As someone who works most weekends and just about every Sunday night, I’ve developed the good discipline of taking Mondays off. I don’t go into the office; I don’t check email; I avoid work-related reading.
Instead, I run errands, do laundry, get home projects done, and check things off my to-do list. Which means that I come to the end of Monday tired. My house is in order, but my soul feels just as frenzied as it did when I fell into bed late Sunday night.
I was convicted about the difference between a “day off” and a “Sabbath” while reading Eugene Peterson’s memoir The Pastor. He writes about taking a three-day silent retreat with his wife early in their ministry and speaking with the retreat leader, Douglas Steere, about some spiritual challenges they were encountering.
Like me, they often took Mondays off, only they used the day to go hiking or enjoy a picnic. The retreat leader encouraged them to consider taking a “Sabbath,” rather than a “day off.”
“‘A day off,’ he said, is ‘a bastard Sabbath,’” writes Peterson. “He affirmed our commitment to a day of not-doing, a day of not-working. ‘That’s a start. You’ve gotten yourselves out of the way. Why not go all the way: keep the day as a Sabbath, embrace silence, embrace prayer—silence and prayer. Hallow the Name.’”
In response, the Petersons began a Sabbath ritual of prayerful hiking. They would drive to a trailhead, where Jan would read a psalm and pray aloud. Then they would hike in silence, Peterson writes, “an Emmaus-walk silence in which we listened to Jesus.” They would break their silence with spoken prayer at lunch, then talk together about what they had heard and seen.
That Sabbath sounds a lot different from a day off. And a lot better.
But even as I write these words I can feel the resistance within me. Then when will I get things done? When will the oil get changed? The groceries bought? The dry-cleaning dropped off?
But stronger than the resistance is the draw. The draw to a morning where I have nowhere to go, nothing to do. The draw to a morning of one more cup of tea, a longer time at prayer. A morning when my heart can listen to Jesus.
Is a trip to Valvoline worth more than that?
For many of us, Sunday is supposed to be our Sabbath. But is it? I had a parishioner who parodied the hymn title “O Day of Rest and Gladness” by calling Sunday “O Day of Stress and Madness” as he came up the stairs into church, gripping his guitar in one hand and carrying chili fixings for the youth group fundraiser in the other.
If Sunday morning doesn’t feel Sabbath-y (and let’s be honest: for many of us, it doesn’t), could Sunday afternoon? Or maybe Sunday evening? Could we turn off the baseball game, put down the Wii controller, or get off the computer and go for “an Emmaus-walk silence in which we listen to Jesus”? Leave the cell phone on the counter and walk into silence? Or draw? Or journal? Or lie in a hammock, looking up at the leaves and listening to the Spirit’s voice on the breeze?
Writer and theologian Marva Dawn once said about her Sabbath, “I got nothing done. Isn’t that wonderful?”
“O Day of Rest and Gladness.” Sounds good to me. The to-do list can wait till Tuesday.
Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.
—Abraham Joshua Heschel