Observing the Sabbath, and What I've Gotten Wrong about Rest and Work - Part 1

If you've ever attempted to observe a Sabbath or day of rest, you may know how much work it is not to work. Aaron and I have found this out the past few months as we have become very intentional about taking one day a week of complete rest.

Most of us realize that taking one day of rest a week is important. We may realize on a theological level that it's important because of the Sabbath's significance in Scripture, or we may realize on a soul level that we were not designed to go hard seven days a week—and between jobs, errands, housework, church, family schedules, and even technology, that is precisely what many of us are doing.

So I'm going to be exploring some of these things—rest, work, Sabbath—in my next couple of posts. Today, I want to look at a few things we've believed wrongly about rest and the Sabbath.

We don’t rest so we can be more productive.

I've often heard the Sabbath presented to me like this: "Maybe you think you are too busy for a day of rest, but it's good for you too. It's scientifically proven that you can do more with 6 days of work and one day of rest than you can with 7 days of work."

In the first year of pursuing my masters and working full time, I decided this was probably true, so for a while I did try to take a day of rest just to recharge my batteries and store up reserves so that I could keep working the next week. It took a few years before I started to wonder...

How obsessed with work are we that even our rest has to be productive? That our purpose of not working is to be able to get more work done?

Something from Genesis 1 has stuck with me in a new way recently—God worked for 6 days, creating, and then He rested. We often ask, "Why did God rest? He didn't need to. He wasn't tired." I won't pretend to give a definitive answer for why God does anything, but I do think this passage shows us an important truth about rest. Rest is good, in and of itself. It is not a means to an end (more work); it is an end.

I've never heard anyone ask "Why did Jesus eat in His resurrected body? He didn't need food to live." We don't do that because we understand that eating is intrinsically good. We like eating, food tastes good. We need to eat to survive, it is good because it helps us live, but it is also good in and of itself. And so is rest. God rested after 6 days of work because rest is good—not so He could store up energy reserves to start working again.

We don’t rest because work is hard and stressful.

Work sometimes is hard or stressful, but sometimes it's not. Sometimes we enjoy our jobs, or cooking dinner, or working in the garden. But we are still called to rest from those things one day a week. On our family's day of rest, there are always little projects I'm tempted to work on and I think "I don't mind doing this. This is not stressful for me." But the point of Sabbath is not that all work is bad or hard or stressful. The point is to remember that I am valuable in my being and not just in my doing. The point is to remember that the world will go on even if I'm not writing an article or making a grocery list or paying a bill.

The point of Sabbath is not that work is bad. It's that we are limited humans who operate in a world created by a limitless God. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes about the Sabbath from Lis Harris:

“I asked Moshe why it was, apart from emulating the actions of the Creator, that ceasing to work on the Sabbath honored God… ‘What happens when we stop working and controlling nature?’ he asked, peering at me over the top of his glasses. ‘When we don’t operate machines, or pick flowers, or pluck fish from the sea, or change darkness to light, or turn wood into furniture. When we cease interfering with the world we are acknowledging that it is God’s world.’”

This concept still feels awkward to me. I say all this as though I am in my first year taking a foreign language. I've started just taking the day of rest, and hoping that the longer I practice it, the more natural it will feel.

My next post will be a look at how Aaron and I practice this now. It is awkward. It is hard not to work, but it is important, so we keep doing it.