Survival of the Sabbath
God’s purpose for weekly rest and the importance of incorporating it into our lives.
In the beginning, God worked for six days. He created the heavens and the earth: the sun and the moon, oceans and land, velociraptors and squirrels. He then created man and woman in His own image. At the end of each day, God looked at His work and saw that it was good (Genesis 1:1-31).
After all of His creating, God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:1-3). The word used to describe God’s rest is the Hebrew word shabath and it’s where the word Sabbath originates from. The literal definition of Sabbath is to stop. God’s exclamation point on creation was a whole day to stop creating. God stopped working to enjoy his work.
When God created man and woman on the sixth day, He gave them meaningful work to do – basically, to take care of everything He created on earth. But immediately after handing them their job descriptions, He creates the seventh day to rest. Rest is how God completed his work, but it is how humanity began their work . God stopped working to enjoy His creation, but before humans ever started their first day of work they stopped to enjoy their Creator.
Millenia later, the Sabbath has all but disappeared from our collective consciousness. The fourth commandment to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8) is the only commandment that is generally thought of as acceptable to break. Many of us even feel guilty for taking a day “off” yet no, or very little, guilt for working seven days a week.
Even when we do take a day off, it isn’t Sabbath. We fill days off with chores around the house, sports or recitals with our children, or other errands that didn’t get accomplished during the work week. Even our days off are filled with work.
The result of all this work is increased stress hormones in our bodies, increased blood pressure, and a decrease in life expectancy. Overworked bodies are more prone to anxiety, depression, and burnout than their rested counterparts.
It’s almost as if God knew we would need the Sabbath to survive.
The Sabbath restores us mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Because it’s so foreign to our standard of overwork, it may feel uncomfortable starting a Sabbath routine. As I began practicing Sabbath, there are a few ideas that helped me ease in:
Rest isn’t something we work for, it’s something we work from.
In 1981, the hit song Working for the Weekend was making its way up the Billboard chart. The chorus proclaims, “Everybody’s working for the weekend.” And that’s exactly what I thought a healthy relationship between work and rest was. Rest came at the end of a long, hard week. Rest had to be earned.
However, as I mentioned above, God rested after all of His work, but humans rested before their work ever began. From the very beginning, rest was a gift from God and not something humans had to prove they deserved with their work.
This idea helped me understand why keeping the Sabbath was so important. If I was going to have the capacity to create quality work, I was going to have to take rest seriously. Rest replenishes the energy necessary to be focused, present, and attentive to my work the other six days. The quality of my work during six days depends on the quality of rest on the Sabbath.
Rest Isn’t a Day Off
Just because we’re not in the office, doesn’t mean we’re not working. This past year, COVID made the line between work and home fuzzier than ever before. With so many of us working from home, we had to find creative ways to “leave the office” at the end of the day.
However, technology normalized the seven-day workweek long before the pandemic. Checking emails and texts from work 24/7 is the standard. In many cases, employers even expect you to answer emails on your days off.
Stay-at-home parents have a particularly difficult time with the work/rest balance. First, there is the stigma that what stay-at-home parents do isn’t actually work. If you’re a stay-at-home parent, you may feel more pressure than most to prove you deserve a day off. It may be more difficult to take a whole day to rest. Second, the line between work and home is non-existent for stay-at-home parents. Leaving the “office” isn’t an option.
In my own Sabbath practice, I’ve had to communicate my boundaries to my employers. That means I had to tell other people what this day looks like for me – the things I do (read, nap, repeat) and the things I don’t do (check/respond to emails) during this time.
Rest Has Only One Rule
In Mark’s Gospel, a group of religious leaders called the Pharisees accused Jesus’ disciples of not obeying the Sabbath. They were picking heads of grain to eat as they walked through a field. The Pharisees considered this work, which was not to be done during the Sabbath. Jesus responded to their accusations, saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
In trying to keep the Sabbath holy, the Pharisees constructed strict guidelines about what could or could not be done on the Sabbath. What they couldn’t see is that trying to follow all these guidelines had become its own kind of work. They were working so hard to rest that they missed the rest.
When beginning your own Sabbath routine, it may be helpful to keep Jesus’ words in mind. The Sabbath was created for us to rest and enjoy our Creator, not as a measurement of how spiritual or religious we are.
While every person is made in the image of God, each of us expresses that image differently. There are introverts and extroverts, optimists and pessimists, and the list goes on and on. That means what is restful for one person may be draining for another. It’s more important that you feel rested after the Sabbath than how you achieve that rest. (The Batteries That Work Best is another article in this series that takes a closer look how each personality type recharges.)
That said, here are a few things that are common practices to consider for your Sabbath routine:
Sabbath is a day for really good food. Some families save a special treat to begin their Sabbath. It helps build the anticipation of Sabbath for your children and for yourself. What are some meals you could reserve for the Sabbath that you’d look forward to all week?
On the Sabbath, I’ll wake up without an alarm, make breakfast, nap, read, and nap again and so on. The Sabbath is a day of rest, not just figuratively, but literally.
Turn off phones, or silence notifications if turning them off completely feels too uncomfortable to start. Remove distractions and be present with your thoughts and emotions. Journal and read if that’s restful for you. Take a walk in the park to enjoy God’s creation, without headphones.
For introverts like me, you may need to communicate to friends that you won’t be available for coffee on the Sabbath. For extroverts, it probably won’t be restful to be alone with your thoughts all day. If that’s you, schedule time with people who fill you up. Avoid activities with social pressures that may drain you but find places where you can have good conversation that gives you a sense of rest.
The Sabbath was created for us to enjoy our Creator. Read the Bible, pray, sing, dance, or meditate on who God is. Creating space to enjoy the Creator revives our souls.
In our culture, the Sabbath is a radical revolution against the religion of overwork. Because it’s such a foreign concept, be patient when creating this space. Expect some trial and error as you discover what is actually restful for you. But as this day of rest becomes a routine and you experience the restorative effects, you’ll see the Sabbath is something worth fighting for.
And if anyone ever asks why you’re doing nothing all day, you can honestly say, “God told me to.”
Our RESOURCE RESORT page includes a reading list with a great selection of texts that explore the idea of sabbath and rest. Check it out to learn more.
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