In my youth, Sabbath meant attending church in the morning, sharing a meal with extended family later in the day, and not having a to-do list otherwise.
Sometimes, my grandfather would take us to G.C. Murphy’s, the five-and-dime down the road, since the mall was further away and many stores there were shut on Sundays. I would pick out a new book or Barbie doll clothes. After working all week at his country store and on the farm, my grandfather enjoyed this adventure. So did my sister and I.
We valued and measured Sunday time differently then.
Today, my Sundays often include church, but the rest of the day can be a blur. A son’s hockey game, a restaurant meal, a luxurious afternoon nap on occasion, and an assortment of tasks that still “need” to get done. While not a full day of work, the rhythm of my Sabbath still is not one of full rest.
I apparently am not alone.
Dr. Matthew Sleeth says that it’s only taken one generation for most of us to forget the Sabbath and no longer observe the fourth commandment.
Technology has created in us the yearning to be connected to work and the rest of the world twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, he explains. What we don’t finish in six days spills over to the seventh. Youth sports and activities take place seven days a week. It’s go-go-go all the time, for many of us.
But in the absence of stillness and rest, Sleeth adds, what suffers is our own personal health and our relationship with God.
And it’s a choice.
Sleeth is a former emergency-room physician and the founder of Blessed Earth, a nonprofit focused on creation care. He is the author of 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life. He spoke last weekend at the church I grew up attending, advocating for a return to making one day a week a holy day of rest.
Sleeth says that today we might define rest and work differently than previous generations. For those who farmed the land, rest meant not working in the garden. Today, one for whom work constitutes pressing computer keys and working indoors, spending time in the garden might be restful.
But what hasn’t changed through the generations, he says, is our definition of commerce, earning money and spending money. Above all, he tries to keep his Sabbath commerce-free. If he and his wife Nancy go out to lunch on Sundays, they tip 100 percent of the bill and include a note on the check: “God bless you. Sorry to make you work on Sunday.”
Sleeth also notes that Sabbath doesn’t have to be on Sunday. Because of his travel and speaking schedule, often they begin their Sabbath at sundown Friday with a meal, and then spend Saturday doing those things that bring rest, renewal and reverence.
He says he bases his decisions of what to do on the Sabbath on Philippians 4:8:
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
His website, sabbathliving.org, offers resources for starting and continuing a Sabbath practice. Here are a few tips, taken from that website:
- Talk with your family and decide how you want to celebrate the Sabbath.
- Take off your watch and remove all reminders of work during the Sabbath day.
- Take a media fast.
- Avoid eating out, buying things, and driving (except to church).
- Spend at least ten minutes completely surrounded by nature.
The Sleeths began keeping Sabbath when their children were young teenagers, and they said it made them “odd” to their friends at first. But, Nancy Sleeth says, it was a great way for them to practice being odd and counter-cultural with lower stakes, before facing some other pressures in their later teens. Their now-grown children still keep Sabbath.
“In adopting a 24/6 life, we put God back into the equation,” writes Matthew Sleeth in his book, 24/6. “We leave some of the figuring out to him. We recharge our batteries with the energy that comes only through stopping, and we become more generous with the gifts God has given us.”
Do you observe a Sabbath? What does that look like? If not, what prevents you from doing so? Is it something you can start?
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Nicole Akers says
A fine reminder to remember to allow the body to rest. Rest is necessary to rejuvenate the body and spirit. It is a necessity, not the thing we remember to do when we aren’t busy. Rest is good for the soul.