A good friend recently said that she telephoned a priest in our diocese, only to hear his recorded message: "Today is my Sabbath; please leave a message; I will return your call tomorrow."
“What does that mean?” she asked. “I thought we were always supposed to be doing the Lord’s work? I never take a ‘day off.’”
Fortunately (for her) we were exercising together when she said this, because she had hit a sore spot with me, and the intermittent leg lifts and weight-bearing arm exercises tempered my outburst, a bit.
“Taking a Sabbath is biblical!” I almost shouted. “Not just in Genesis, where God, for God’s sake, rested, but also in Exodus where it is a commandment to observe the Sabbath. We should all do what that priest does: stop once at least once a week, and rest.”
“That would kill me,” she said—and I don’t think she was talking about the next set of exercises our trainer told us to get ready for. My friend speaks for so many people, though most of us are not as honest as she is. And there are very real, practical issues that make taking a full day "off" to rest and restore ourselves, a luxury few can afford.
‘‘That sounds great for a priest, but tell it to my boss! Take a day off from carpools? Give me a break! I live alone; that’s enough Sabbath time for me!” Fill in the blanks for yourself.
There is truth in each of those statements; we have full-time jobs—at home and at the office; our families and friends depend on us; our church depends on us (!).
But as a recovering workaholic and perfectionist, I have learned, one tiny stop at a time, that allowing ourselves to rest and feel restored is an invaluable gift. No one can give it to us; we must give it to ourselves.
Here are some concrete steps I have used to live a more Sabbath-oriented life:
Look at your daily calendar; try to never schedule more than three activities in one day—that includes lunch meetings.
Stay put. Unless you are an Uber driver, cut back on time behind the wheel.
If you must drive, turn off the radio. I gave up listening to the car radio for Lent one year—a Godsend. I noticed streets I didn’t know existed; I saw gorgeous trees. I actually enjoyed driving!
I’m not going to mention technology, except to say that we all use it too much.
The big one: a real Sabbath. I know this seems impossible to many of us, but try to consciously plan ahead so that one day each week you do not have to use things like a dishwasher, washing machine, vacuum. The Bible decrees that work animals (the ancient appliances) be given a day of rest, so let’s be Biblical! Ideally, we stay home to have a real Sabbath; I do that as much as possible, but am not about to miss one of my grandson’s Saturday baseball games.
For women: try a half-day silent retreat the first Friday of every month at St. Columba Conference and Retreat Center. Many of us find this a rare and precious time to get away, be still, and allow the peace and quiet, in community, to calm and restore us. I wish I knew a similar resource for men.
Finally, if the very idea of Sabbath makes us want to tear out our hair, please bear with those of us who try to observe it. I understand Eyleen Farmer is taking a Sabbatical soon. I applaud and cheer her example!
As Eyleen knows, the purpose of resting and being restored is so that when we return to do the work that God has given us to do, we do so with more clarity, commitment, and compassion.
Give it a try: kick back, say no to a few things, leave a message on your voice mail that you’re taking a Sabbath, and when someone asks you where you got the crazy idea to do a thing like that, just say, "The Bible told me so!"