“Christians aren’t bound by Old Testament Sabbath directives,
but Jesus never said to forget it completely.”
~ Lauren Winner
Braided challah bread, shabbat candles, family time and prayer. In Jewish communities, Sabbaths are truly set apart from the other six days.
But I was not raised Jewish. And I’m still not Jewish. Even the old-school word “Sabbath” makes me think of head coverings, Fiddler On The Roof and kiddush cups.
So what’s a white girl, raised Baptist, turned non-denominational, from California, living in Mexico, supposed to do about the command to rest?
Honoring the Sabbath seemed easier in Puritan New England, where almost everyone took it seriously. Sunday mornings called for church, businesses stayed closed, and afternoons meant resting with friends and family.
In societies valuing busyness and productivity, observing such a day proves downright countercultural.
That’s not to say contemporary society doesn’t encourage us to relax though. Most media outlets instruct us to indulge ourselves. While there’s nothing wrong with the occasional hammock swing, ice cream run or family movie, “hanging out” isn’t quite the same thing as Sabbath.
The key to this day of rest is that we turn our attention to God.
So how, in our loud and busy world, can we set apart a whole day for rest and reverence?
Our family doesn’t always do it well, but we take baby steps in this direction almost every week. What helps me the most is preparing for our rest day by doing a few things ahead of time.
On Saturdays I make sure to clean some key areas so Sunday mornings feel… ahhh. Especially the kitchen.
Our Sunday options and routines usually look like this:
- Come home from church and eat leftovers, make a simple lunch or order out.
- Required rest time for 30 minutes. Talking = time starts over. (Sometimes I wish they would talk.)
- Play outside, play a board game, or play an instrument.
- Watch a TV show or movie together.
- Cold weather: make hot cocoa, cuddle and read on the couch, build Legos, etc.
- Hot weather: walk or bike to the store for a popsicle.
There are two commandments governing Jewish Sabbath observance: no work and be joyful. One I do well. The other? Questionable.
When we first started our Sunday routine I did not feel joyful—I felt guilty. The dishes piled as the day progressed, I ignored emails, and if anyone showed up in the evening, I didn’t want them to see our disasters.
Now if people stop by on a Sunday I just tell them I don’t do any chores because it’s our rest day. Surprisingly, nobody seems to care how the house looks. And now I feel more joyful because it’s the one day I let myself read, nap and cuddle with no timer or guilt.
If you want to see my husband fired up, practice legalism and then ask him to join you. When we were newlyweds he decided he didn’t want to go to church one week.
Skip church? Why?
What will people think?
What if someone calls between nine and eleven? Should I answer?
Clearly our family never skipped church growing up. Unless I had a fever or proof of barfing, off we went. I even tried staying in bed way too long one Sunday morning thinking everyone would finally give up and leave without me. Nope. All that did was make the whole family late and the parentals mad.
In my teenage world, Sabbath equalled naps, old people and boredom. Plus my dad worked quite a few weekends throughout the year, so Sundays never seemed that holy.
When the niños arrived I wanted to teach them the importance of rest. Since Jesus rested and then recommended it, I figured we should too.
After our kids grew past regular napping age I said exactly what my parents said to me after church:
“You don’t have to sleep; you can read your books.”
And about 90 percent of the time they looked at books and then fell asleep. When they got older (tween) we added art to their rest time options.
Don’t be fooled–these moments are sweet, but they don’t usually last.
Our Ventana student, Jerry, asleep on our cozy floor.
About a year ago we all started watching a show called Sunday Morning after our rests. Full of educational snippets, the CBS show does a great job of reporting positive stories of national parks, music, history, art and interesting people. Occasionally they highlight someone iffy (Bill Cosby) and we skip it, but for the most part it’s a fantastic show for tweens and up.
Call us nerds—we don’t mind. When American kids grow up in Baja, some U.S. culture once a week is not a bad thing. Last month our 5th-grader asked who Mozart was. Might not be a big deal in your world, but my father is a concert pianist.
Sooo… yeah. We will continue watching Sunday Morning.
If you ask our kids why they like Sundays they’ll say the same thing: “No work, no chores!” And I like them because I don’t usually answer work emails, cook, shop, clean, or work on blogs.
Unless there’s a gigantic school project that takes all weekend, homework is supposed to be done by Saturday night. If they’ve procrastinated and saved it for Sunday though… no technology.
If this all seems too good to be possible, let me assure you—sometimes it is. Here’s where legalism gets trampled and we press on like normal people.
Sometimes we invite friends over on Sundays which means I am cooking and/or cleaning. I adjust my “entitled to rest” attitude and move on.
Even after more than a decade of doing mandatory rest time, our kids still occasionally whine about it. “Whyyy do we have to rest?”
Occasionally a Saturday gets full and we don’t get home until late, which means Sunday starts out with messy rooms and dishes in the sink. Not my favorite, but oh well.
Sometimes I forget to make extra food on Saturdays. So it’s Esmerelda’s for hamburgers, Ray’s for pizza, or Gregorio’s for tacos. And I don’t feel guilty about the 120 pesos either. Feeding our family for under $10? Hello.
Stevi and Micah, pretending they like radishes with their tacos.
Once in a while when I return from church, the lazy monster violently attacks and I want to stay home. So I make pancakes or grilled cheese, slide some applesauce toward the kids and call it a day.
Of course Sunday is not the only day when true rest can come into play. Jesus rested on the seventh day, which is technically Saturday.
For pastors and church employees, Sunday is their work day. But the Bible doesn’t say Monday can’t be your day off.
The point is to take one.
Good Reminders I’ve Learned:
- Keeping the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments.
- Being legalistic about the Sabbath is missing the point.
- Sunday naps make me giddy.
When rebuked by the Pharisees for picking grain from a field on the Sabbath, Jesus criticized those who fixated on the observance, reminding them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” ~ Mark 2:27
In other words, it’s a sacred and Divine institution; a privilege and benefit, not a laborious task. God never designed it to be a burden; we shouldn’t make it one.
It’s a free pass, people! An invitation to slow down, make eye contact, unplug.
If you have school-age kids, do they know how to slow down from their busy weeks? We parents are usually their first example of what rest looks like. Do you need permission to relax on Sundays?
Now go get your rest on.
Do you take a day off to rest?
What do your Sundays look like?
Can you help me think of a new word for “Sabbath”?
In case you need a little Uptown Passover inspiration, these guys from Six13 will have you wanting your own dreidel in no time.