Learning and Re-Learning to Keep Sabbath

There is something inherently difficult for human beings in finding time for rest and renewal.  There’s just something in our nature that causes us to never be completely content and that makes it hard for us to meet our own standards or anyone else’s.  This is why our society has driven itself to workaholism, sometimes even leading down the slippery slope of dissatisfaction and depression.  This is also why so many people feel burned out and have unhealthy views about themselves.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition we can read in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, that God rested on the seventh day.  God did not rest because He had to – because He was tired out or depressed, God rested because He was content with the world He had just created.  God saw that what He had created was good – very good, and so He took a rest and renewed Himself.  Overtime, this tradition has spread to many religious groups that take personal days for rejuvenation, worship, and self-healing.

I grew up in a family that did not always keep the Sabbath.  Sure we went to church every Sunday followed by a dinner at one of my Grandmother’s homes, and Sunday was also the day for visiting relatives and those who were elderly or infirm, but that is as far as it went.  I still did homework on Sundays, and it did not seem to be a special day for me other than the fact that I went to church.  When I started attending a Christian University, Sabbath began to take on more of a meaning for me.  At Tyndale we were all encouraged to really take a Sabbath and not do any school related work and so we hung out in the court yard reading books for pleasure, and enjoyed long chapel services followed by food and fellowship often lasting long into the night.  However, given the fact that the Sabbath never had much meaning for me this soon faded away and I began to continue to work harder at school – never contented with what I had already achieved.

It was not until my second semester in seminary that the Sabbath truly began to hold importance for me.  I was taking a class entitled “Intentional Living in an Age of Diversion” and one of the requirements for the course was to create a list of Spiritual Disciplines (called a “Rule of Life”) and to keep them faithfully over the period of the semester.  We met together as a class once a week and would discuss these practices and help to encourage one another in keeping them.  One of my practices was to keep the Sabbath.  At first, I did not know exactly what this meant other than going to church and not doing school work, but the more I spent time Sabbath keeping the more significance it held for me.  It was a time during which I was free to pursue my own passions and interests that weren’t related to school, free to read books that I wanted, and free to invest heavily into friendships.  I even learned that I was able to accomplish more and be more content with my work when I had 24 hours off.   I stopped wasting hours fretting about assignments and focused instead on what is truly important and enduring long after my degrees are completed – like having friends and family close by your side.

This year, I have started my first full time year round job working at L’Arche Daybreak (an intentional community for people who have intellectual disabilities) and once again I am finding it hard to learn what Sabbath keeping means in the work force.  Since I don’t have school work to complete anymore it has become a bit trickier, but I believe it is still essential to my job to keep up this discipline.  As I have been reflecting upon this over the past month and a half, I have learned that keeping the Sabbath in this environment means to faithfully honour your “days away”.  In L’Arche we do not use the term “days off” because we are always a part of the community, but we do talk about the time we have “away”.  This is the time that we are free to socialize with our friends, to go out and explore the area, and to do things that we would otherwise not have time to do (like work out at the gym).  Keeping the Sabbath, for me, means to be physically absent from the stresses and frustrations that work can sometimes cause, and instead to find time for myself.  Oftentimes this involves me going to Toronto or to a neighbouring community and spending time with my university friends or with church connections.  Sometimes it just means taking my bike out and riding down some paths.  L’Arche has taught me that Sabbath keeping does not necessarily have to be overly religious, but for personal renewal to abound it does need to be spiritual – keeping in mind that what is deeply spiritual often comes from within our own selves and our own souls with the help of God and whatever religious or spiritual tradition we are a part of (or none at all).  Thus I know, whenever my time away starts that it is once again the beginning of a Sabbath and a fresh start to the new week.

Photo Credit: Public Domain: Google Images (Originally from: http://truth459.blogspot.ca/2010/10/sabbath-keeping-shabbat-shalom-101blog.html)

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10 thoughts on “Learning and Re-Learning to Keep Sabbath

  1. Your article struck a chord with me. I had a conversation recently about how we don’t do the Sabbath well in our work-oriented society. Even our church tends to be work-oriented. We hold committee meetings on Sunday, for example. This made me think about trying to keep the Sabbath, take a day that begins with worship and continues with rest and doing whatever I want. Whatever is NOT school or freelance or house work. I have been reading books, watching movies, taking walks. I am going to take your suggestion to devote the day to friendship as well. Thanks for posting!

  2. Your article reminded me of the Sabbath Manifesto: “a creative project designed to slow down lives in an increasingly hectic world.” While Sabbath observance is an historically Jewish act, we can all benefit from taking time out of our lives to slow down and appreciate what we have. You can learn more about the project here: http://www.sabbathmanifesto.org/.

  3. Thank you, Ms. Ferber, for this thought-provoking article! It made me think about how I have been in need of Sabbath but have felt pressure to keep pushing.

    For instance, Clinical Pastoral Education (or CPE) was difficult for me. I struggled to keep my energy up during my first and even second unit. It’s funny if you think about: I pushed and pushed myself to become a competent pastoral caregivers to the extent that I forgot about the spirit of being pastoral. I gave all I had, and there was nothing left at the end of the day. I was so drained that I considered the possibility that pastoral caregiving was the wrong path for me. I eventually learned from my CPE supervisor that pastoral caregivers need to take little breaks throughout the day to be and remain effective. I needed breaks, my CPE supervisor said. The patients that I would see at the end of the day deserved as much energy and presence as the patients I saw at the beginning of the day.

    I think Sabbath, as Ms. Ferber’s article demonstrates, has more to do with intentionality and need than it has to do with mere obligation. But let me refine that. I think the obligation behind Sabbath is as important as the intentionality inherent in it. Through our obligation to rest, we are reminded of our own need. We ministers and seminarians want desperately to serve our God by doing unto others, but we occasionally forget to do unto ourselves. At least I did. Thanks again for this terrific reminder of the care we ought to give to ourselves as caregivers.

  4. Dear Deborah, I have recently completed my studies as an Interfaith Minister. Whilst I was studying I needed casual work which required me to work on a Sunday. I really struggled with this and found myself justifying it as I am a Pastoral Carer and so the work I was doing was God’s work. However I wasn’t ‘doing’ for myself. I am now sitting here ‘on a Sunday’ replying to you and enjoying the inner peace of time to myself. I bear in mind not to try to catch up on friendships too quickly as this can be a draining exercise as well as my job requires me to be deeply listening the majority of the week. I have learned that it is okay to say ‘no’ sometimes to self nurture. Thank you for sharing your article and thoughts. Blessings CiCi

  5. Beautiful! It is amazing how separating time to oneself re-energizes the body, soul, and mind. I go on silence retreats sometimes, and one of my teachers described it as “having a romantic affair with yourself.” I thought it was a beautiful notion–the idea that there is so much to love about oneself and that those things can be discovered in silence, reflection, and rest. Thank you!

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