The Sabbath: Why I Take A Day Off Every Week
Benefits of Taking a Day of Rest
When I grew up, all the stores in my small hometown closed down on Sundays (and I think perhaps on Wednesday afternoons if I recollect correctly). That meant that even if families didn't attend church, their parents were given "a day of rest" from their workplace. That was the law and that was the tradition.
Somewhere along the way there was an escalation of the need to buy, buy, buy and the 'day of rest' concept pretty much went out the window along with girdles, Easter bonnets, and Pepsodent toothpaste. Everybody's weekends became as crammed as their working week-- there was all the "wholesome groceries" to be purchased for the coming week, and often, 'organized' activities for children took place on the weekends (ballet lessons, soccer tournaments, school trips for example). And so it went.
With both parents working outside the home and the children needing "scheduling" of their events and activities, there was a pronounced shift in how families functioned and interacted. I grew up within a 25-mile radius of both sets of grandparents and all of my adult aunts and uncles and cousins. My children grew up in the 1970s and '80s, living a great distance from the majority of their relatives.
Life was chaotic. It continues to be... or it could be, if I choose.
What I discovered in my 30s is that part of God's plan for his children is that we keep that "day of rest" (or Sabbath as it is called in reference to the 4th commandment that reads: "Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20) It is a memorial of the six other days that He spent on creating our world, and every being that inhabits it.
Now, initially, it was my husband who went searching and discovered a community of believers who 'keep the Sabbath holy'. He began to stop doing anything of commercial nature, and any work-work on Saturdays. At first I found this monumentally inconvenient. I liked shopping on the weekends! I enjoyed partying with friends on Friday nights. It was, I thought at the time, a way to relax and release the stress of the past week. I even enjoyed all the kids' sporting events that sprawled across the weekends. I couldn't imagine why he wanted to be so weird, to stick out like a sore thumb, to bring on the wrath and contempt of so many people (like me, I guess) who didn't understand why he was 'bucking the trend'.
And so went our life over many years-- he with his loyalty to this Sabbath-keeping and me with my going about my usual lifestyle that was totally indistinguishable from 95% of all other twenty- and thirty-something adults when it came to the weekend. He didn't push. Off he went every Saturday to church in his suit and came home to spend time with us. I went with him a couple of times, but it really wasn't my cup of tea, I'd decided. I heard some critical comments made about the denomination of my childhood and, although I no longer was active in that particular faith, I took offence.
I began to notice that I was married to an exceptionally kind and generous man. While my childhood and college friends were going through marriage breakdowns and divorces, my husband patiently and lovingly continued to treat me like the love of his life, even though I did some pretty nasty and shameful things (to "test him" I thought). And I over-worked, over-ate, smoked and drank, all the while thinking that I was living a great fullsome life. I got sick a lot. I had no energy. I feared death and had a painfully challenging relationship with a family member.
I started to align myself with some of his beliefs-- I began to see the blessings in laying all the cares of the week aside and just delighting in the rest and peace of the Sabbath day. I didn't immediately start attending church with him, but I did stop shopping and going out to Friday night parties, plays, movies, etc. I made other health-related changes in my life that increased my confidence and self-esteem. I dipped into the Bible.
At some point in time I commenced Bible studies I was invited to. I remember telling a group of women around my friend's dining table that eventually I knew I would be joining my husband at church, that I was being pulled in that direction, and that I was lonely for his company (and knew that he must also be lonely for mine). A few of them had husbands who were unbelievers and they were hoping for the same decisions from their partners.
And so, not long after my disclosure to my group of women friends, in the late winter, a pattern of going to church with him developed. He told me later that he thought that it was just a sort of one-off and that eventually I would stop coming, as I had before. I went with him to a Valentine's dinner at the church hall-- a big step for me because I felt like I was under a magnifying glass at these sorts of functions, like his "bad wife". Guilt. The pastor and his wife were very outreaching and friendly. My heart was touched by their conversations with me. I continued to go to church. His pastor said, "Hey, I notice that C. is coming every week to church" and my husband said, "Yeah, I wonder what's going on" in a sort of joking way. The pastor said, "It's the Holy Spirit drawing her". When my husband told me this later I was absolutely flabbergasted... at no time in my upbringing or Bible Study experience had anyone talked about this very personal manner in which God in the Holy Spirit would court me. I'm still amazed when I think about it almost twenty years later. That was the clincher-- I gave my life over to Something Bigger than I, repented of my sins, and was baptized.
