This month I chose to write about sabbath-keeping because I thought it could be a therapeutic activity that might even lead to firmer sabbath disciplines in my life. However, as I began to engage the topic, I quickly realized that my understanding of sabbath was largely superficial. I considered my sabbath day to be my day off—one that instantly filled with errands, doctor appointments, housework, quality time with family and maybe a true-crime show on TV.
My so-called sabbath day was packed with activity. My “day off” from church was actually a “day on” at home.
Clearly sabbath means more than time away from our places of employment. During this past year, many of us have been in our homes and away from our jobs, but I doubt we’ve experienced much sabbath rest. Instead, this has been a stressful time for a host of reasons. So, I asked myself, “What was the primary intent for sabbath?”
God provides us with the original sabbath blueprint at creation, when God rests on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2-3). God also commands God’s people to honor the sabbath day and keep it holy (Exodus 20:8).
What does this mean for us today? Is sabbath for prayer? Should sabbath time be reserved only for God? Self? Family? All of the above? Or is sabbath something else altogether?
Jesus tells us, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Therefore, by Gospel definition, sabbath practices may vary from person to person. In fact, individuals may need different sabbath rituals for different times or situations in their lives.
There are times when I need sabbath from and times when I need sabbath to. Some of us need sabbath from negativity—news media, negative self-talk, toxic relationships, etc. Sometimes I need sabbath from the expectations of others, to have all the answers or to be the perfect wife, mother, pastor, etc. And we need sabbath to—sabbath to rest, to dream, to play, to write, to simply be.
As our country searches for a new normal, we seem busier than ever.
Sometimes I wonder if an entire sabbath day is feasible. How many of us can take time off from work and home for one day each week? What about caregivers of children, parents or partners? For some of us, having an entire sabbath day is a privilege. Could that be God’s original intention—sabbath for some?
If a sabbath day seems out of reach, perhaps sabbath moments are possible throughout the day. I wear a fitness tracker that reminds me to move around every hour. Maybe we could employ a similar approach to sabbath-keeping. Designate two minutes every hour to breathe deeply, pray quietly, use a finger labyrinth, listen to your favorite song or engage in some activity that you find peaceful. This is a holy moment.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972), a prominent Jewish theologian, often said that the meaning of the sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. He also described the sabbath as “a sanctuary in time.”
As our country searches for a new normal, we seem busier than ever. I hope that, while we move ahead, we will continue with the positive practices we gained over the past year, such as staying home more, driving less, developing innovative solutions and staying in touch with loved ones.
Clearly, I don’t have all of the answers, but I know this much is true: whatever brings you joy, gives you life and strengthens you to face another day—this is your sabbath activity.
The psalmist declares, “In [God’s] presence, there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11). So, if something brings life-giving joy, God is in the midst of it. Dwell there, whether for an entire day or for two minutes every hour. Find your sabbath ground and rest in it for a while. After all, the sabbath was made for you!