When I was a student at Hillsdale College, one of my dearest friends was the daughter of a professor on campus. My friend’s family is Jewish and I was regularly invited to their home on Friday evenings to participate in the Sabbath dinner. Those Friday evenings were a time of profound beauty for me. Leading up to the dinner, Judy and I would help with some of the food preparation and table setting. Dinner itself was by candlelight, was long and luxurious, and was augmented with meaningful conversation. For those few hours every week, the world stood still. Assignments, papers, jobs, activities, and dates all took a backseat to these hours of family life, reverence, and restorative nourishment. Those dinners were precious to me then and make up some of my best memories from my 4 years at Hillsdale.
Several years ago, my husband and I were convicted during the season of Lent to sacrifice our plans for our schedule in deference to those of the Lord. On the Sundays from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday, we made a pointed effort to refrain from all unnecessary work and to spend that day in rest, prayer, and family time. It was incredibly difficult. Modern Americans are just not “made” (trained, really) for this kind of radical inactivity. Essentially, what it meant was that Saturdays had to become an intense workday instead of an end of the week celebration. Getting a weekend’s worth of work done on one day meant that we were exhausted on Saturday nights. On Sundays we felt uncomfortably lazy and heavy with guilt (that we were not getting things done). We complained and prayed for continued conviction because we were not enjoying the Sabbath process. By the grace of God, we did persevere and, by the end of Lent, we were inspired to maintain the practice. And we did. For a couple of months. Then, the busyness of life would sneak back in and demand that we sacrifice our Sabbath on the altar of the schedule of the world.
The following Advent, we had a renewed sense of calling to practice Sabbath. This time, mercifully, we knew what we were in for. We knew that we had been healthier (spiritually, emotionally, and physically) during the months in which we took a regular Sabbath. We knew how hard it would be. But we also knew how difficult the Christmas season could be if we did not slow down. Properly motivated and convicted, we readopted the Sabbath practice. And, throughout the Advent and Christmas season, we enjoyed a richness that we had never experienced before.
Just as we were starting to fall off the wagon, we were blessed with an early Ash Wednesday, which was the perfect time to make a renewed commitment to the Sabbath practice.
Since that time, we have been really faithful in maintaining the Sabbath. Not perfect, but convicted and committed.
Now, when the demands of the world trump our Sabbath commitment, which happens from time to time, we mourn the loss of our rest and restoration. Now, we persevere through hard Saturdays because we know that Sunday will be worth it.
Our Lord promises us shelter in the storm and He is the perfect rest. So often, we had run around wondering when He would choose to shelter us – totally ignoring that He was – but that we were rejecting it. He created us for Sabbath. He created the Sabbath for us. When we take one day out of seven and commit to resting in His mercy as completely as possible, we emerge stronger, healthier, more confident, and more capable of keeping His priorities in our lives. That day of rest is not just about getting more time to read and watch movies together. It is about perspective. It is about obedience. It is about availing ourselves of His mercy and grace.
By choosing to be a Sabbath people, we find ourselves spending our entire week drawing from the strength of our past rest and running the race knowing that the next Sunday will bring another restoration and rest.
I have been asked many times to write a follow-up post about what our sabbath actually looks like. You can find that post here.