Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Surprising Benefits of Honoring the Sabbath

"Say to the people of Israel, 'You shall keep my sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the sabbath, because it is holy for you; every one who profanes it shall be put to death; whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.

Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout their generations, as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign for ever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.'" And he gave to Moses, when he had made an end of speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, the two tables of the testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God. - Exodus 31:13-18 (RSV)

And Moses summoned all Israel, and said to them, "Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I speak in your hearing this day, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive this day. The LORD spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire, while I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD; for you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up into the mountain.

He said: "'I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. "'You shall have no other gods before me.

"'You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

"'You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain: for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

"'Observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, or your manservant, or your maidservant, or your ox, or your ass, or any of your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out thence with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
- Deuteronomy 5:1-15 (RSV)

I remember as a small girl that Sunday was different from the rest of the week because we 1) attended Mass and 2) my father insisted that this was a "day of rest" and because of that, did not do any physical labor. Saturdays were usually a busy day around our house. My father would often be out in the yard, pruning bushes, tending a garden when we had one, or mowing the lawn. Or perhaps he'd be downstairs at his workbench trying to find a solution to something that wasn't working right. My mother and I would be in the house dusting, cleaning, and organizing when needed. Sundays were a welcome day of general inactivity although I do remember my mother often spending time in the kitchen, cooking the evening meal.

I discovered the book by Senator Joseph Lieberman called The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath. A few of my friends and family were surprised I'd read a book by Senator Lieberman because my politics are quite different than his; however, I have always had the utmost respect for him because he truly is a man of faith. The book validates this by Senator Lieberman's beautiful explanation of the traditions associated with Judaism as it relates to honoring the Shabbat, or as we Gentiles know it, the Sabbath.

Those close to me know that I have "a thing" for Israel and Jewish tradition. In fact, when I lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, I attended a Messianic Congregation for awhile, loving their service on Friday night, filled with these same traditions. I loved how a woman with a veil on her head murmured a prayer at the front of the room, two candles lit as she motioned with her hands a welcoming gesture, inviting the Sabbath to visit us once again. I remember the lovely peace and unity I felt as I looked around the room, noticing men with a kippa on their head, reverently bowing as they said their prayers. These were men and women who were raised as Jews and had accepted Jesus Christ (Yeshua Ha'Mashiach, Jesus the Messiah) as their Lord and Savior.

When I first attended a Messianic Congregation service, I remember feeling as though I had been walking with one leg and then suddenly, the other leg was attached. I felt balance in this service, for I had realized long ago that Jesus Christ was a Jew who came first for the salvation of the Jewish people, and then for the Gentiles. I have always looked to the Jewish people as my brothers and sisters in the faith, even though some have rejected Jesus Christ as the Messiah. I like that the Catholic Church continues to pray for unity to happen.

The Sabbath, as honored by the Jewish people, is a beautiful time of rest and reflection upon God's goodness. Although I grew up with the knowledge that Sunday was somehow "different," I eventually lapsed into treating it almost no differently than Saturday. As I read Senator Lieberman's book, I became convicted, realizing I was not honoring the Sabbath well and I wanted to change that.

So, I used Saturday to prepare and barely made it to midnight before my activities were done! (This was my fault for dawdling and not getting some things done earlier.) I usually do my laundry on Saturdays but especially made sure it was done. I wrapped up the dishwasher detail, making sure our everything was already cleaned and put away. I used the time to prepare our home as though a guest was visiting us because indeed, the Sabbath is a "guest" that appears only once a week.

I looked at various recipes, finally deciding on a Crock Pot chicken recipe that was simple. I boiled the noodles Saturday night, cut up the vegetables for the salad, and even boiled the water for my French Press and made coffee, pouring the fragrant liquid into an insulated carafe and tightly securing it before I retired for the evening. I was trying to avoid using the stove on Sunday. The only thing I did Sunday morning at 7 AM was put three ingredients into the Crock Pot and turned it to the low setting so it would be ready by dinner.

I also decided to stay off the computer. All day.

In case you didn't read that right, I meant to say ALL DAY. As in no checking email. No playing around with my digital photography or digital scrapbooking program. No surfing. No checking political websites.

I was 99.9% successful.

