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January 25, 2007

God’s Gift of Rest



relax.jpgWhen I first started observing the Sabbath 25 years ago, it wasn't by choice. My husband and I lived in Tel Aviv, Israel, at the time, and everything in our neighborhood - stores, movie theaters, and restaurants - closed from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. At first we struggled to find activities for Friday evenings and Saturdays. But after a few months, we began to enjoy a day with few entertainment options. We read, we walked, we talked. My husband sometimes went bird-watching in the field near our apartment. I wrote long letters. We napped. Sometimes we prayed together leisurely. We simply slowed down. We rested in God's love and experienced his grace.

Our Sabbaths in Israel became God's gift to us individually, and enriched our life as a couple. Through Sabbath-keeping, we experienced the truth that God's love for us isn't based on what we do. We yearned to keep growing in our ability to receive that unconditional love once we returned to the U.S.

Never did a culture need the Sabbath as ours does today. It pressures us to be productive 24/7. Everything we do has to look good and accomplish something. Nothing encourages us to stop. By contrast, the word "Sabbath" literally means stop, pause, cease, desist.

In the Ten Commandments, the Israelites are commanded to keep the Sabbath day holy, or separate, from the other weekdays. The marker of that holiness is the absence of work. But the Old Testament doesn't give many specifics about what constitutes work. One of the few clear commands forbids lighting a fire (Exodus 35:3). This mandate assured that daughters, wives, and female servants wouldn't be expected to cook. All the food had to be cooked before the Sabbath began, and the dishes washed afterwards. The Sabbath granted rest to everyone, even the women who labored the other six days of the week.

In our time, what's the equivalent of "lighting a fire"? What are those actions that send us into work mode?

When we first returned to the U.S. years ago, I was a part-time student and stay-at-home mom. For me, work consisted of studying, housework, and shopping. For my husband, work involved anything from his paid job as well as house repairs and lawn mowing. We simply didn't do any of those tasks on Sundays.

Today, turning on my computer, balancing the checkbook, weeding my garden, and cooking put me into work mode. I know some people find gardening and cooking relaxing; those women have a different list of work activities to avoid on the Sabbath.

Some of the "work" from which we need a rest is mental. A woman I know tries to avoid worry on the Sabbath. She considers herself a worrier and feels overwhelmed at the thought of trying not to worry every day. One day a week, however, feels manageable. A day free - or at least mostly free - from worry has been a great gift to her.

My husband and I have received many gifts from our commitment to honor the Sabbath: a day to spend with our children - and each other - without needing to get something done. A day free of multitasking. A day free of striving for perfection and productivity. A day to rest in God's goodness. Over the years, these gifts have continued to bless us and grant us glorious freedom in Christ.

Comments

Lynne,
I enjoyed your book--it was a birthday gift from my prayer partner last year. I am fascinated by the idea of Sabbath and it is wonderful to have you share your story and journey. I am wondering about the very particular ways that sabbath was a communal undertaking. So many of my friends who practice sabbath-keeping see it as essentially this personal, individual thing they do that is good for them. It is of course that, but I feel like it cannot only be that. I'd love to hear what you (or others) think.

I enjoy this article, I live with Jewish people and their religion for almost 17 years and come to understand that the Shabbat, a day of rest and focus on God was command for our benifit. God commanded it so that we rest our bodies, they were not designed to go with out repair and matenance, sin wears us out, we need to take time to rest and reconnect with the Great DR.God wants us to be still and know Him. But, in this world we do not do this and we are getting farther away from Him, His purpose, and His life for us. Also we have become more ill and more tollerant to sin. Shabbat was a day to rest our wek bosies but also a day to reset our bodies and souls with Him. Not a day to run around stressing on things needed to be done and forgetting who made us and all He does for us, forgetting to be thankful for His creation.

Funny, but now that my girls are in college, they still love to climb into bed for a Sunday afternoon nap. They are typical busy college students. But when our kids were growing up, we all treasured our Sunday afternoons. Our lives were hectic. My life continues to be busy. But no matter hectic it gets, I count on Sunday afternoon to rest and relax. I value it, and protect it.

I just quit working on Sunday for years I
get home from church always rushing to get
to work. I felt in my heart that God was dealing me with this area so I surrendered
and now I go to church on Sunday with my family and I also help out in church through
the childrens ministry and after church we go
home and enjoy my family. I really feel that
though I gave up an income on this day but
I know it is worth it because I can rest and
be with the people that I love.

Thank you for your article. I have eased in the Sabbath over the past several years, making one small change after another. I started with Saturday evening-focusing on a special dinner for our family and often friends and extended family. I would make a special meal, dessert, get flowers, and enjoy the prescrence of each other and God in our family and friends. Then we eased out of any shopping or work on Sunday (tough for a full time working mom but did it). Would suggest not announcing it to your teens but working it in slowly. Now trying very hard not to eat out on Sundays as well so others have a Sabbath. Not so easy with extended family. We, too, always do Sunday afternnon relaxation. No work or PCs on until afer sundown but we do watch movies as a family. Rest, worship and enjoy our Creator and enjoy His Creation-enter into the eternal-get out of the temporal.

As a college student, I really struggle to find time to relax. There is always so much to get done, and I could always be working ahead on some of my homework. But for the last year or so, I have tried my best to set aside my Sundays as a day of rest. This has helped me to be more productive throughout the week, especially on Saturdays, when I get everything done so that I can have my Sunday to myself. I find this a much better method then the common college student ailment, namely procrastination. It takes the load off my mind and my spirit so that I can truly spend my Sundays in worship and fellowship.

As a college student, I can understand the bliss of a relaxing Sunday afternoon. I, however, find it hard to know which things are ‘work’ and which are not. I really liked what you said about different things putting different people into ‘work-mode.’ Sometimes reading a book for class might actually be relaxing to me, if it is a class I enjoy and a topic that interests me. Also, if I am stressed because I have not yet done an assignment that is due Monday morning, taking a Sunday afternoon to relax might just not be possible. For me, it’s better to get my work done, even if it means working Sunday afternoon, and then enjoy the rest of the day without worrying about that assignment. Of course, the best thing would be to get all my assignments done ahead of time, but like I said, I am a college student…

Lynne, thanks for reminding me once again about the importance of having a day of rest. I've tried so many times to make a commitment to do it but it's so easy to make excuses and I find myself falling back into the routine of working seven days a week. I'm a student at a Christian college and I feel disappointed that students are hardly encouraged to rest on this day. There's not much talk about it because we're unaware of the spiritual and physical advantage (and blessing!) of having a day of rest.

Nowhere in the Bible is Sunday called Sabbath because it is not. You will not experience the full blessings of the Sabbath unless you observe it as it was created by God, the holy and blessed seventh day of the week.

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