Sabbath keeping

Quick, what are the 10 commandments?

Ok, you know “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not kill”. Perhaps you recall “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that [is] thy neighbor’s.” — mostly because you giggled at the part about the ass. (One wonders, does this cover thy neighbor’s snow-blower?) This original top 10 list begins with the four “God” commandments: God is God, you shall worship no other gods, you shall make no idols, and you will not take the name of God in vain. There’s the proscription against adultery, and the one against bearing false testimony against your neighbor (commonly interpreted as not lying, but that’s not actually what it says). Two more left. One is “Honor thy father and thy mother”, which is either trivially easy or nigh impossible depending on thy father and thy mother.

Then there’s the middle one, “But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.”

Now, I’m an every-single-Sunday Christian. I go to church not just regularly, but downright religiously. I’m an elder (a member of the governing board of the church) — as is my husband — and attend two meetings a month to talk about the business of the church. I’ve taught Sunday School. I volunteer in the nursery. I served communion this Sunday, pretending to be one of the grownups. Surely I’m keeping the Sabbath… every single Sunday from 10 am until 1 pm, from prelude through coffee-hour-cleanup.

But sometimes I feel like the commandment I break with most wanton abandon is this rest advice. (Although with all the snow lately, it’s possible I’ve taken the Lord’s name in vain once or twice…) I mean, sure I don’t go to my job on Sunday, and I do worship God on Sunday. But not only do I not REST on Sunday, I often don’t REST at all. When I’m not laboring at work, I’m laboring at home. When I’m not laboring at home I’m (in all truth) laboring at church. And when I’m not laboring, I’m usually also not resting.

Jesus talks a good bit about the Sabbath laws. He heals a man on the Sabbath, which generates tremendous controversy about whether he is keeping the commandment. He plucks grain from a field as he passes on a Sabbath — a clear violation of the law. When he’s busted for it, he explains to the Pharisees that they have misunderstood the commandment. It wasn’t that people should stop working one day in seven because God wants them to. It was that God wants people to take a break because people NEED a break. “Jesus said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and man was not made for the Sabbath.'” (Mark 2:27)

I do a lousy job of keeping this commandment, in any interpretation of it. It can be easy to justify… if this whole “rest” thing is just for my convenience, I can tough it out. I’m doing ok. I can make it. As long as it doesn’t bother God, I’ll just keep chugging along being a good worker/mother/wife/citizen/friend/daughter/elder/cook/housekeeper/blogger.

But shockingly, God has it right. We need breaks. Can you imagine how your life would be if one day in every seven, you could lay down you weary load and simply rest, relax and enjoy yourself? Maybe catch up on sleep, read a book, play a game, veg on the couch or go on an adventure? And even better if you used common sense for it… you wouldn’t stop taking care of your kids or eating food, but you would take it easy.

I’ve been thinking about this for years. Decades, actually. Since I began to assume an adult’s schedule and actually HAD work to do, I have worked every day of the week. But I’ve been particularly thinking about it in the life of my family lately. Our weekends are just PACKED. Our Saturday ran like this, this week:

7:30 – Husband up to go to aikido dojo to set up for half-day demonstration in car dealership
8:30 – he left and I got up to be with the kids
10:00 – everyone must be dressed and in the car to go to swimming lessons
10:30 – 11:30 – swimming lessons
12 – 12:45 – feed lunch to small children
12:45 – get Grey in his gi to go to kids’ aikido, take both kids’ to car dealership to meet up with husband
2:30 – return, put kids down for naps, go grocery shopping
3:30 – make corned beef hash for Burns night
4:15 – take shower
5:00 – leave for Burns night
1:00 am – get back from Burn night

7:30 am – get up with kids
10 am – Church!

Now, there’s lots in there that I have very intentionally chosen to do. Grey must learn how to swim — it is a critical life lesson. My husband benefits greatly from his time doing martial arts, both mentally and physically. Grey also needs the exercise and discipline of it. And Burns night is fun with my friends! Who wouldn’t be all on board with that? But the combination of all these good things is relentless, and still the dishes need doing and the laundry needs folding..

So I’ve been thinking about a Sabbatical Sabbath. What if, once every 7 weeks, we just opt out of all our weekend activities? No swimming lessons, no aikido, no church. What if we take the kids to the Aquarium instead? Or lounge around the house in our pajama pants past noon?

I honestly don’t know HOW to keep the Sabbath. But I’m thinking of this, as a way to claim a little rest, leisure and relaxation into busy lives.

What about you? Are the ten commandments on the list of things you try to do? Which one is hardest for you? Do you keep a sabbath, or take a break? How do you find balance?

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Brenda currently lives in Stoneham MA, but grew up in Mineral WA. She is surrounded by men, with two sons, one husband and two boy cats. She plays trumpet at church, cans farmshare produce and works in software.

3 thoughts on “Sabbath keeping”

  1. Excellent comments, Brenda. I, too, struggle with this one. I enjoy and believe that it is necessary to do all the church activities, but they can wear one out. Hoever, as an example, how can we celebrate communion if no one prepares it? True, everything could be done “ahead” on the day before, as is Judaic tradition, but how practical is that? And is singing or ringing bells work? I think not, even if it is practice – or am I just deluding myself…
    What I try to do, instead, is create a little “Sabbath” time each day for myself where I rest and read and pray and ponder and reflect. Then I don’t feel quite so bad washing dishes after dinner on Sunday. A sabbatical Sabbath would not be as meaningful for me because I would feel that it was a false Sabbath, a Baal, an appeasement, but not what the good Dr.Jehovah ordered. But if it works for you, DO IT!


    1. Millie, that’s exactly the problem. Is actually resting or doing something, as you say, a false Sabbath? Or is it what was intended for a day of rest? I suppose I’m splitting the difference by saying 6 times in 7 to do the regular Sunday activities, but 1 on 7 not to.


  2. Pastoring a church adds an interesting layer to this question. Is preaching and leading a worship service work? It feels like it. And it is certainly different than worship as a member of the congregation. And since I am a tentmaker (have a full-time job — other than being a pastor), I do not have the traditional pastor’s Sabbath — Monday.

    It has also had an interesting impact on personal devotions. It is difficult to separate devotions and sermon preparation. I’m not sure I ever succeed in that.

    I think your question about Sabbath Sabbaths is wrong ended. Are you thinking about doing a Sabbath because it is an obligation? That is not Sabbath. Jesus spoke often about the mandatory Sabbath — that they missed the point. Sabbath is permission to take care of yourself — physically, mentally, spiritually. Consider it all joy! How about asking God to show you Sabbath? Just say that, and wait to see what happens.


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