In my congregation, our Bible studies this week focused on the 10 Commandments. The 10 Commandments will also be one of the readings for this Sunday. Although in the culture wars the 10 Commandments have often been a flash point, the reality is that most people can’t identify most of the commandments even in countries like the United States where in a 2012 Gallup poll 77% of the population claimed to be Christian. In another poll, only 34% of the population could identify “Remember the sabbath day.” Only 29% could identify “Do not make for yourself an idol.”
There is also the question of relevancy. In a survey done in England in 2017, the vast majority of the population believed that the first four commandments, which focus on our relationship with God, were almost totally irrelevant. Commands five through 10, which address our relationships with our neighbors, received much higher marks.
In both of my Bible studies, most of our time was spent discussing the commandment regarding the Sabbath. I think that is telling. Most of the participants were acutely aware of how difficult it is for them to take a day of rest. They are aware that they live in a society that is a “rat race” that never stops. And whether they are in the work force or retired, they feel like they always have to be doing something. As one man said, “Even when I am on vacation, I have a hard time just enjoying sitting still. I need to have some project, something that I am accomplishing.”
What I have found in my own experience is that having a Sabbath day, which for me is Friday, is key to my well-being. Why is it so important for me? When I stop producing, I am reminded that my value is not connected with what I accomplish. I and many other people have confused who we are with what we do. We accomplish a lot in a day, we feel worthwhile. When a day is full of dead ends, we feel worthless. A day of rest invites us to discover that our value was given to us by another. When we were created, our value came with the territory. When we rest, we also discover that our life and the life of the world is not ultimately dependent on what we do or don’t do, but on God. In the Book of Exodus’ account of the 10 Commandments, the Sabbath is connected to God’s own work habits. God spent 6 days making everything and then God “rested the seventh day (20:11).” Therefore, if even God can take a day of rest each week, why can’t we?
So here is a challenge to you: experiment with observing a Sabbath day. Usually a Sabbath day has a worship and prayer component, which means that Sunday—the traditional Christian Sabbath—may be the best day. Use the rest of that day to be with family and friends. Plan a family/friend meal. Unless cooking is a renewing experience for you, fix the food on Saturday so that you don’t have to “work” on Sunday. Turn off any electronic devices that might connect you to your jobs. Plan to do only those things that renew you. (One challenge here if you have children and a spouse is figuring out what works for everyone. However, not everyone needs to do the same things on that day.)
And here may the hardest part: say no to invitations to violate your rest. Years ago, I was trying to plan a meeting with a church committee. As always it was hard to find a convenient day for everyone. At one point, I suggested that we meet on Sunday after the morning services. At this point one man said, “I can’t do that. My family doesn’t work on the sabbath. It is a family day.”
As you experiment be patient and kind to yourself. Most of us fail miserably, when it comes to keeping this commandment because it is so counter-cultural. However, the reward is great. Remembering to keep the sabbath may well be the most challenging commandment to observe in our society, but it may also be the most essential for deepening our relationship with God and each other, and for making our world a little more sane.