Monday, March 9, 2015

Church and The Sabbath

This week at church, our pastor was preaching about the Ten Commandments. While I'm pretty sure they all got mentioned at one point, I didn't notice because once he got to the fourth one, about keeping the Sabbath, I just thought about that the rest of the service.

Most Christians I know would either say that today the idea of keeping the Sabbath transfers to the modern-day church service, or that Sabbath observation is obsolete for us now because it was an Old Testament teaching. I'm going to primarily respond to the first idea here.

20121014_PH_L1020290_0022.JPG from Flickr via Wylio
© 2012 Royal New Zealand Navy, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio
When Christians talk about Sabbath, they point to the idea of God resting. We rest on the seventh day because God did during the earth's creation. The Israelites were forbidden from working on the Sabbath because it was a day of rest.

That, for me, is often at odds with the experience of a Sunday morning service.

As I listened to our pastor talk about the need for a Sabbath, the need for a day of rest, I suddenly thought, "Yesterday was my Sabbath." This Saturday, Jacob and I spent the whole afternoon and evening together. We had some deep discussions about serious things, sharing our thoughts back and forth. We went out to eat and went movie shopping together. We spent the evening punching aliens in the face in Halo and sending monsters to attack each other in Munchkin. And as we spent that time together, I felt more refreshed than I had all week, and for one day, I was able to let go of much of the week's built-up stress. I felt closer to God, and I found myself the next day more equipped to tackle life.

That was my Sabbath. And I wish I had realized that in the moment. If I had recognized it or set out to make it my Sabbath on purpose, I would have gone out of my way to incorporate some extra special time with God into it and throughout it.
BCM worship from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 Jeff Noble, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

While many people talk about church as a source of Sabbath, I believe that it can't be for a lot of people. For those who are in church leadership or who volunteer to run various programs, that makes it work, and Sabbath requires a break from work, a break from the ordinary. Obviously that doesn't mean they can't enjoy their work or that they shouldn't do it -- it just cannot be their Sabbath.

On my part, church cannot be my Sabbath not because I have responsibilities there (though sometimes that is true too) but because it is not a restful place for me. Through my life, church has often been a stressor, a difficulty, or a task to complete. I cannot count on it to refresh me because it usually doesn't, and relying on it to do that is a dangerous move.

When I took my first extended break from church, it was while I was in college. I had classes every day and, as a theater major, I often had rehearsals or performances on Saturdays. I started off intending to go to church every week, but I found that I desperately needed that Sunday. I NEEDED a day where I didn't have to do anything. I needed a day where I could lounge and rest and do stuff with God on my own at my own pace, where nothing was expected of me either from others or from me, where I could just be with God and myself. I needed a Sabbath.

2007-CTMT-021 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2007 First Baptist Nashville, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
These days, my schedule is a little different. I have more available free time throughout the week, and Saturdays often have nothing scheduled. I have more room in my life for the work of church than I perhaps will ever have again, because I know I will have a Sabbath to recover from it later. I have time I can devote to ministry, because I have room for Sabbath.

Occasionally I've gotten flak for the times when I have chosen a churchless Sabbath over a churched day of work, but I feel like the church sometimes paints itself into a corner here by making church not-restful and then being surprised by those who are not rested. Our world right now is kind of crazy. People are busy all the time. And when the idea of "a day of rest" becomes "a day of church activities," we've taken another step toward eliminating rest in our own lives. So many of us are rushing around with weeks, months, maybe even years in between our Sabbaths. We may even forget how to rest on the rare chance we get the opportunity. And for active church members, Sunday can be the busiest day of the whole week.

Obviously I'm not advocating everybody stop going to church. I think church is a good and important thing. But when our Sundays are forever filled with activities and programs and meetings, we need to realize that our Sabbath must be found elsewhere, and if we don't find it and continually sacrifice Sabbath for work -- even church work -- it's only a matter of time until we burn out.

How about you? Where do you find rest?

No comments:

Post a Comment