“Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.”
I looked forward to Sundays. We did church on Saturday nights for the most part when I was growing up. If it wasn’t the 5:00pm mass, then Dad and I would attend the first Sunday morning mass. But Sundays were generally slower. I didn’t have the plethora of sports that are rampant today. I even remember the local grocery store closing at noon on Sundays! But after mom passed away, Dad and I developed this routine called the “Sunday go meeting car.” We would use mom’s 1987 Red Plymouth Reliant for special adventures on Sundays. Most of the time it was a drive to find a new ice cream parlor to test out their chocolate malts. Sometimes we would safely follow police or fire trucks on the way to an emergency call. The time was special, though. It was almost as if time stopped itself. I think in his own sort of way Dad was teaching me how to Sabbath.
Fast forward some almost 30 years to today. Life is fast paced and constantly getting faster. We are on the go all the time. And as Ferris Bueller reminded us so famously, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Our addiction to sports, social media, and our phones / tablets keeps proving this point. Thinking of a “stop day” or Sabbath day seems so out of date let alone unrealistic. And many of us Americans don’t want to use vacation time because we are worried of the work load waiting upon our return. We are working longer, faster and harder than ever before. Thanks to the pandemic, many of us can simply log on anytime and tend to our work. It’s never ending. And I wonder what are we sacrificing or giving over because of our need to constantly be doing something.
I have preached numerous times on the Ten Commandments. But today I want to emphasize and suggest that perhaps of all the commandments the third one might be the most important. Now, don’t get me wrong. All the commandments are important and essential and each of them provide for us the fundamentals of a moral and spiritual life. The challenge and invitation for us is to be grounded in the fundamentals before making our spiritual journey. Just like professional athletes need a spring training or preseason we too need to be rooted in the basics of what it means to live a glorified life in God.
A book I recently read got me thinking differently about the importance of the third commandment. The name of the book is 24/6: a prescription for a healthier, happier life by Matthew Sleeth, MD. It’s a short wonderful reflection on taking Sabbath in our lives. Matthew was an ER physician for a number of years and a non-believer. He became a Christian in the early 2000s which totally reoriented his imagination and life around faith, prayer, work and Sabbath. He uses storytelling, his own experiences, the Bible and faith to help bring alive the word “Sabbath” reminding the reader that perhaps this commandment is the one that helps ground us in the sanctuary of God’s grace and love. It got me thinking about my life and my approach to the third commandment. Remember.
When I was first ordained in the Catholic Church, my “day off” was Wednesdays. If one could receive a grade for the way a day off was used, I would easily have gotten an “F.” It was hard to disconnect in the middle of the week. I was thinking about sermons for upcoming masses, planning ahead, and thinking about an ever-growing “to do” list. Sometimes I would visit my dad but I often be thinking of something needing to be done back at the parish…an email to respond to…a quick trip to the office would easily lead to me being there 3-4 hours. I never really learned how to Sabbath or have a “stop day.” No one else was off on that day so it was hard to embrace the gift of that time.
Taking or making a sabbath is not easy. It’s a change of pace from the other days of our life. Amy and I made a conscious and intentional decision that we needed to have a Sabbath for our sakes and for the well-being of Anna, Peter and Liam. It meant taking a one day pause from the normal activities to rest, relax and not have any agenda for the day. It meant seeing the day and time as a gift and not a burden. It meant “remembering” the command from God. Since most of us pastors work Sundays, we chose our Sabbath day to be Fridays. This day looks and feels different from other days. And we use the other days of the week to prepare for our Sabbath. We clean on other days and we do a little more homeschooling Monday-Thursday so Friday is free of assigned classwork. We shop on other days of the week.
You may ask what do we do on sabbath? We sleep in (well as long as Liam and the kids allow for) and have a casual approach to the day. We may take a walk or go to a park or stay home and watch movies or play games. We unplug and stay off devices. The kids have gotten into it and will even say “Happy Sabbath!” But with anything new and different, it’s a “work” in progress. Dr. Sleeth in his book reminds the reader that Sabbath gives balance and perspective. It takes a conscious effort and choice on our part to make it happen. Sabbath balances the active and holy parts of our lives. And as our kids age and get involved in sports and hobbies, we will make the conscious effort not to participate in those events on Fridays because of our commitment to Sabbath. Some may think that might be over-the-top. Maybe it is. But God intended all of us to have a day of rest, relaxation and reverence. In fact God commanded it. If we don’t make the decision to live into this gift, others and things will take that time away from us. Our world has us going 24/7. Subtracting a day of rest each week will have a profound effect on our lives. One day a week adds up. Fifty-two days a year times an average life span is equal to more than 11 years! Sabbathing has multiple physical, spiritual, emotional, psychological and mental benefits. It’s good for the soul and body. I don’t go to the gym on Fridays. I rest.
