to see, hear and experience.
On those quiet afternoons, I walked through the woods, and actually heard quiet. In this intentional state of rest, I allowed myself to hear quiet. I could hear the wind blow through the trees and listen to the birds singing. I saw the trees budding and flowering. I enjoyed the color and magnificence of spring.
In this state of quiet, I found myself wondering, “How often is God speaking to me, but I’m just too busy or too occupied to listen.”
Maybe there is something to Psalm 46:10
Be still, and know that I am God
When life is busy and overwhelming, I might find myself longing for more time. Maybe, what I truly need is to be still.
All of this made me wonder, whether the reason why people don’t enjoy nature and creation more, is because we’re too busy. Maybe if we, in the spirit of rest, walked through the woods, removing ourselves from the busy-ness of our day, maybe we would discover any number of things?
Overall, my Sabbath rest opened me up to enjoying the small discrete moments of the day. I even found that playing with my own children became more enjoyable. I played with my girls in the spirit of rest and enjoyed my time with them. Too often, playing with the girls can seem like a chore. I’m standing outside with them in the driveway, watching them ride their scooters or bikes, and I’m just counting down the minutes when I can go back into the house and finish some task.
I periodically ask them, “Aren’t you guys tired?”
“Nooooooo!” they yell out.
Instead during my Sabbath I played with the kids and enjoyed it, because it was rest and I didn’t have to be anywhere else. The message I told myself was, “I’m resting and I’m just going to enjoy the moment.” So, I blew bubbles in the driveway and watched Johanna chase them down. As I stood out there in the driveway watching Johanna riding her scooter and Emma happily singing to herself, I could find joy and rest in the smiles and laughter of my children.
Last week, the Sabbath experience was a little different for me. Carla was at a conference, and I was mentally and physically taxed. I came away with the takeaway that rest is hard when you don’t have the support of your partner. When my support is taken away or gone, I hide in my metaphorical bunker and go into survival mode. How do single parents do it!!??
Overall, my Sabbath experiment was an enlightening one and left me wanting more. I gained a whole new appreciation for rest and for what God might have been doing, when He invited us to take a Sabbath rest and make it Holy. In telling us to take a Sabbath, God is inviting us to listen to Him. In telling us to take a Sabbath, God’s not giving us another task. Instead, God is trying to free us to enjoy the moment, enjoy creation and take joy in those we love.