I feel so very blessed by the privilege to worship God with my good husband-- I know that there are realms of married adults who go to Church by themselves each week and who are constricted in sharing their joy and their concern for their loved one's spiritual health. A marriage that is physically, financially and mentally satisfying still has a big hole in it if there is not the spiritual one-ness that comes from believing in the same loving God. I have come to understand that the God I used to think was restricting, angry, punitive and distant is the loving Parent, Partner, Friend I could never have in this old world we live in (none of us can have that 'perfect' earthly parent). The God I love and who loves me truly wants me to live an abundant and positively effective life-- His followers are not judged worthy based on their smoochy gestures of love, business acumen, sharp wit, flawless, never-aging, movie star good looks, or family background but on their willingness to give up their old life for one where the outward signs of their being "all in" are:joy, peace, patiently hanging in there through thick and thin, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
And, yes, the Sabbath is a very important time in the week for me-- a time of rest and a time to fellowship with other like-believers, an opportunity to enjoy family, reach out to others in need, and focus on delighting in the One who delights in me. The parameters of sunset to sunset mean that wherever I am in the world I can unapologetically pause and enjoy my rest in the Lord. I highly recommend "taking a day off".
I am "retired" now from full-time employment but anyone who is also retired knows that that word is fairly deceptive. I feel like I have quite a few opportunities for a chaotic life if I so choose. I have lots of hobbies and interests and passions, and there seems to be an event and activity every day in our community (and online, of course) to pursue something I thoroughly enjoy. So "taking a day of rest" is as important as I near 60 as it was when I was in my "fully-employed" 40s.
Fellowship with Believers
- The Sabbath Potluck (Fellowship Meal)
"Breaking bread together" is a Biblical concept-- when you eat together on a Sabbath you have the opportunity to get to know each other over good healthy, vegetarian food, being both physically and socially nurtured!
Here are some of the benefits for us mature individuals in taking a day off from the normal routine, to observe the Sabbath:
- Relationship-Building: Jesus is all about relationships. If you do a thorough reading of the Bible you will find that Jesus was intent on serving others and building the kind of loving friendships that developed into 'eternal' relationships. The Sabbath Day is a time for coming away from your computer and all your normal pursuits to spend in quality one-on-one with your spouse, kids, grandkids, siblings, parents, and the people who stand in for those originals in your life (neighbors, housemates, church family, colleagues, etc.) Make it a special 'relationship' day first and you will be blessed. You might (like my husband did for 23 years) go off to Church by yourself, but you don't have to be 'alone' through the day. My husband never went to people's homes for lunch until I became a Church member and then the invitations were abundant! I asked a couple we got to know if they could demonstrate/tell us about how to spend a Sabbath. They willingly did that and we walked along the river, had a very exciting 'word study' using reference books I had never seen before, did a nature jigsaw with their young kids, talked about our spiritual experiences and a variety of other things (as happens in 'families') and of course ate and prayed together. It's a time to really notice the positives about your family members and express your appreciation. Studies show that couples that spend quality time together (however you define that) are likely closer and feel more love, experience less depression, and are feel more supported to take care of their physical and mental health. Love and Hope are spin-offs for everyone when even one person sets aside time to be fully present for a significant other.
