Remembering the Sabbath

I confess that for most of my life, I have not paid much attention to the fourth of the Ten Commandments, to “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8). But earlier this year I read Keeping the Sabbath Wholly by Marva Dawn which challenged my thinking and, more importantly, my practice regarding the Sabbath.

As a ministry leader, Sunday morning has often been a “work” day. In addition, as a student through undergrad, seminary and now Ph.D. work, I would study and write whenever I could find the time, no matter what day of the week, rarely stopping to rest except between semesters. But again, earlier this year I felt the Holy Spirit nudging me to consider my practice (or non-practice) of Sabbath.

God instituted the Sabbath for our benefit. Yet in our culture we have forgotten how to truly rest, to set aside time for (as Dawn writes) “ceasing, resting, embracing, and feasting.” As a result of my reading and my soul conversations with God, I have grown in my commitment and practice of a day “set apart.”

As I am currently not in a ministry role that requires significant work on a Sunday, I have chosen to make that my Sabbath. Actually, I try to be ready to begin Sabbath around dinner time on Saturday, continuing through dinner on Sunday. By Sunday evening, my focus shifts back into gearing up for the week ahead in my work, the boys’ school, household maintenance, etc. For my pastor-husband, Sunday is definitely a work day so he uses his day off, Friday, as his day of rest. Separate days are not ideal but it is what works for our current situation.

The biggest changes in my Sabbath practice are:

  • First, I am actually aware of the idea of a Sabbath and I seek to make it a priority. Just this shift in awareness has made a big difference.
  • Second, I look ahead to that day and try to get all household tasks done beforehand. I especially used to run to the grocery store for a few items in preparation for Sunday dinner, and I now try to do that and other shopping and housework by Saturday night.
  • Third, I don’t do any schoolwork, writing, research, teaching prep, or other work-related activities. At the same time, I find that giving myself a break from hands-on work allows ideas in my head to bloom so that I am bursting to put them on paper by the next day.
  • Fourth, I focus on restoring my physical energy. I usually take Sunday as a day of rest from more intense physical activity as I exercise most of the other days of the week. I also try to take a long nap or at least an extended rest time.
  • Fifth, I try to limit stimuli for that day, including phone conversations, media consumption, or large-group social interaction. My limits for a particular Sabbath really depend on what I feel I need that day. As an introvert, I am learning to pay better attention to my emotional energy and to adjust accordingly. Doing this allows me to be more present to the interactions I do participate in.
  • Sixth, I focus on spiritual renewal, including participation in worship and generally more meditation and journaling on this day.

I have found my new focus on Sabbath to be exceptionally freeing in two ways. One is that I work harder during the rest of the week. Knowing that I have a day of rest and no work coming up motivates me to work more diligently the other six days of the week. Two, I then also rest “harder” or more fully on my Sabbath. I allow myself to let go of outstanding work or other concerns, knowing that they will still be there the next day. And I am fully refreshed and ready to tackle them on Monday morning.

If you do not currently practice some sort of regular Sabbath, I strongly encourage you to consider how you might incorporate this very important command into your weekly rhythm.

How do you remember the Sabbath?

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