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?

Stop. Rest. Think. Pray.

This Sunday’s sermon was about time. It was our (beloved) pastor’s first Sunday back after a 3 month sabbatical. He talked about the Sabbath — the divinely mandated one day in seven of rest. He talked about how God himself, after a hard week making creation, took a break. He raised the question: who are we, to think that our labors are more important and more critical than God’s governance of the created world? He could and did rest. Are we so much more integral to the running of the universe?

And he was talking to me and I knew it.

But he didn’t condemn me. And he didn’t say that the working and the striving are bad. He just reminded me that time needs to be taken for all things in this world. God did work hard for the six days. He may even have pulled all-nighters.

We had dinner with a friend from church. He owns his own business in order to make his own hours. He theorizes that we Americans are so busy because if we stop, the silence of the void within us might echo back. And so we’re afraid to stop. I’m pretty sure that my inner life is not echoing. I believe it to be rich, and have taken time for it. But he may very well be right, that it is not a comfortable thing to stop and hear.

My pastor also made a suggestion. In our bulletin was a corny little photocopy of four windows. Pick, he said, four windows of time between now and Thanksgiving. Make them good blocks — four hours or so. For those four windows, stop. Rest. Think. Pray. Do not even plan to do those little hobbies that fill up the corners of our time. Allow that time to be open. Do not do the chores. Do not plan ahead. Do not prepare. Stop. Rest. Be at peace, four times for four hours.

And he is right. I need to.

I threw away my bulletin with the little four windows. But I have before me my calendar — a pretty Presbyterian calendar that I always hope will remind me from whence my time on this world came. I must, of course, coordinate with my husband (who will point out that I do not have these quotes verbatim — that’s what they said to ME dearheart, whether or not it’s what came out of their mouths). But I will do it. I will find four fours. I will obligate myself to let go. I will mark them on my calendar, and they will be inviolate. And I will stop, rest, think and pray.