- Gratitude: I know that I fully intend to keep a daily gratitude or blessing list, but the fact is that I don't-- I forget. I get caught up in the news, the aches and pains, the jokes, the household and yard chores, Facebook, the problems besetting my kids in their lives, worries... well, you know. Imagine a full day where you are oriented towards thankfulness-- for coming through a tough week, for answered prayer, for a spiritual message from the speaker that touched you in a meaningful way, for relaxation in great company, for the multitude of other blessings and love of a caring God and from a "family" of fellow believers. Expressing gratitude, or thanksgiving, is shown in studies to enhance mental and emotional wellbeing-- the grateful (thankful) person is more likely to have a positive attitude towards others, mostly perceiving them as acting in benevolence. This, of course, results in more feelings of gratitude. Very win-win. An excellent re-charge for the week to come.
- Joy: In our regular weekly service we have a time for Praise and Petitions (Prayer). Everyone is in alignment (as I perceive it). Children and the old share requests for prayer and their glad tidings as well. This has developed into an intimate "family" time. People who were guarded, even curmudgeonly, at the outset, not trusting these "strangers", will begin to share about the sorrows, concerns and joys in their lives. They invite others to take up their load with them. We praise God and rejoice with each other when last week's or last year's prayer request has been answered-- often in amazing, unforeseen ways. Joy is an outflow of gratitude, or perhaps huge and sustaining bursts of grateful feelings. Joy is different from happiness, just as sadness and depression are often quite different beasts. Sabbath is a day to push aside all the normal mundane nitpicky concerns (yes, even housework, yay!) and just focus on inflating the joy in your life-- or maybe being aware of the joy in your life is a better description.
Reflections on Sabbath by University Students
How was it for you the last time you took a day off from the hustle and the bustle?
- Feasting with God: Although some people might find this quite ludicrous an idea, or maybe even repugnant (depending on your past associations to God), the Sabbath is really a day that you can get right down to this most special of relationships. When I began to experience the messages that the Holy Word has, seemingly, just for me, I became increasingly unwilling to miss an opportunity to spend in Bible study, devotion, worship, contemplation... This day is a divine appointment. The time you spend with the Author of All Creation will put your trolley back on the rails for the coming week. The Bible, of course, has great value as a builder of neural pathways as we age. Engaging in a group Bible Study on Sabbath is a very mentally-stimulating activity, and well worth getting up early for. And listening to beautiful classical and sacred music, or lighter, uplifting praise music (whatever your preference) is certainly a treat for the emotional side of our being. Too, singing in church is often the only time any of us will sing in public. This is enriching on many levels: certainly kicks in the endorphins and shreds down stress and depression, and again, those neural pathways are being built. As seniors we should be looking for ways to tear down some of our destructive habits (smoking, over-eating, criticism) and replacing them, building up the positive, Godly 'neural superhighways'. Sunset to sunset with God once a week will certainly help with this process!
- Offering Service: Sometimes we can lose a sense of what our purpose is on this planet. No, it's not the old saw, "He wins who collects the most toys before he dies." We are definitely meant to serve our fellows, particularly those who are having struggles of one sort or other. Sabbath is a day to extend yourself to show kindness and care to others... sometimes that means "work" (shock!) but not the money-grubbing kind of work most of us are used to. Works of mercy and compassion use the template Jesus modeled for us... visiting the sick, persons in nursing homes, hospitals, jails, spending time with a single mom having a tough time with her toddlers, spending time with a toddler who doesn't seem able to keep out of trouble... these are some examples. The benefits for us older folks in serving others are manifold: we have increased self-worth, feel happier, make friends, model altruism for our younger "family" members who will feel more connected to us, and that all goes back to the 'relationship' benefits listed at the outset here. Serving others for free also means that we are benefiting the people we serve with positive feelings of gratitude and hope and love, and we are benefiting our local government (social services, health services, etc.) by providing care hours that they would ordinarily have to pay for. An example of this is in our local town where several churches operate a soup kitchen. 200 volunteers provide 22,000 manhours of service each year. 22,000 X $10/hour=$220,000 in wages. Serving others can be a huge mental/emotional boost for those of us who no longer have the benefit of a job (which sometimes defines who we are).
I hope you agree with me that keeping the Sabbath has far-ranging benefits, from giving us warm fuzzies that come with love and friendship to "eternity longevity". If you have never tried it, I challenge you to take a day off and see how you fare! God bless and Happy Sabbath!