The Weekly Parenthesis

September 7, 2011 — 1 Comment

[This post is part of the Reshaping Christian Habits series]

As part of reshaping our Christian habits, a significant component is maintaining a weekly Sabbath rest. In reading through Scott Rae and Kenman Wong’s Business for the Common Good (which I’ll review next week) I was reminded once again of the importance of this. In a book that is a “theology of business” (“loosely speaking” as the authors put it) chapter 3 is focused on the interface of business and spiritual formation. After surveying some brief differences between the ancient world and the modern world in terms of the separation between work and home, they then observe that “we largely view work as primary and leisure as secondary – that is, we define leisure in terms of work, not the other way around” (p.102). After then surveying the Biblical foundations of the Sabbath (creation, the 10 commandments, and more) they then say this:

…it should be noted that the sabbath was not created in the service of work. In other words, sabbath observation was not for the purpose (so commonly accepted today for taking time off) of “recharging our batteries” or becoming more effective workers. It was and is simply a gift to be received (p. 104).

In other words, while we mainly tend to view Sunday (or a Sabbath day of rest on another day) as a parenthesis of rest in a week of work, in might be better to think of your work as the parenthesis between Sabbath rests. I’m still thinking through this approach myself, but it does make sense. From this perspective, keeping the Sabbath isn’t something you have to do in order to avoid breaking a commandment, rather it is something you do as a way of modeling the rhythm of life that God intended. It is a “get to” not a “have to.” When the new heavens and new earth are thought of as the ultimate Sabbath rest, then modeling this rhythm of life here and now is a means making our lifestyle a sneak preview of what’s to come.

Kenman and Wong offer a similar rationale:

Though we are not under the command to take literally one day in seven off from work, the reasons for giving the sabbath command are still relevant today and suggest that we develop a sabbath outlook and lifestyle. Even though our work is our altar, that doesn’t mean that we have to spend all of our time there (p. 106).

In other words, you’re not commanded in the NT to take a Sabbath every week, but it is in your best interest to do so. People often note that all of the 10 commandments are repeated in the New Testament except for keeping the Sabbath, but I wonder if the reason for the omission is that the authors thought it was so part of the fabric of creation it didn’t need to be repeated. The epistles are occasional letters, and perhaps the occasion of rampant disregarding of the Sabbath never came up. I realize of course this is an argument from silence, but it is something that may just appear to be a surface silence. My point here is simply to offer you some insight into my own Sabbath keeping experience, and encourage to make it a part of your weekly routine as well if you are not already doing so.

I have found that the rhythm of life seems much more in sync when I am taking time out each week for a purposeful Sabbath. I really started taking this seriously my first semester of seminary and would carve out a single day for a Sabbath rest. While this may seem unrealistic to you, consider my second semester schedule:

  • Day job: Cleaning pools 4 mornings a week
  • Night job: Teaching private music lessons 3 nights a week
  • School schedule: 14 hours of graduate level classes

In the midst of this, I would usually take Saturdays and make them a 12-14 hour or so homework day, and then Sunday was off limits as a Sabbath. No school, no work, and no exceptions, regardless of deadlines. I kept this up for the next 3 semesters and then had to make some adjustments once I got married. We were pretty consistent with this through our two years of marriage while I was in seminary, but I got off track personally during my last year, mainly in terms of not completely unplugging from thinking about school assignments even if I wasn’t working on them on Sunday. I’m in the midst of correcting this at the moment, and am looking forward to getting back in sync. (If you’re curious about the way taking a Sabbath panned out while I was in seminary, I never stayed up late working on an assignment and I never turned in anything late. I didn’t make straight A’s, but hey, a 3.8 is pretty close.)

While I was in school, my primary work was my studies. Taking a weekly rest from them no matter how busy I felt I should be was what helped keep my soul healthy while in seminary. If you’re too busy to take a day off each week, then you’re probably too busy. By setting a single day off limits each week, you’ll be surprised how much you can get done in the other days. Like I said, I was incredibly busy during seminary, but everything still got done in a timely manner, and I still had a day each week to just enjoy God freely.

Rather than a hedonistic “living for the weekend” mentality, I felt like I was balanced between doing meaningful work during the week that I for the most part enjoyed and then also getting a day to rest and relax and enjoy some Sabbath leisure. I cannot recommend this highly enough to you. It will test your reliance and God and faith that he will help you manage the remaining time effectively, and your find a spiritual growth spurt accompanies your decision as well.


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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