About a year ago I wrote about my frustrations with Sabbath practice. Today, I am a year older and maybe a few days wiser. Here is what has changed and what remains of my perspectives on Sabbath.
Over the course of the last year, the problem of Sabbath keeping has not been resolved. You either are a person who intentionally practices Sabbath or you are not. I suspect that is not just a cultural problem, but a human problem, and I believe God created the whole idea of Sabbath to reshape our rhythms of life, work, and rest. (Also play, which I believe is a part of life as well)
About three weeks ago, I decided to take an intentional Sabbath day. I chose Monday, because it was a good transitional time between the work on Sunday and starting preparations for the week ahead. The night before, I wrote up a specific Sabbath schedule. It looked something like this:
Sabbath Plan: v. 1
8:30am – wake up
8:35am – Examen and prayers for the day
8:45am – shower
9:00am – breakfast (something small) and Bible reading
9:30am – walk and pray
11:00am – worship music
12:00pm – lunch
1:00pm – ???
3:00pm – ???
5:30pm – supper
7:00pm – ???
9:00pm – head to bed
Optional items for afternoon/evening
– Read for fun
– Watch tv
– Play piano for fun
– Phone call to a friend
Now, bear in mind, I am not a scheduled, organized, or detailed person by nature. Normally, if I am doing something within a particular time frame I consider it work, not rest. About halfway through the morning though, I realized that it had been quite awhile since I felt this good. What was it? I strongly suspect it was adrenaline running in my system for being outside, getting exercise and sunshine during a comfortable early part of the day, much earlier than I would be doing if left to my own devices. While there may not seem to be anything especially spiritual about that, I can testify – that small bit of exercise helped clear my mind so that I could pray with more focus than usual. To be fair, I think I ended up on a phone call with a friend that morning which moved the schedule off by about an hour and half altogether. It taught me that it is not the specific schedule or activity list that mattered so much as the intentional use of time dedicated to revitalizing myself in God’s presence.
I’m a pastor who preaches almost every Sunday out of the year so that means Sunday is not a good day to have a Sabbath. I actually cannot imagine what Sabbath time on a Sunday would be like. Sure, I’ve had Sunday’s off and been on vacation – visited other churches and participated in ministries that I was not leading. Yet there has always been something a little “workish” about being at church for me. I have a hard time imagining what Sabbath would look like in the context of a regular “church” day. (That may be a bit of my introvert self coming out.)
By the end of the day, I learned two things about myself. 1. I was pleasantly tired from doing things that did not get me ahead in life, but made me enjoy my life more. 2. I had never practiced a full Sabbath day before on my own. Oh I had taken time off and done life giving things, but I had never organized a whole day of it myself. You may look at my list of optional activities and think it is a poor list – including things like watching TV and not including spiritual disciplines other than a short scripture reading and prayer time, and you would be right. It was simple and has lots of room to grow, and it was my first attempt. I find hope in the fact that I’m not graded for these attempts. Instead God just encourages me to seek Him more each day.
As I mentioned, this was all about three weeks ago, and I have not taken a full Sabbath day since. I’m back to my half-days and few hours caught here and there. So what has changed in the last year? Well, I have been to the edge of the Promised Land, and this time, instead of saying, The busyness of my life is too big to claim a whole day each week, let me instead settle for whatever scraps I can find in the wilderness of daily life, I took a leap of faith and went after it anyway and discovered, like Joshua and Caleb, that we can indeed slay those Giants, and that the harvest over there in Sabbath land is far sweeter, nourishing, and refreshing than the wilderness rations. Perhaps more importantly, since all our food, real and spiritual, comes from God – I found myself over there more than I have found myself just trying to get by. I have a new vision, etched into my memory, of who I can be when I take a day off to just let God shape me and stop trying to control my life. There is always time the next day to get back to the grinding stone.
Here is what was reaffirmed. Sabbath time is not a “play” day. I was refreshed more by time with God, time in prayer for others, time spent catching up with friends and family, and time spent in the Scriptures and worship than any time spent watching TV, playing games, etc. It was not an especially relaxing day. I probably walked more steps than I do on many of my work days. No, it was time that was focused in on God and what His agenda was instead of pushing mine. I think it was actually better having those blocks of time in the afternoon that were left open to let God’s Spirit lead than if I had picked every activity out throughout the day. I still believe that the Sabbath day was meant to be a transitional day of reflection and celebration between one week and the next, or at least between one work project and the next. It’s not a day off. It is a day of coming home to God after being in the mission field all week. It is not just a time to be filled up, it is a time to report on the work you have already done and sit back with God to determine what was good, very good, and what parts may need to be adjusted in the days ahead. I still think Sundays are not good Sabbath days for pastors, and I questions to some degree how well they are for everyone else as well. There are so many aspects of church work that have been set on Sundays for all Christians, not just pastors, that I cannot help but wonder if it has become a day of Christian work, instead of secular work. That’s not exactly why I believe the Sabbath was created. Christian work is to be done everyday, not just one day a week. I think a true Sabbath embraces both time alone with God and time together with other believers. Again, we need both of these more than once a week.
This all leads me back to my original thought that I learned this year. Perhaps it is not about what we do so much as that we offer up a day to God on a weekly basis. What would it look like if we all just took a day each week and said, Jesus, you lead and I’ll follow… and we went from there. What would that change about your life? How would that change our communities and our world?