My first semester of graduate school, I had a paper due every Sunday at noon. This coincided with our first few months of marriage, and Micah watched me flounder through the homework routine each week. The course was an extremely difficult one on Shakespeare. I was rusty on academic reading and writing because I had been out of school for five years. The professor was kind, but tough. Our class met for three hours on Monday evenings, so we had a 2-3 page reading reflection due every Sunday before class. It was grueling. No matter what I did to tweak my schedule, I could not get a handle on the weekly paper. I would try to finish it Saturday, so I could get a break from school on Sunday. Oftentimes I would forgo any social plans on Saturday night so I could read and write, but even on my best weeks I would often find myself frantically editing and posting the response before or after church on Sunday.
When I finally finished the semester, Micah lovingly insisted that I take a real Sabbath each week. “You need to take a FULL day off from schoolwork,” he explained. He did not want me to continue five more years of graduate school without setting aside a day of rest. I knew he was right.
But then came the next challenge… figuring out what Sabbath looked like as a married couple. Since we were newlyweds, we assumed that our Sundays should be spent together. But although Micah and I have many shared interests (watching sports, eating steak, traveling, hot weather, hosting meals, theology),we found that we actually rest quite differently. During our first year of marriage, I was falling in love with blogs and wanted to spend my time on Sunday reading and writing for fun (rather than for academics). Micah was itching to be active on his days off from work. Since I have a more flexible job, I can usually exercise more that him during the week, so on the weekends I want a break from the gym and he wants to run ten miles. One time we went hiking on a Sunday after church. It was nearly 100 degrees out (October in Phoenix), and by the time we summited the peak of our short trek, I was crying. I was hot and tired and not having fun. But if Micah sat at home with me while I read blog posts, he was bored out of his mind.
We finally realized that our Sabbath could be a mix of time alone and time together. Sometimes Micah would go hiking, running, or golfing, while I would stay home and read. Sometimes I would read magazines by the pool while Micah swam, and I would occasionally jump in also. We would usually eat lunch and dinner together, sometimes inviting other friends to share a meal.
Of course, kids have made Sabbath more complex. It takes more planning to make sure rest happens, and one of us will often take the kids for a few hours while the other one has some downtime. Today, Micah went surfing for a couple hours in the morning while I stayed home and made breakfast and did art with the girls. Then, he took the older girls to the beach for a few hours while I hung out around home. Now all three of our girls are napping, and I am blogging while he watches football.
Sabbath is an Old Testament command (Exodus 20:8) turned into a New Testament gift (Mark 2:27). While the early church debated whether on not it was required to set aside one day of the week as holy (Romans 14), the Bible is pretty clear from start to finish that God intended for his people to rest. Rest allows us to model God’s design set forth in creation (fully resting after working hard all week), and it reminds us of our dependence on our Savior. We are not gods, and the world will continue to spin even as we rest. Rest shows humility before God and trust in his provision. Rest is also a gift. Jesus says he made Sabbath for man. Rest should lead to worship and worship should lead to joy.
- No work. This might sound silly, but many people (myself included) need to be reminded that the Sabbath should exclude work as much as possible. If you are doing labor related to your job or schooling on Sundays (or whichever day you set aside for rest), you need to repent and rearrange your schedule. As people who love control and self-sufficiency, it’s so easy for our fallen hearts to start justifying work on the Sabbath. This sounds like… “Sundays are my day to catch up on all my homework, and I feel SO rested when I get done.” Or “I just check in on my work-email on Sunday nights before I go to bed, so I feel more prepared for Monday morning.” Or “I meal plan, shop, and prepare all my meals for the week ahead on Sundays, and it feels so great.” Or “I come home from church and get my whole house cleaned.” You know what all activities sound like? Work. And of course, work often feels good. We are commanded to work, and you should feel good when you accomplish tasks, but the positive feeling of accomplishing labor is NOT the same as rest. I am not arguing for hard and fast rules about what constitutes rest for you, but generally speaking, your Sabbath should probably look fairly different than your other days of the week and should probably NOT include tasks related to your job, your schooling, or even home management, as much as you can help it.
