As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
The days are getting longer. Light filters through the bedroom curtains and awakens me each morning. Afternoons stretch into evenings as the sun lingers a few minutes more with each passing day.
The winter solstice, the longest night of the year, with its dark shadows and reminders of grief, is behind us now. The longest day, our summer solstice, awaits us with the promise of long evening walks and bike rides, and late sunsets at the beach.
But now we approach that “middle time.” The spring equinox—this year on March 20—marks the halfway point between the winter and summer solstices. The spring and fall equinoxes, from the Latin words meaning “equal night,” are the only two days of the year when there are 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness everywhere on Earth.
These “equal nights” (and equal days) point to our great Creator God, who fashioned an amazing universe. While daylight helps many plants and animals grow and prosper, darkness offers an equally important time to rest. The seasons also show God’s design, in which all things—including the land and vegetation—have a time of work and growth (spring and summer) and one of dormancy and rejuvenation (fall and winter). The equinoxes and seasons remind us of the balance God created in our world and that he intends for our lives.
Work and rest, growth and reflection, joy and sadness—there is a time for every purpose under heaven (Ec. 3:1, KJV).
As we approach this midpoint of light and darkness, we’re reminded of the balance we should strive for in our lives of work and rest. Deep nights of winter and lingering days of summer are fine for a time, but we are to move in and out of these periods in the natural flow God designed. Our changing seasons and ticking clocks tell us when to work and when to take a break. But there’s one more reminder God has given us.
Sabbath: Command or Gift?
In giving us the fourth commandment, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, and on the seventh day, you shall rest,” God asks us to stop working, worrying, and striving for just one day out of every seven.
I recall the days of my youth, growing up on the farm. There was always work that could be done, but unless the animals’ lives depended on it, we never did that work on Sunday. Anything that could wait until Monday, waited.
Our usual activities and entertainment were also off limits. There was no shopping or dining out on Sunday. The only TV my parents allowed was Family Classics with Frazier Thomas. (Those who grew up with WGN-TV in Chicago might relate.) Even swimming in our family pool—something we could do Monday through Saturday—was put on hold, much to our chagrin, especially on sweltering summer Sundays.
So what did we do? After a special Sunday morning breakfast of cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate (made with real milk, of course), we went off to church. Then we’d gather for coffee with our aunts, uncles, and cousins at one of my grandparents’ houses—sometimes making the rounds to both. By mid-afternoon, our family of seven sat down to a big dinner—steaming pot roast, potatoes with gravy, garden vegetables, and dinner rolls slathered with butter. With our bellies full, it wasn’t hard for Mom and Dad to convince us to take an afternoon nap before the evening service, after which on some special Sundays, we had company over. Our parents talked and laughed while we ran off to play Monopoly, Masterpiece, or Twister with our friends.
Growing up, Sundays were for worship, rest, and time spent with those we loved. Our Sabbath differed from every other day. It was also steeped in rules and legalism.
By the time I went off to college, my parents had lifted some of the more stringent restrictions. Still, my upbringing left an imprint on me. What could or couldn’t, should or shouldn’t happen on Sundays reflected the Old Testament commandment more than the New Testament promise Jesus gave.
Religious leaders in Jesus’ day often challenged Jesus and his disciples for their “unacceptable behaviors” on the Sabbath. Several examples, recorded in Matthew, immediately follow these words of Jesus: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”(Matt 11:28-29).
Jesus’ words here point to the Sabbath as a gift of rest for weary workaholics. Our Lord was clearly more concerned about lifting our burdens and less about having us follow the rules. God knows we need rest and renewal—physically, mentally, and spiritually. His commandment is a gift, should we choose to accept it.
And yet we resist. In her book Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton points out that we crave control. We’re afraid that if we take a break—failing to respond to emails, catch up on chores, or get a project done—our world might fall apart. Instead of taking time to be “in God,” we attempt to “be God”—in control of our own world. Barton says, “The point of the sabbath is … to honor the body’s need for rest, the spirit’s need for replenishment and the soul’s need to delight itself in God for God’s own sake. It begins with a willingness to acknowledge the limits of our humanness and take steps to live more graciously within the order of things.”
What does it look like to honor our need in this way? To live within that order?
Although the Sabbath days of my youth were governed by rules and adhered to for reasons I no longer espouse, the results—setting aside Sundays for worship, rest, and human connection—are benefits I continue to strive for, as they bring me spiritual, physical, and mental renewal.
Life in the Balance
Just like the equinox reminds us of the balance God desires in our lives, imagine a scale that is out of balance—weighed down on one side. To bring our scale into balance, we must first remove things that are weighing us down. For our lives, the most obvious weight is work and the worry associated with it. Avoiding email, work-related tasks, and financial matters on the Sabbath lightens that load. If gardening and mowing the lawn feel like tedious chores, it’s best to get them done earlier in the week. Even prepping the Sunday meal on Saturday can help the Sabbath feel like a “day off” to the household cook.
To bring our scale into balance, we not only need to remove the things that weigh down the work side, we also must add to the side of worship, rest, and connection.
Sabbath worship can start the moment our day begins. Instead of turning on the TV or listening to the news, listening to worship music can set a God-centered tone. Attending a weekly worship service resets the mind and spirit toward God’s control over our lives.
Rest for the body and mind could mean going for a walk, a hike, a bike ride, or, yes, even a swim! When the weather doesn’t allow for time outdoors, lighting a candle inside, snuggling up with a good book, or playing a board game with friends or family are excellent ways to fill up the “rest” side of our scales.
Connecting with others provides renewal as well. Gathering with friends, family, or a church small group for a meal or dessert fills our human need for love and connection. When our children were young, we had family breakfasts together on Sundays—something our crazy weekday mornings didn’t allow. Eventually, with teenagers, we were happy if everyone made it to church, and family breakfasts were few and far between.
As our lives change, our rituals might change as well. Thankfully, Jesus sets us free from the guilt of the “shoulds” and “should nots.” Teens might miss the family breakfast in exchange for sleeping in, but perhaps that’s precisely what our Lord had in mind when he said, “I will give you rest.”
Whether your work schedule allows a Sunday Sabbath or requires another day of the week, God’s gift of rest promotes work-life balance. As we approach the Spring Equinox—the perfect balance of light and dark—let God’s amazing creation remind us of this wonderful gift. May the Sabbath rest he offers us lift our burdens, balance our scales, and renew our strength for the work he calls us to do.