The Sabbath: Beyond a Sunday Nap

Why do you think people, particularly women don't take time to rest, let alone focus on true sabbath rest?

Women in the United States bear a heavy burden of expectations of perfection and constant servanthood. In addition, our culture values productivity and activity for everyone. We have simply forgotten that God invites us to rest as well as to produce and serve.

Beyond the Ten Commandments, what does the Bible say about the sabbath?

Two of the other lovely Old Testament passages on the sabbath are Exodus 31:13 and Isaiah 58:13 and 14. Other related passages about rest are: Isaiah 30:15, Psalm 46:10 and Jeremiah 6:16.

How is the Old Testament understanding of sabbath different from the New Testament understanding of the sabbath?

Jesus observed the sabbath. His disputes with the religious leaders of his time centered around appropriate behavior on the sabbath, not whether or not the sabbath should be observed. Jesus' activities on the sabbath involved helping people experience or return to the way God created them and redeems them.

Was the idea of sabbath tied into the Jewish roots of the Christian faith?

We still consider the Ten Commandments to be important. They are part of the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. Why don't we obey the fourth commandment? We still believe God created us and that God is our redeemer. Those are the two reasons given in the two versions of the Ten Commandments for the sabbath. The sabbath is an opportunity to remember God as creator and redeemer.

Why should Christians keep the sabbath? Beyond a nap, how do Christians benefit?

The sabbath is the single most significant way God has taught me grace. Philip Yancey defines grace as the realization that nothing I can do can make God love me more, and nothing I can do can make God love me less. As long as we are productive every minute, we easily fall into the trap of believing God loves us because of the things we do. A consistent pattern of stopping our productivity can teach our hearts that God's love and grace come to us as a gift.

What does a modern day take-a-sabbath look like? What do we do? What do we not do? How do we prepare for sabbath?

People who want to observe a sabbath have to decide what to stop doing on that day, what to do, and they need to consider the best way to prepare. Options for stopping include stopping multitasking, using some kinds of technology, shopping, feeling anxious. The first thing to do on the sabbath is to take a deep breath. Other activities can be added to draw near to God, but the temptation is to add too many too fast and make the day another thing to accomplish, and that violates the spirit of the sabbath.

What are some misconceptions about the sabbath?

In the past few years I have had conversations with about 150 Christians about burnout in congregations and about sabbath keeping. Here are some of the most common myths I encountered, along with some of the helpful ideas I heard from my interviewees.

Myth #1

The most important way to avoid burnout in congregational volunteers is to thank them enthusiastically for what they have done.

another view
The most common burnout-prevention "technique" I heard about in my interviews was keeping a sabbath. The other most common ideas for preventing burnout among congregational volunteers was turning committees into communities and building teams.

Myth #2

I have to keep a sabbath for 24 hours in order for it to make any difference.

another view
Many people find benefit in taking half day sabbaths or even two-hour sabbaths. While many long-time sabbath keepers find it takes 24 hours to come to a place of rest, others enjoy watching for and taking opportunities throughout the week to slow down and listen to God.

Myth #3

I have to stop all kinds of work on the sabbath in order for it to really count as a sabbath.

another view
The word "sabbath" means "stop, cease, desist, rest, or pause." What do you need to cease from? Multitasking? Using your computer or cell phone? Overloading yourself with information? Worrying? Many people cease from one overused activity on their day of rest.

Myth #4

I need to engage in "spiritual" activities the whole time in order to benefit from a sabbath.

another view
We stop on the sabbath in order to learn in an experiential way that God is in charge of the universe and we are not. So one of the most important things we can do is to simply stop being productive. We stop on the sabbath in order to make space to listen to God. Sometimes making space involves walking, gardening, laughing with our children, or just sitting and looking out the window.

Myth #5

I can't afford the time to give up a whole day of productivity each week.

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One study indicated that people who worked seven 50-hour weeks got no more done than those who worked seven 40-hour weeks. All the devoted sabbath keepers I interviewed would agree. They find they get more done when they keep a sabbath because they feel focused and rested during the work week, even though they may work fewer total hours.

Myth #6

Older people can relate best to the sabbath. They grew up with it and understand it. Younger people have no interest in something so old fashioned.

another view
More than a dozen people in their twenties talked to me about how precious the sabbath is to them. "We obey the other nine commandments," several said. "Why not this one?" Twenty-somethings talked about informal gatherings with friends, long walks, cooking wonderful food, and board game extravaganzas as favorite sabbath activities.

A few more thoughts

One of the greatest obstacles to sabbath keeping is the notion that we have to do it perfectly in order to gain any benefit. As we experience stress, overwork and overload, the sabbath invites us simply to stop. This invitation can be a great gift.