- Pray and discern. God created us all uniquely in his image and for that reason we each find different things restful. Micah runs half-marathon distances for fun, and I write blog posts. Before we had kids, I used to go grocery shopping on Sundays. There was something semi-peaceful about going to the store by myself and stocking up on food for the week. But then Micah questioned it… “Is shopping really the MOST restful way to spend your Sunday? It seems a little too much like work. Could you move it to another day of the week and do something more restful on your Sunday afternoon?” I finally acquiesced, and now I shop on Mondays. It definitely makes my Mondays a bit more grueling, but since Monday is a work day, that’s fine. I rest hard on Sundays and work hard on Mondays and that’s a good thing. I also don’t make extravagant meals on Sundays, unless we are hosting a meal for guests. But I know other couples who LOVE cooking together, so Sundays may mean spending all afternoon in the kitchen. For them, it’s the ultimate at-home date, not a chore, and I love that God created them that way.
- Don’t be a Pharisee. While rest is commanded, it’s so easy to add our own laws to God’s. While we should try to abstain from work, we also need to be flexible. There are meals to be made and dishes to be done, even on Sundays, and while we can try to keep meals simple, they still require a bit of labor. Kids make messes and require lots of work, even on the Sabbath. I can’t stop nursing my baby one day a week. And while I try not to do laundry on Sundays, if my preschooler has an accident on Saturday night, I’m not going to let her dirty bedding sit around until Monday. I’ll throw her comforter in the washing machine with freedom, grace, and joy. While I don’t shop on the Sabbath, someone else might take joy in culinary preparation. And while I love writing on Sundays, a full-time blogger might want to shut down the computer for the day.
- Rest is not lazy. The goal for the Sabbath should ultimately be communion with God and delighting in the ways He has uniquely designed you. The Sabbath should not be mindless and selfish. The Sabbath should me mindful and sacrificial. A lazy Sabbath might look like watching TV all day long. Ordering take-out and sitting home alone, instead of sharing a meal with a neighbor and friends from church. Letting the kids watch shows all afternoon, so you can disengage from parenting. I am not against watching football on Sundays, ordering take-out, or letting my kids watch shows. I just think it’s easy to slip from restful to lazy. If I’m not careful, I can let my Sabbath swing from worshiping God to worshiping myself.
- Worship. I often find that I don’t rest well when I get entitled. Rest is a gift from God; it’s not something I earned. When I set up extra-biblical rules about the Sabbath (see #3), I get mad when someone else requires me to break those rules. For example, if I make it a law that I don’t do laundry on the Sabbath and one of my kids wets the bed on a Sunday morning, I find myself annoyed at them for making my break my own laws when I throw a load in the wash. Likewise, if I tell myself I am going to have a peaceful afternoon with iced coffee and a good book and those plans get interrupted by poor naps or friends stopping by after church, I can grow bitter when rest doesn’t look the way I planned. But if rest is about worship, then the activities of my Sabbath won’t dictate the attitude of my heart. I can worship God by blogging and drinking coffee for his glory. I can praise God by turning on some worship music and singing while I whip up a quick dinner on Sunday night. I can honor God by investing in the friends who stop by after church; I can laugh with them and enjoy their unexpected company that changed my plans for the afternoon. If my plans for rest are making me bitter, than I’m not actually resting. I am serving myself by orchestrating a schedule that revolves around my own comfort and convenience.
The Sabbath exists to help us worship our Creator. We should make a legitimate effort to set apart a day each week that is free from work and the usual hustle of life. But we should also be careful not to craft a “me-day” centered on selfish wants or laziness. If I am worshiping God and my Sabbath goes according to plan, I will be filled with joy that comes from a quiet day spent doing the hobbies God crafted my soul to enjoy. And if my plans change unexpectedly, I will worship God by trusting that He ordained my day and and equips me to have joy in every circumstance.
I can have joy while I cook, while I read, while I host friends, while I clean up my kids’ messes. I can have joy while I weep with a church-sister during an unexpected crises, and I can have joy when I finish an excellent novel. Follow the command and receive the gift, because there is great joy in being loved by the Lord who created us to rest in him.