When I was growing up, I mistakenly thought a Sabbath day constituted making sure you went to church on Sunday and honored “The Lord’s Day.” I was completely mistaken about what Sabbath is really all about.
I learned about the importance of Sabbath when I began my Master’s program at Southeastern University. Our professor asked the group of ministers in our class, “How many of you think it’s okay to cheat on your spouse?” No one raised a hand. He went on to say, “How many of you think it’s alright to murder someone?” No one raised a hand. Then he said, “How many of you think it’s okay to skip your day off this week if you need to?” Several people raised a hand. He said, “Apparently, many of you believe it’s appalling to break some of the Ten Commandments, but not the one about honoring the Sabbath each week.”
Our class came to realize, we were sinning and grieving God’s heart every time we had a week without a day off, and specifically, a full 24 hours of restoration.
One of our texts the professor assigned for the class was Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, by Walter Brueggemann. This book turned my thinking right-side up when it came to realizing the unhealthy and unGodly way in which I had been living up to that point. I began to make changes in the midst of taking that class. I started mapping out my Sabbath each week, for the rest of the year. This required intentional planning on my calendar. My goal is to have the same Sabbath day consistently each week, but many times that is not possible due to conferences for work, work travel schedule, weddings, funerals, etc. I made a plan in those particular cases to switch my Sabbath day to another day of the week and alert my husband, my family and others in my life of the alternate day that week. This has been my custom the last six years or so.
Some people mistakenly believe Sabbath is about lying down all day, or doing devotions for hours, or praying for great amounts of time. It may include sleeping, reading your bible or praying but it is not limited to those things. One of my favorite things to do on my Sabbath is ride my bike, at home or away.
Walter Brueggeman says, “Sabbath is not just the pause that refreshes. It is the pause that transforms.”
Observing a Sabbath entails anything that gives you rest. It restores, relaxes and rejuvenates you. For every person, this is different. I believe it is helpful to further clarify regarding people who are in vocational ministry (pastors, pastors’ spouses, etc.) For these folks, a Sabbath day on a Sunday is impossible. Sunday is one of the most draining days of the week. I am not saying it’s bad— it’s simply exhausting. As for me, I come home from church completely exhausted, not refreshed. It is truly impossible for any minister or minister’s spouse to use Sunday as their Sabbath day. So if you are in that category and it’s what you’ve been doing – you haven’t been taking a Sabbath!
I believe there are some people in the world who could include participating in a church service as their Sabbath. Those people would be the individuals that attend a service but do absolutely nothing to serve in that service. If they are purely attending to get filled up, great. If they are not – then Sabbath would be taken another day.
There are people, particularly leaders, who believe they are in a season where they simply can’t rest. This is a false belief. Brueggemann says, ““Even in the wilderness with scarce resources, God mandates a pause for Sabbath for the community.” So, Sabbath is for me, for you…NOW. Right now. This week. This month. Not, “when things slow down.” Because, they won’t. We’ve been saying that for years, and let’s just be honest about it – they won’t. So it’s up to us in the midst of the merry-go-round of life to say, “I’m taking a Sabbath, regardless.”
So, let’s talk about what constitutes a Sabbath. The answer is, it all depends on what restores YOU, personally. I am an introvert. Sabbath for me includes a lot more quiet time and solitude than it would for others, particularly extroverts like my husband. As I mentioned, the list will look different for everyone.
Some of my favorite things to do on a Sabbath are:
Napping (especially with my dogs!)
Getting a massage
Getting a mani/pedi
Soaking in the tub
Watching a movie
Watching a favorite TV show.
Going out to eat or ordering take out.
Spending time with a friend.
If I’m going to venture out to spend time with others, it will be one or two people, never a larger group or crowd. Usually, I do something with my husband, just the two of us, or with one other friend. Occasionally I’ll go with my husband and one other couple somewhere to do something I enjoy. If it’s not something that is literally one of my very favorite things, I won’t go as far as a couples thing. I will save it for a day that is not a Sabbath. I have to feel restored when I leave, and can’t feel like I’ve just done a favor for my husband. (He’s the one that likes to get together with people, and I crave being alone most times.)
My husband is restored and energized from being with people. He most often wants to spend his Sabbath with others, and if I am also on a Sabbath, I am happy to send him on his way to enjoy time with a group while I stay back and spend some time by myself. We do the same thing at times when we are on vacation together. There are occasions when my husband goes somewhere with a group/family and I may stay back at the room and read and spend some quiet time. When you are married to someone who is your opposite, you both have to make allowances for the other. He understands that if I spend my Sabbath day with most people, or with more than two others, I am completely drained and feel like I need another day off. I am happy to meet his needs to be with other people, I just don’t want to do it on my Sabbath day.
A book I highly recommend is, The Deeply Formed Life, by Rich Villodas. In this book, he reminds us, “Sabbath is not a reward for hard work. Sabbath is a gift that precedes work and enables us to work. As with God’s Grace, rest is never a reward; it’s a gift.”
God wants us to receive every gift He has for us. This is one He gives us every single week. Let’s not miss it!