I look back on those Sundays with Dad and the “Sunday go meeting car” as an introduction into Sabbath living. And now Amy and I are trying to create that special impression and memory for ourselves and the kids. Many of us have unfortunately equated the Sabbath with simply attending worship which misses the mark and meaning of the third commandment. Sabbath is a transition for us- a way to digest what was and pause before entering what will be. Hafiz, a Persian mystical poet from the 14th century, once wrote:
Sabbath helps to make clear that we can’t nor should we do it all. We are human beings; not human doings. Sabbath helps to both make and restore mind and memories. And that’s the hope Amy and I have with our family. Fridays are something different. TGIF! We look forward to our Sabbath. It still might be clumsy and awkward-looking but with God’s grace we’ll keep being open to it. Don’t let the world dictate how you live your life. Let the world know that you still “remember” while pausing for the gift of Sabbath. Here’s some simple tips for trying a Sabbath for yourself and your family.
- Read the book 24/6 by Dr. Matthew Sleeth.
- Decide which day works best for you and/or your family. It might not be Sunday. Maybe it will be Monday. Experiment.
- Allow yourself grace. This takes time to develop into a habit. Keep with it.
- The Sabbath is a gift. Don’t be afraid of what has been given to you.
- Rest, trust and enjoy this time you will never have back.
What you will find below is like an examination of conscience from national speaker and author Fr. Ronald Rolheiser for helping us to think about Sabbathing, quieting down, being still and resting. Pray on it and accept the gift of those precious words: “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.”
Be still and know that I am God. Scripture assures us that if we are still we will come to know God, but arriving at stillness is easier said than done. As Blaise Pascal once stated, “All the miseries of the human person come from the fact that no one can sit still for one hour.” Achieving stillness seems beyond us and this leaves us with a certain dilemma, we need stillness to find God, but we need God’s help to find stillness. With this in mind, let’s pray for stillness.
God of Sabbath, stillness and of quiet …
- Still the fever I inhale from all the energy that surrounds me, that makes my life feel small. Let me know that my own life is enough, that I need not make an assertion of myself, even as the whole world beckons this of me from a million electronic screens. Give me the grace to sit at peace inside my own life.
- Still my anxiety, my heartaches, my worries, and stop me from always being outside the present moment. Let each day’s worries be sufficient onto themselves. Give me the grace to know that you have pronounced my name in love, that my name written in heaven, that I am free to live without anxiety.
- Still my unrelenting need to be busy all the time, to occupy myself, to be always planning for tomorrow, to fill every minute with some activity, to seek distraction rather than quiet.
- Still in me the congenital fear the nagging suspicion that I’m forever missing out, that I’m odd, an outsider, that things are unfair, and that I’m not being respected and recognized for who I am. Give me the grace to know that I’m a beloved child of a God whose love need not be earned.
- Still in me my doubts, my anxieties about your existence, about your concern, and about your fidelity. Calm inside me the compulsion to leave a mark, to plant a tree, to have a child, to write a book, to create some form of immortality for myself. Give me the grace to trust, even in darkness and doubt, that you will give me immortality.
- Still my heart so that I may know that you are God, that I may know that you create and sustain my every breath, that you breathe the whole universe into existence every second, that everyone, myself no less than everyone else, is your beloved, that you want our lives to flourish, that you desire our happiness, that nothing falls outside your love and care, and that everything and everybody is safe in your gentle, caring hands, in this world and the next. Amen.
Dear friend, the Sabbath has been made for us. We don’t “have to” Sabbath…we “GET TO” Sabbath!
P.S. Don’t look for me on Fridays. I’m off resting with God, Amy and the kids. It’s our “Friday go meeting” time!