Take A Break!
When were stores open when you were little? When were they not allowed to be open? And was that a good thing?
In both Deuteronomy and in Exodus Moses shares the 10 Commandments as given to him by God. And in both cases we are told that there should be one day a week where we do not work – we are commanded to keep Sabbath. And as I prepare for my Sabbatical this summer I find myself pondering the purpose of this commandment.
I am remembering a story (joke?). One night after Bible Study people were talking about how busy they were. One after another they shared, or even boasted, that they had not taken a day off in weeks. As the discussion paused, one woman said quietly, “I know that we sometimes have trouble living how God would want us to. But usually we feel guilty about breaking commandments. What makes sabbath different?”
What makes sabbath different indeed? Many of us can talk about how rarely we take a day to do no work. Not just a day off from our employment but a day when we do no work (laundry, housecleaning, mowing the lawn...). But is that a good thing?
Why is Sabbath-time important? In a world where commerce goes 7 days a week. In a world where even statutory holidays are becoming shopping days, where one can go into a store and see an apology that they are no longer open 24 hours a week (as happened to me recently), where thousands of people do not take all their holiday time, where thousands of people are overworked and exhausted in mind and body, where economic health and activity is seen as the most important thing why would we even consider the quaint idea that it might be a good thing for work and commerce stop for 1/7 of our time?
Because we would be healthier. Physically healthier, emotionally healthier, mentally healthier, spiritually healthier. Our relationships would (hopefully) be stronger as we spent more time just being together. Maybe not when we first started doing it, anxiety might make us a little on edge for a while thinking about what we could be accomplishing. But once we become accustomed to saying “no work” for a day we would be healthier. We would have time to recover and regenerate. We would push ourselves to re-vision what we thought was most important.
Once upon a time Sabbath time was regulated. Commerce stopped for one day a week because the law demanded it. I remember 30+ years ago when Alberta was having the debate about Sunday shopping and other places have had that debate even more recently – in 2005 Patty and I were in Halifax for a weekend and when the event we were attending was over and we tried to find somewhere to get something for supper found that everything was closed because it was Sunday. I think there was great wisdom in mandating hours or days when commerce stopped. I also think that it was problematic to tie that mandate to one religious expression. And so even though I think we are healthier when we take a Sabbath day I am not sure legislation is the best way to go about it.
Like everything else about our life of faith, I believe that is is a matter of choice. If we as a community, as a nation, chose we could create a situation where people had the opportunity to choose to take Sabbath time. We could create a world where people do not have to go full-tilt 7 days a week just to keep up (whether that be with bills or with having a house as clean as it “ought to be”, or with the perfect yard, or with having all the right activities for their children, or whatever else programs and fills our days). And while we are building that world we could choose to step off the treadmill for a day every so often, we could test and model Sabbath.
It won't necessarily be easy. It would require a rethink of our lives. But that is what God keeps asking us to do – rethink our lives. God challenges us to put our priorities in places that we might sometimes think strange. But over and over again Scripture shows that this just might be because God has a clearer understanding of what we actually need.
One final thought. In Deuteronomy the reason given for observing Sabbath is that the people are no longer slaves. Slaves can't choose when not to work but free people can. And so the next time you insist you can't take Sabbath-time I encourage you to ask yourself if you are a slave or if you are free. And then you might ask who or what has enslaved you...
Then go ahead, take a break. Help others find a way to take a break. It is good for all of us.