Bringing Back the Sabbath
Many of us have forgotten or never learned how to rest.
This woman’s story expresses well how Barbara and I feel too often:
My husband works a night shift, while I work days. Thus our cars always pass going in opposite directions on a street just a few miles from our house. When we pass, we both yell, “I love you!” One day, after our rush-hour rendezvous, a man who had obviously witnessed this scene several times pulled up beside me at a stoplight. “Hey, lady,” he said, “you two seem to like the looks of each other pretty well. Why don’t you stop and introduce yourselves sometime?”
Like that couple, many others live lives that flirt with exhaustion. Wayne Muller writes that the standard greeting everywhere is “I am so busy.” He goes on to say, “The busier we are, the more important we seem to ourselves and, we imagine, to others. To be unavailable to our friends and family … to whiz through our obligations without time for a single mindful breath—this has become the model of a successful life.”
He’s right: We’re a culture of weary people. And a significant part of our weariness is not because modern life is “so busy,” but because we have forgotten or never learned how to rest.
Early in our marriage Barbara challenged how I spent the Sabbath. She questioned me when I worked. But mostly, she modeled a quiet Sunday, retreating to our bedroom to read a good book, study the Scriptures, and take a nap.
The decision to go on a Sunday night date also became part of our sabbath rest. We’d go out to eat, look over our schedules, and discuss issues in our marriage. Those dates became times of emotional and spiritual reconnection, islands of clarity for us as a couple (and later as parents).
How can you and your spouse break the day-in, day-out cycle of nonstop work and weariness?
Sabbath rest is now foreign to our culture
Rest was important to God from the very beginning. He created for six days, then rested on the seventh.
But contrary to this pattern God established, the idea of sabbath rest is now foreign to our culture, and a rather novel thought for most Christians too. Gordon MacDonald states bluntly, “A rest-less work style produces a restless person … We do not rest because our work is done; we rest because God commanded it and created us to have a need for it.”
God knew we would need to get our bearings before plunging back into the daily grind. But adjusting to a sabbath pace isn’t easy. Just try it! You’ll probably experience how unnatural this day of rest is to us twenty-first-century Christians. We are definitely out of practice.
As I mentioned earlier, our family owes its sabbath practices almost solely to Barbara. She has fought for them in our home, and I have not always been cooperative. She wanted Sunday to be as God intended it—a day set apart to reflect and rest, to allow the soul to catch up with the body. I’ll let her explain more of why the Sabbath is so important.
I (Barbara) find both parts of Exodus 34:21 intriguing. The first part is familiar: “You shall work six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest.” However, we often overlook the second part: “Even during plowing time and harvest you shall rest.” In other words, no matter how busy we are or how long the “to do” list is, we need a regular break. We’re tempted to say, “I’ve got these few hours on Sunday afternoon. I could get a jump-start on the laundry, or I could run a couple of errands and catch up a bit.” But if we compromise, we will miss what we desperately need the most—rest.
Dorothy Bass notes:
[In] The Overworked American, economist Juliet Schor reported that work hours and stress are up, and sleep and family time are down for all classes of employed Americans. Wives working outside the home return to find a “second shift” of housework awaiting them. Husbands add overtime or second jobs to their schedules. Single parents stretch in so many directions that they sometimes feel they can’t manage. Simultaneously, all are bombarded by messages that urge them to spend more (and so, ultimately, work more), to keep their homes cleaner (standards keep rising), and to improve themselves as lovers, investors, parents, or athletes. Supposedly to make all this possible, grocery stores stay open all night long, and entertainment options are available around the clock. We live, says Schor, in “an economy and society that are demanding too much from people.”
That accurately describes our culture today. We don’t know how to slow down, take a day off, or rest. And I admit it’s not easy for us as a large family, either. But I wanted our children to learn that something needs to be different about Sunday. I wanted them to learn the importance of rest, to have time to think, to be still. I didn’t want our children to grow up and be so busy, they couldn’t hear God speak to them.
Suggestions for successful Sabbath making
One author said about the Sabbath, “We would do well to heed three millennia of Jewish reflection on the Sabbath commandment. Not good are work and commerce and worry.” That’s a succinct summary of how “to do” Sabbath. Here are some other thoughts:
1. Recognize that work is not life. Margie Haack comments on the proper attitude about work, which often inappropriately consumes us: “Work is never done. A lot of it doesn’t need to be done today. If, while you are resting, someone else wants to run the country, let them do it … While I am obeying God’s command to rest, He will kindly run the universe.”
2. Make Sunday (or your Sabbath) special. Start preparing at least the day before the Sabbath. For example, if any of our children had homework due on Monday, we asked them to complete it by Saturday night. On Sunday, we worshipped as a family. For the remainder of the day, we limited outgoing phone calls to family members only. The house stayed quieter—time for naps, reading, recreation, relationship building. We avoided the usual activities that drain energy and time and can bring worry, such as shopping or bill paying.
What if you have to work on Sunday? Many millions do—including all of those pastors who deliver sermons on Sunday morning. If necessary, observe your Sabbath on another day or part of a day. The idea, not strict observance, counts.
3. Work together as a couple to learn what brings true rest for you as individuals, as a couple, and later as a family. For some, rest means recreation, such as a hike or jogging. For others, rest may include taking a nap or hanging out with the family.
4. Remember that worship is an integral part of a day of rest. Without question, worshiping in a local church is necessary on the Sabbath and can continue at home after the church service. Fill your home with the soothing sounds of hymns or praise music that exalts the Lord God Almighty and turns your heart toward Him.
5. Without becoming legalistic, continue to discuss and refine together the ways you experience sabbath rest. Some of the most stimulating discussions Barbara and I have had concern the activities that encourage sabbath rest. Should we rake leaves, fix meals, watch football, wax the car? To what extent will we try to protect our lives, marriage, and family from the world on this special day? Be purposeful about your day of rest together. Make it a spiritual discipline.
Honoring the Sabbath is like having a family wheel alignment once a week. If you’re not able on a regular basis to reflect on where the family is headed, in two or three months you can slowly drift off track and end up in a ditch. For the spiritual, emotional, and physical health of everyone in your family, take time to rest and take a sabbath break every week.
From Starting Your Marriage Right © 2000 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.