Sabbathing was hard work (was being the operative word here); but if it wasn’t a sacrifice then it wasn’t really a Sabbath. There were enough rules and regulations on how you ‘should’ Sabbath that it became just another way for human regimentation to interfere with spiritual implementation. We might have felt holier than thou not doing an entire litany of chores, pleasures, experiences or occupations, but we were denying a defining precept of rest and busying ourselves with the politic of religious practice and not the peace of genuine Sabbath.
I tried for years to interject the practice of Sunday Sabbath into my family’s life. I did my best to follow the example of my in-laws but the list of don’t do’s far outweighed the list of do’s and I was left a frustrated mom with a frustrated family. Sure, naps are fine and good but when you make that mandatory for Sunday pleasure? Yeah, the kiddo’s didn’t agree that this was a whole lot of fun, let alone holy.
I didn’t grow up in a Christian family. I knew about God and I got to visit him on Easter (occasionally), Christmas Eve (periodically) and when I went to visit family in Florida. The strange thing about this is that we Sabbathed; unknowingly, of course, but we Sabbathed none the less. Sundays, especially, were a free day. We could relax, do things we enjoyed and, often, it was the day we would go on adventures like looking for Apache Tears, a type of rock, in the mountains. This meant picnic lunches, long drives and time with my parents away from the stress, the illness (my dad was terminally ill) and the day to day grind of just being. I loved Sundays. Then I became a Christian.
Suddenly Sunday was rules and the way I was familiar with wasn’t ‘right’. I was doing my best to fit my size nine paddle feet into size six high heeled Sunday shoes that came with a manual-OK, I know that’s a weird metaphor but this ‘right’ way of doing Sabbath didn’t fit me the right way. What I was reading and learning about wasn’t adding up to the way I was learning the ‘shoulds’ of Sunday. I tried, I really did. I read books, observed, read more books and nothing could make those dumb shoes feel comfortable.
This went on for many years and came to a head when we would visit my husband’s parents at their home or cottage-both on lakes-on our long anticipated, one and only, once a year summer vacations. We looked forward to these vacations because that meant Daddy was free-the kids could see him every morning, every night and every day-all day-for nearly two weeks. On one of these glorious visits I decided to start breaking the rules. My little’s wanted to play, to splash in the water, build sand castles, go out for ice cream, go see what was to be seen and I decided that, yes, even on Sundays we could enjoy ourselves. Because of this, I am sure my in-laws blame me for the long slippery slope of Blue Laws being repealed, alcohol being sold on Sunday’s and stores, restaurants and other establishments now being forced to stay open so we could enjoy our Sundays. That may be a bit of an exaggeration but I know they didn’t approve of my approach to enjoying vacation Sundays. The kids sure did.
Instead of a day of no’s, of rush to church, rush home and eat way too much pot roast, of take a nap’s, read a book, be quiet-it became a day when we could breathe. There was still the rush of church but it wasn’t as dour a prospect to the kiddo’s knowing that they could look forward to time without mandates and naps (unless you were 5 or under-in which case you still had to take a nap like any other day-sorry.).
When the gifts of God become bogged down in dogma and should and don’t and must and, and, and… the beauty of the gift is lost in the layers of human efforts. God wants us. Us. That’s all. He longs to spend time with us in peaceful spaces filled with groaned and spoken prayers, with thanks and heartfelt communion of the soul. Legalistic rules and declarations are like those diagnostic vision goggles at the optometrist’s office-each new lens of rule, regulation and religious distraction, layered one on the other, instead of giving our vision clarity clouds and distorts the simple message of Sabbath. What was meant as a gift becomes a burden and burdens weigh us down instead of lift us up.
I know not everyone will agree-and that’s good. Let’s agree to disagree because in Colossians 2:16, Paul adjures “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (ESV). So, really it goes both ways. I just know that through my experiences I have come to a deeper relationship with Christ when I allow myself to meet him at any moment. Sabbath in the moment, Sabbath in the day-what matters is Sabbath and finding the restorative rest the God of creation created for us.
God knows when we choose to exclude him from our days, from accepting the precious gift of rest he has built into creation itself. Let’s see if we can manage to set aside even just a few minutes in a day to set aside the most human doings of life and deem it sacred. Sit, stand, walk, run-whatever activity (or lack thereof) is your ‘thing’, do it and spend time in breath. Pray as if breathing; flowing one thing to another. Practice Sabbath. Don’t worry with perfecting Sabbath. Shelly Miller writes in Rhythms of Rest, “Sabbath is not about resting perfectly, but
resting in the One who is perfect”**. Then, repeat until you can discern that moment when your time slips into Gods and with more practice it will become a part of your days. And, if you are fortunate you will eventually find a day-a full day-of Sabbath rest. Become aware of those things that usher you into his presence and make a point of doing them-often. For me? I can sit in quiet and find Him but I can also find him in doing certain things. Some may call this ‘work’ but for me it is a pathway to finding that sweet spot in my mind and heart where open conversation flows, wordlessly and seamlessly, through the work of my hands and mind.
I have many creative pursuits-one is painting. Here is where I can count five hours as one because the time slips through normal time and becomes sacred time. I can find this in building things too. The work of my hands has become-and only for me- a conduit of communication, of prayer and earnest pursuit of the seat of God. I rest more perfectly in his presence during these times than any amount of hours of forced ‘relaxation’.
Whatever form your Sabbath takes, allow it to be rich and full and filled with God’s presence!
**BTW-Shelly’s book is available for pre-order NOW!! It officially drops on October 4 and I am pretty sure if you get it from Amazon you can have it that day if not sooner! If you want to learn more about Shelly, her wonderful book and the Sabbath Society visit her website . Also, I will be posting a full review of her book once it is available but this post on Sabbath was floating around my head already and her book helped my heart and my head pull it all together….