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)
Sabbath, in the first instance, is not about worship. It is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being. ―
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 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, they said, prevented him from making good medical judgment.
In response to this suit the state legislature passed a law prohibiting medical residents from working long hours without rest. To protect lives, they deemed it 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 (now sometimes virtual) worship, what might be involved in a 21st-century Sabbath?
Reading in a hammock?
Scripture outlines 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 we are not made for the Sabbath; it is made for us. 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.
While it is fitting for Christians 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 Sundays are most commonly the time when our church gathers for this. The principle of Sabbath in Scripture, however, is a regular rhythm. Six days on. One day off. 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 a Sabbath schedule might best be described as “rhythmic recreation.” It is to replenish our bodies, rejuvenate our minds, and restore our souls. If we appreciate God’s good intention for us, it becomes more than a commandment; it becomes a duty we delight in doing.
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I first wrote this reflection the day before I turned 55. On Saturday, I turn 56 and this message is just as relevant today as it was then. Maybe more so. My mood states are all over the map. I have no first or second gear. I go from Reverse to Overdrive and back to Reverse so fast it’s a miracle my transmission doesn’t fall apart. Some, maybe most, of this is due to my medication not working effectively. But I must own my share of the responsibility. I have not committed to the rhythmic recreation of a Sabbath schedule.
So what can I do now? Well, I will start with a day of rest. I will load Briley in the SUV and go for a drive in the country with no destination in mind, just enjoying the journey. We’ll listen to some music that soothes our souls and some that enlivens our senses. I will bring the leash for appearance’s sake, but I’ll find out-of-the-way fields where she can roam free, untethered from the chain of my rabid work schedule. We will soak in the sun, breathe the fresh summer breeze and rejuvenate our hearts, our minds, our spirits.
When I come back, I will do something I have done in the too-far-distant past. I will write out a schedule. Not for activities, but for inactivity. When will be my restful 1 within the available 7? What commitment will I make to honor God with rhythmic recreation?