“For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:11).
I’ve been thinking about writing a post about Sabbath for months. This is “spiritual disciplines week” at Velvet Ashes, so I started writing. Once I got to almost a post’s worth of words and only about a third of what I was thinking of saying, I realized I have more than one post worth of thoughts on this topic. This post will be followed by a post about what I’ve learned from keeping the Sabbath and a final post about how I keep the Sabbath.
“Keeping the Sabbath” is one of the spiritual disciplines that has been with me all my life. When I was young, Sunday was a totally different day than the rest of the week. There were things that we did and things we didn’t do. We went to church twice (morning and evening), we ate Sunday dinner either with extended or immediate family, we wore “Sunday clothes,” we played at home or in nature. We didn’t skip church (except for illness), my parents didn’t work, we didn’t go out to eat in restaurants, we didn’t go shopping. In other words, we didn’t work or do things that caused others to work.
I didn’t realize how unusual this was until I went to college, because most my community lived this way (looking back I’m sure there were lots of people around who didn’t, but I was a bit oblivious). My family was comparatively relaxed, because when I was in high school my parents let us go out for pizza with others from the youth group after the evening service–and not everyone was allowed to. I was somewhat shocked to learn that other Christian families and traditions had other Sunday practices. They went out to eat after church or spent the afternoon at the mall or going to a movie.
With this as my background, I think once I left my parents home it would have been easy to rebel and decide to do whatever I well pleased on Sunday. And I might have done more shopping and eating out in my first few years of college, if I had any money to spend. I did start to do a lot of homework on Sundays. Even though I wasn’t getting paid to do homework, it was my work and responsibility at that time in my life. Early during my senior year, I heard a sermon where the pastor challenged us to not do homework on Sundays. Even though it seemed impossible, I took the challenge and quit doing homework on Sundays. It was hard. I had to use other time more efficiently. And I had to become okay with not doing every last thing I could have done. But it was also freeing to have those Sunday afternoons to read or go for a walk or talk to my mom on the phone without guilt that I should be doing homework.
It felt a little like an antiquated practice at the time, not doing homework on Sunday, but I am thankful for the practice. Because when I stepped father out into adulthood, it was a practice I took with me. I came to China after I graduated, and had to lose all compunction about eating out on Sundays. And I had to figure out what keeping the Sabbath meant as an actual working person. In each chapter of my life since then, this has been something I’ve renegotiated: how do I keep the Sabbath in this season, with this schedule and these responsibilities.
In case you think I have keeping the Sabbath all figured out, I have to admit that most of the current season of my life, Sabbath has been a challenge. For the first three semesters I was in China this time, I had class Monday to Friday and often activities or responsibilities on Sundays that weren’t at all restful. That left Saturdays, which I theoretically used to keep the Sabbath. But I never did a very good job at protecting that time, so I lived a year and a half of a stressful time in my life without a robust Sabbath practice. This was not wise, and I knew it. Finally, this semester I was able to change my class schedule to not have class on Monday. So on Monday I keep the Sabbath, and my life is so much healthier.