At one point, I was going to check a blog a friend had suggested. And this is where God exhibited a wonderful moment of chiding toward me. I opened my laptop, did a search for the blog, and found it. Suddenly, my husband appeared to ask me a question and then gently teased me by saying, "I knew you couldn't stay off the computer!" I was annoyed with myself for being weak and quickly shut the laptop's cover, saying, "Well, I was doing pretty good until you showed up!"

Ha. Good thing we both have a sense of humor. :-)

So other than that lapse of discipline, I did indeed stay off the computer for the whole day.

I realized something else: a great amount of my time is spent on the computer. Not only do I use it for communication with friends, family, and colleagues; I also use my computer for creativity and for accomplishing work (both my day job and side business.) What on earth was I to do without it?

After my husband left, I took the laptop off my desk and placed it elsewhere. I took the Bible and Senator Lieberman's book, and unearthed my journal, which I hadn't written in for (gulp..) six years. Yes, I actually used to write in a journal for many years before getting a computer.

So I read and meditated on the portion of Scripture that was included in the Sunday Mass' readings for the day. I had enjoyed Mass and spent a good amount of time catching up with friends at our "coffee and doughnuts" time afterward. I determined that I was not going to stop at a grocery store to pick up items needed for lunch or dinner, having already made the trip on Saturday. Earlier in the morning, I enjoyed a cup of coffee that was still hot from the carafe I had prepared the night before.

So during the day, I spent time reconnecting with my dear husband, taking a nap, and using the rest of the day for Bible study, personal reading, and even delving into a personal development workbook that I've had for years but never completed.

At 5:00, our dinner was ready. I emptied the cold noodles into the Crock Pot to warm them and quickly put together the salad with everything already cut and sliced. My husband and I tucked into our meal and enjoyed watching a movie together.

All in all, it was one of the most relaxing and refreshing Sundays I've had in quite awhile.

Throughout the day, I enjoyed silence. I noticed I was restless at first, but soon calmed down. I drove to Mass without the radio, which I usually do anyway, but this time I was mindful of the silence and used it intentionally for prayer.

By the time Sunday evening came, I felt like I was Jell-O. Soft. Pliant. Relaxed.

And here's the best part. That feeling stayed with me throughout my workday on Monday.

I haven't usually experienced the dreaded "Monday Blues" because my job has been fairly enjoyable. But lately, my boss has been stressed which has filtered to the rest of the company. For about six months, I've started to not look forward to Mondays, mainly because they've started to become full of frantic meetings with methodology upon methodology being hyper-designed. (Can I go to the bathroom? I'm not sure. Is there a methodology for that?...)

So on Monday morning, when a co-worker came into my office to start the day complaining (as she usually does), I actually didn't get irritated. In fact, I listened, said a few encouraging words, and then returned to work.

As she yapped on and on, I felt as though I was inside a warm, protective cocoon. I thought, This is what grace feels like. Thank You, Lord. Really. Thank You.

I truly believe that if I had not spent the previous day in rest, I would not have had that response. In fact, when another co-worker asked how my weekend went, I told him that I celebrated the Sabbath in a very special way and truly rested. I said, "I still feel like I'm in "Sabbath-land!" He smiled politely but I realized he didn't fully understand what I meant. But then again, he is the father of a toddler and just had a new baby. I think "quiet" and solitude are not common guests in his home at the moment.

What about you? How do you spend the Sabbath? Do you feel that you wish you could be more "still" before the Lord on this day? What's holding you back?

All I know is that it did take some extra planning to create the "day of rest" but my goodness, was it ever worth it. I am already looking forward to my next Sabbath Sunday, thinking about what I'll make for dinner and make sure we have fresh fruit available for breakfast and cold cuts for lunch.

Sabbath is indeed God's gift to us. But I didn't expect the graces of honoring Him to extend into the rest of the week. God, You are indeed so good!


Adrienne said...

During the winter we do a much better job of observing the Sabbath. In summertime we have so much work it's not always possible.

Excellent post, pretty lady!

Mary Rose said...

Thank you so much, Adreinne! I know what you mean about Summer. It seems as though family get-togethers, and the outdoors just beckon to us and before we know, it, the day is done and we're scrambling to figure out what to make for dinner. At least that's my story, lol.

I wish you and your husband a beautiful Sabbath. :-)