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Bringing Back the Sabbath

By Dennis and Barbara Rainey

We live in a culture of weary people. And many of us think that’s good! Wayne Muller explains: “The busier we are, the more important we seem to ourselves and, we imagine, to others. To be unavailable to our friends and family … to whiz through our obligations without time for a single mindful breath—this has become the model of a successful life.”

He’s right. Yet we think a significant part of our weariness is not because modern life is “so busy,” but because we have forgotten or never learned how to rest.

Early in our marriage Barbara challenged how I spent the Sabbath. She questioned me when I worked. But mostly, she modeled a quiet Sunday, retreating to our bedroom to read a good book, study the Scriptures, and take a nap.

The decision to go on a Sunday night date also became part of our Sabbath rest. We’d go out to eat, look over our schedules, and discuss issues in our marriage. Those dates became times of emotional and spiritual reconnection, islands of clarity for us as a couple (and later as parents).

How can you and your spouse break the day-in, day-out cycle of nonstop work and weariness?

Sabbath rest is now foreign to our culture

Rest was important to God from the very beginning. He created for six days, then rested on the seventh.

But contrary to this pattern God established, the idea of Sabbath rest is now a rarity in our culture, and a rather novel thought for most Christians too. Gordon MacDonald states bluntly, “A rest-less work style produces a restless person … We do not rest because our work is done; we rest because God commanded it and created us to have a need for it.”

God knew we would need to get our bearings before plunging back into the daily grind. But adjusting to a Sabbath pace isn’t easy and not for the faint of heart. Go ahead … press into the Sabbath. Just try it! You’ll probably experience how unnatural this day of rest is to us 21st -century Christians. We are definitely out of practice.

As I mentioned earlier, our family owes its Sabbath practices almost solely to Barbara. She has fought for them in our home, and I have not always been cooperative. She wanted Sunday to be as God intended it—a day set apart to reflect and rest, to allow the soul to catch up with the body. Listen carefully as she explains more of why the Sabbath is so important.

I (Barbara) find both parts of Exodus 34:21 intriguing. The first part is familiar to many: “Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest.” However, we often overlook the second part: “In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest.”

In other words, no matter how busy we are or how long the “to do” list is, we need a regular break. The problem is many of us don’t know how to slow down, take a day off, or rest. We’re tempted to say, “I’ve got these few hours on Sunday afternoon. I could get a jump-start on the laundry, or I could run a couple of errands and catch up a bit.” But if we compromise, we will miss what we desperately need the most—rest.

It wasn’t easy for our family to observe the Sabbath when we had a house full of kids. But I wanted our children to learn that something needs to be different about Sunday. I wanted them to learn the importance of rest, to have time to think and reflect, to be still. I didn’t want our children to grow up and be so busy, that they couldn’t hear God speak to them.

Suggestions for successful Sabbath making

One author said about the Sabbath, “We would do well to heed three millennia of Jewish reflection on the Sabbath commandment. Not good are work and commerce and worry.” That’s a succinct summary of how “to do” Sabbath. Here are some other thoughts:

1. Recognize that work is not life. Margie Haack comments on the proper attitude about work, which often inappropriately consumes us: “Work is never done. A lot of it doesn’t need to be done today. If, while you are resting, someone else wants to run the country, let them do it … While I am obeying God’s command to rest, He will kindly run the universe.”

2. Make Sunday (or your Sabbath) special. Start preparing at least the day before the Sabbath. For example, if any of our children had homework due on Monday, we asked them to complete it by Saturday night. On Sunday, we worshipped at church as a family. For the remainder of the day, we limited outgoing phone calls to family members only. The house stayed quieter—time for naps, reading, recreation, relationship building. We avoided the usual activities that drain energy and time and can bring worry, such as shopping or bill paying.

What if you have to work on Sunday? Many millions do—including all of those pastors who deliver sermons on Sunday morning. If necessary, observe your Sabbath on another day or part of a day. The idea, not strict observance, is what counts.

3. Reflect and dialogue as a couple to learn what brings true rest for you as individuals, as a couple, and later as a family. For some, rest means recreation, such as a hike or jogging. For others, rest may include taking a nap or hanging out with the family.

4. Remember that worship is an integral part of a day of rest. Without question, worshiping in a local church is necessary on the Sabbath and can continue at home after the church service. Fill your home with the soothing sounds of hymns or praise music that exalts the Lord God Almighty and turns your heart toward Him.

5. Without becoming legalistic, continue to discuss and refine together the ways you experience Sabbath rest. Some of the most stimulating discussions we had as a couple were about what activities encouraged Sabbath rest. Should we rake leaves, fix meals, watch football, clean the car? To what extent will we try to protect our lives, marriage, and family from the world on this special day? Be purposeful about your day of rest together. Make it a spiritual discipline.

Honoring the Sabbath is like having a family wheel alignment once a week. If you’re not able on a regular basis to reflect on where the family is headed, in two or three months you can slowly drift off track and end up in a ditch. For the spiritual, emotional, and physical health of everyone in your family, take time to reflect, rest and take a Sabbath break every week.

Adapted from Starting Your Marriage Right © by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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