The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest. Mark 6:30-31
Some time ago, I read an article about a family that filed a lawsuit against a local hospital claiming that an on-call medical resident had contributed to to their loved one’s death. The resident was in the midst of 48 hours of grueling work, without sleep, in this level 1 trauma hospital. Sheer exhaustion prevented him from making good medical judgment.
In response to this suit the state legislature made it illegal for residents to work long hours without rest. To protect lives, it is necessary that those who care for others care for themselves as well.
The best way to care for others is to first care for ourselves. This may seem selfish at first glance. Shouldn’t Christians in particular put the needs of others before themselves? Well, yes and no. In order to be equipped to put others before ourselves in times of crisis, we need to engage in regular, rhythmic rest. A Sacred Sabbath.
In addition to community worship, what might be involved in a 21st-century Sabbath?
No public commerce?
Scripture outlines a good many do’s and don’ts that have been followed in literal, even slavish ways. Jesus clarified God’s purpose for the Sabbath by saying it was made for us. We were not made for the Sabbath. In other words, the principle of a regular rhythm of work and rest is not meant to either inhibit productivity or make us lazy. It is designed to help us be better stewards of the selves God has given us.
In addition to community worship, what might be some 21st century Sabbath practices?
Turn off social media.
Read a book.
Take a nature walk.
Play a family board game.
Go to a concert.
While it is fitting and most appropriate to celebrate the Sabbath on the Lord’s Day (Sunday), some may not be in a position to do so. As a pastor, Sundays were my busiest workdays. People often equate “celebrating the Sabbath” with going to church and it is so much more than this. Certainly, we are strongly advised not to neglect faithful fellowship and Sunday are most commonly the time when our church gathers for this. The principle of Sabbath in Scripture is rhythmic. Six days of work. One day of rest. Maybe not a literal 6/1 ratio, but regular productive activity followed by an intentional time to devote to the Lord and reflect on our meaning and purpose.
Sabbath rhythm can be found in more than just on a weekly basis. I have a friend who has the following Sabbath schedule:
1 hour/day (for prayer, Scripture, journaling, walking)
1 day/week (for worship, family, music, nature)
1 week/year (for a personal or guided retreat)
Perhaps Sabbath might best be described as “rhythmic recreation.” It is to replenish our bodies, rejuvenate our minds, and restore our souls. While it is a commandment (and perhaps the greatest at that), if we appreciate God’s intent that it is a gift for our good, we are more likely to practice it more gratefully.
Tomorrow is my birthday. I’m 55. The other day I looked at a picture of myself and marveled at how a man of 55 could be 9 months pregnant. My mind is a mess of late. My spirit is downcast. In spite of so many blessings in my life, I’m focusing on how much is wrong within me. I replay all the mistakes I’ve made. Get lost in the maze of decisions I now must make. And have this dread, irrational fear of getting out of bed and making things worse.
But tomorrow I’m also celebrating my dog Briley’s birthday. She’s 7. She is insisting that we go on an adventure. So we are going out before dawn and wandering Indiana. Destinations unknown. Just me and Briley on a Sabbath journey. Who knows where we are going, but we’ll know when we get there.