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Wholehearted Sabbath

Preparing for commanded rest

There's something about the Sabbath that's like taking a deep breath of fresh air. However, there's also something about it that produces anxiety within me. What is the Sabbath supposed to look like? What should I be doing? What should I not be doing?

I grew up in a family that practiced the Sabbath, sort of. My parents were lay leaders in church, so Sunday was a day of work and ministry. Saturdays were closer to what I'd call a Sabbath. While the morning was spent doing chores, lunch marked the beginning of time for family, the park, movies, and long, leisurely meals. It was a kind of hybrid Sabbath, where we spent half of what God commanded as a day of rest.

With that personal background, the question of what should I be doing and not doing on the Sabbath still lingers. Exodus 20 tells me, "Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don't do any work" (The Message).

Sabbath to do: focus on God in my rest.

Sabbath not to do: tasks that need to get done, like bills, chores, and shopping.

With the backdrop of the Hebrew Scriptures and hundreds of years of rules interpreting this command, Jesus clarifies and deepens our understanding as only he can. In Mark 2 the disciples get in trouble for breaking established rules, and Jesus teaches: "The Sabbath was made to benefit people, and not people to benefit the Sabbath. And I, the Son of Man, am master even of the Sabbath!" (2:27–28). In Mark 3 Jesus notices a man with a withered hand and asks those gathered in the synagogue: "What kind of action suits the Sabbath best? Doing good or doing evil? Helping people or leaving them helpless?" (3:4).

Sabbath to do: do good by helping people and be flexible.

Sabbath not to do: take my Sabbath so seriously that I ignore or avoid doing good to others.

Recently I had the opportunity to travel to Israel and experience a modern keeping of the Sabbath. We ceased our travel and learning by sunset on Friday. One of our hosts offered the traditional prayer over the wine and the two loaves of challah bread to mark the beginning of this weekly holiday. We partook in a leisurely Sabbath meal in which we had time to get to know and enjoy our fellow travelers and our Israeli hosts. It was a wonderful opportunity to remember God's blessings of rest and to delight in the gift of friendship.

Sabbath to do: Cease, end, and rest (which is what the Hebrew word Shabbat means), delight in God's good gifts of people, rest, and nature, and start the Sabbath with "'Shabbat shalom,' 'The peace of the Sabbath be with you.'"

Sabbath not to do: ignore the tradition and wisdom of generations who have obeyed God's commandment.

I learned that preparation and planning are necessary to enjoy delightful rest. However, even with these insights, I still struggle with the planning and practical side of the Sabbath and with the desire to do it wholeheartedly.

Can you relate? What do you do to prepare and delight in the limits and the activities of Sabbath?

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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