I turn off the kitchen light, sink into my seat at the table, laden beautifully with a simple tablecloth, flowers if we have them, our best dishes, the food we have worked together to prepare. The light of the two candlesticks flickers as we offer a blessing. We close our eyes for a minute, or even less, and just sit, in silence. The children fidget, but I labor to slow my mind, to offer up all the anxieties of the week, the mental clutter, the emotional drain. I exhale to receive peace, calm, rest. I open my eyes, and with joy and gratitude, take in the smiling faces around me.
When Sabbath was first given to the people of God, it was given as a gift. Rest was given before work. God himself exemplified Sabbath rest on the seventh day of creation. We know God was not tired, burned out, or stressed. We learn early on that rest is not only called for under those circumstances, but even when we are healthy, and at peace, in times of health and good, and in times of sorrow and struggle.
The Designer invites us to stop, along with Him, to enjoy life by resting and recreating ourselves. It is a small request compared to the gift of life and the beauty around us. – Bonnie Saul Wilks
But sometimes we wrestle to receive good gifts, don’t we? When God gave Sabbath to Israel through Moses in Exodus 20, it was given to everyone in the household, even the servants and animals. For an agrarian culture at this time in history, it meant than even the earth rested. The name Sabbath itself is taken from the Hebrew verb shabbat, which means “to cease or desist.” The Sabbath was set apart as a holy day, one in which resting, or ceasing, is foundational.
Sabbath was given as a part of Israel’s weekly rhythm, not to be based on legalism, but upon freedom and grace. When we prioritize the practice of this rhythm of rest, we join the generations of believers “who set aside a day to remember that we are precious and honored in God’s sight and loved, profoundly loved, not because of what we produce”(Marva Dawn).
If Sabbath is a gift, how do we receive it? Is it something more to cram into our already packed lives?
We begin by orienting our week around Sabbath; it is the beginning and end of our weeks. We lean into rest because we trust that our good God knows what we need, and has given it to us. We place boundaries on our time and commitments in order to worship and honor God as holy, and our bodies as his temples. We image to a watching world what it means to be loved because of who we are, not because of what we do.
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
Our family’s journey into Sabbath began two years ago, during the height of the first COVID lockdown in our country. Earlier in the year, I had written as a goal for our family to develop a Sabbath practice. After years of ministry, of seeking to balance work and family and boundaries, I felt that we needed to prioritize rest, to develop a rhythm of Sabbath, to learn the discipline of ceasing. It’s proved to be one of the most fruitful practices for our family, though I am not in the least surprised. It seems God knew what he was doing when he established a Sabbath for his people.
It may surprise you that to find time, you must sacrifice or spend it in new ways. – Bonnie Saul Wilks
There is joy in obedience; there is beauty in receiving the gift that God intended for us. This is a journey on which we are continuing, a discipline to which we are committed. I am still learning how to slow down, to mentally release the anxieties and stresses of my life, to close all the tabs open in my mind to dwell on Christ, to worship him in thought as well as deed. So that, ideally, my mind and heart are refreshed as well as my body in the dawning of a new week.
By the time the sun is setting on our Sabbath, I am anticipating restoring our home to order, planning out our week, making the menu and jotting notes. My body has rested from the usual pace of our weeks; my mind has settled into peace again as I dwelt on Christ (Is. 26:3). My heart is established in the love that God has given me, as his precious daughter. I have gratefully been reminded that the work he has given to me is good work, holy work. That work itself is a gift, and that it is my privilege to be a part of God’s kingdom coming in this world.
My heart is at peace, my soul is rested. And another week dawns.
Keeping the Sabbath Wholly by Marva Dawn
Sabbath: A Gift of Time by Bonnie Saul Wilks
The Sabbath by Abraham Heschel
The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer