A Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthThe Power of ListeningDeath in Dunedin: A NovelJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeA Renewed SpiritualityFriendingDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Lynne's Blog

Grace gifts versus guilt-inducing obligations

Monday November 17 2014

Grace gifts versus guilt-inducing obligations

I’ve been speaking and writing about the Sabbath for almost a decade, but I recently had an aha experience about Sabbath keeping in my life and its connection to other spiritual practices.

Much of my speaking and writing flows out of my own Sabbath observance, which is close to its 35 year anniversary. When we were young adults, my husband and I lived in Israel for 18 months. Our apartment was in a Jewish neighborhood in Tel Aviv, so everything was closed on the Sabbath day. Everything. We didn’t have a car, and the busses didn’t run, so it was a day with incredibly few options and a very slow pace.

For the first few months, we chafed at the sense of confinement, but later we relaxed into the rhythm of six days of activity and one day of vastly reduced options. When we returned to Seattle, we decided to adopt a Sabbath pattern of our own. Thirty-five years ago, Christians weren’t talking about the Sabbath at all, so some of our friends thought we were a bit weird.

Some people told us we were legalistic. We were stunned by their comments, because we had experienced the slow pace and reduced options of the Sabbath as a major gift that we wanted to keep on receiving. Sure, the fourth commandment calls for a Sabbath, but we never experienced it as an onerous command. We had learned to receive it as a gift, and we wanted to keep receiving that gift.

My recent aha moment came when I compared Sabbath keeping to having a daily quiet time. In my early years as a Christian, I was taught that a daily quiet time in the specific form of cognitive-based Bible study and intercessory prayer is a non-negotiable, something all Christians have to do. I have often tried to have a daily quiet time in that form, and I have succeeded only intermittently. I have felt a lot of guilt around my quiet time failures.

I think about my grandfather, who grew up in a family with a very rigid Sabbath practice. For his parents, a quiet Sunday Sabbath was non-negotiable, and little boys were forced to sit still for one whole day every week. My grandfather stopped attending church as a young man, and seldom darkened the door of a church for the rest of this life. Far from being a gift, for him the Sabbath was one of the factors that drove him from the church.

Encouragement to have a daily quiet time didn’t drive me from the church, but the guilt associated with my failure to measure up hasn’t done much to nurture my faith. Yet the Sabbath has taught me oceans about God’s grace and love for me. The Sabbath has been a factor in shaping me into a person who loves God, receives good gifts from God and tries to respond in faithful service. The Sabbath has helped me understand that my form of a daily quiet time needs to involve stillness and silence, not serious study of the Bible and not just intercessory prayer.

We call spiritual practices “disciplines” because they require an act of the will and persistent obedience. Yet it seems increasingly clear to me that the necessary discipline and persistence need to be rooted in receiving practices as gifts rather than as obligations.

My questions of the day: what Christian practices in your life feel like a gift? Do you perceive any ways they are shaping you?

(If you'd like to read some articles I've written on the sabbath, click here and scroll two-thirds of the way down the page. You'll find a half dozen articles about the sabbath. Here are links to my Sabbath book and my Sabbath Bible study guide. My book Joy Together has a chapter on communal Sabbath keeping. This post originally appeared on the Thoughtful Christian blog, Gathering Voices. If you'd like to receive an email when I post something on this blog, sign up in the right hand column under "subscribe.")