Remembering the Sabbath

I was recently in an e-mail exchange with someone regarding my refusal to force my children to go to church. I do not go to church myself. I will probably go back someday, but for now I do not. I stay away from church for a number of reasons, but one of them is the fact that I desire my Sundays to be ones of actual Sabbath—days set apart for rest.

The response I found in my inbox to this argument was, “That’s bullshit,” a rationalization because I don’t like church. I know that I do have other issues with church right now, but I don’t think this one is bullshit.

When we are exhorted to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, the word holy simply means set apart for special use. In light of the Hebrew rules regarding the day, it would appear that the special use of the day does not have to do with giving yourself more to do.

My Jewish friends tell me of how these rules have been twisted and reinterpreted until they become ridiculous— from having a Shabbos Goy, a non-Jew, come into the house to take care of all the work you aren’t supposed to be doing, to running string around a city so that you can claim it and then travel freely around town without leaving your “courtyard.”

Still, it’s pretty clear that breaking away from the busy routine is the goal of the day, not adding more items to an already full schedule.

I remember an evangelist who came to our church when I was young, shouting from the pulpit, “We aren’t going on a prayer retreat. We are not beating a retreat. We are going on a prayer advance.” An unfortunate misunderstanding of what a retreat is all about, but not unusual I’m afraid.

I have acquaintances who measure the value of their lives by how busy they can remain without collapsing. So, whenever they are around you can count on them to moan and groan about all the things they have to do. They aren’t really complaining; they are making sure you take note of how busy they are, and valuing them accordingly.

They spend every day in a frenzy of frantic running. Too much to do, they scurry around like Alice’s white rabbit, always late for a very important date. And for the ones who attend church, it is no different there. The root of the problem is that being still is of little value in our culture. If you aren’t out accomplishing things, things that can be observed and measured, then you aren’t being productive.

This everyday busyness has not only encroached on the Sabbath, it has overrun the day. You can’t show up on Sunday morning in any church around here for too long before someone is admonishing you to get more involved, join groups and programs and ministry teams, and then church—and your Sunday—becomes indistinguishable in its busyness from the rest of your life.

In his book Turning East, Harvey Cox describes the Hebrew idea of Sabbath rest as the same in essence to the Buddhist idea of sati: stillness that is not sleep, but a deep mindfulness. It can only be achieved through carving out a space into which you will not allow everyday concerns. This is the essential condition for meditation, for contemplation, for real knowledge of who you are in the world.

It isn’t just a luxury. It is essential to our healthy existence as human beings. In this world of busyness and running, running that seems to be always on the verge of spilling into chaos, we need stillness, our souls need rest.

Busyness saps our spiritual energy, leaves us walking around with emaciated souls—and too often church and its many related activities are part of the problem. Instead of being a sanctuary of rest, it is simply more activity to smash into an already packed schedule.

I try to protect this day in my kids’ schedule, try to model for them a calm and stillness, a refusal to be busy on the Sabbath. I realize that something else of great importance—community—is suffering as a result. I want them to have a balanced perspective on this; I want them to know the value of both.

It feels to me that if I don’t hold firm on this the busyness of the week will swallow up our Sunday as well.

So I set aside their Sundays as a time to rest, to purposefully do nothing. I sense that they like it. They are released from the nagging sense that they should be getting something accomplished. They can have a much-needed Sabbath rest.

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  • Daniel

    It seems Mr. Sizemore is simply picking and choosing what he likes and doesn’t like about his Christianity, creating a “faith” made in his own image. Didn’t Narcissus do pretty much the same thing? Since Mr. Sizemore wants to claim Hebrew ideas (or at least Harvey Cox’s odd interpretation of those ideas), he might want to be a bit more familiar with those ideas. And not, I would emphasize, how some Jewish folks twist those ideas to serve their own purposes. Just because someone misinterprets and abuses traditions doesn’t make the traditions invalid.

    A Wikipedia article describing Shabbat (Sabbath) notes the following – “All Jewish denominations encourage the following activities on Shabbat:
    “Reading, studying, and discussing Torah and commentary, Mishnah and Talmud, and learning some halakha and midrash.
    “Synagogue attendance for prayers.
    “Spending time with other Jews and socializing with family, friends, and guests at Shabbat meals (hachnasat orchim, “hospitality”).
    “Singing zemiroth, special songs for Shabbat meals (commonly sung during or after a meal).
    “Sexual intercourse between husband and wife.[27]

    Certainly Wikipedia isn’t the be-all, end-all of information sources, and it could be steering me wrong on this matter. I don’t think, however, that any Jewish denomination would declare that NOT going to synagogue on Shabbat is something the faithful should embrace.

    Therefore, Mr. Sizemore can rationalize his antipathy against religious Christian observance on Sundays all he wants. But when it comes to his declaration that he’s observing the Sabbath by “resting” and NOT going to church … well, I’d say those messages that filled his inbox had it right … it’s Bullsh*t. You’re not observing the Sabbath, Mr. Sizemore. You’re just being lazy. I’d have more respect for his arguments if he simply declared he’s one of those so-called “spiritual but not religious” folks who can’t stand the people next to whom he’d be standing and worshiping at church on Sunday.

    • Allison Backous Troy

      I would say that this is a response that pushes Mr. Sizemore’s argument to the fore – perhaps this writer needs a Sabbath from the name calling and lack of respect that make this less dialogue, more diatribe.

  • T.Martin Lesh.

    First off its seems you’re a fellow introvert , with introverts in todays American Evangelical Churches ( along with the Catholic ones ) being perhaps the least understood sub group : second only to Artists . Your comments on the excessive ‘ busyness ‘ mentality of the Church is absolutely correct and in fact I’d personally take it a step further and say the contemporary Church is ‘ obsessed ‘ with keeping its parishioners ‘ busy ‘ . I’ve been in far too many churches that demand busyness even to the exclusion as well as detriment of family : watching the ‘ faithful ‘ sacrificing family and friends on the alter of church ‘ acceptance .

    The ironic thing about this mentality : myself being a theologian and apologist of rather ‘ Reformed ‘ nature is watching the ‘ Truth ‘ get sacrificed in the name of ‘ Busyness ‘ … Church status etc

    Which is to say I’ve got more than my fair share of ‘ problems ‘ with todays churches as well . I fully admit there is no such thing as a ‘ Perfect ‘ church to be found in this life …. but what I’m talking about goes well beyond human imperfection and in fact is verging on the heretical in both non ‘ reformed ‘ as well as those churches claiming to be ‘ reformed ‘ .

  • I wonder about the idea of Sabbath having as much to do with celebration as with “purposefully doing nothing.” Sabbath is a conscious effort to not rely on our own ability to sustain and produce a life of wholeness and purpose, but to remind ourselves that wholeness and purpose are things that God alone can grant. Within that paradigm, it seems like celebration is important–celebrating something that God has already accomplished for us and that we couldn’t gain on our own. And I think celebration restores our souls as much as, and is not mutually exclusive of, “deep mindfulness.” Further, I can understand celebration being an act done in seclusion/meditation, but it makes much more sense in my mind that celebration would take place in community. Church seems to be vital to true Sabbath. Not saying a lot of churches don’t jack things up, but that doesn’t mean those churches should hijack Sabbath for all the churches that celebrate well.

  • Robert

    Sabbath can still be keep “holy” by remembering God on a specific day of the week without having to go to church. As someone who is spiritual, I prefer to not to worship in community; e.g. give my fellow parish member the “sign of peace” only to run over in the church’s parking lot afterwards. God is everywhere. I practice what I preach and do my best to live a good and wholesome life. So, why should I have to go to church and be told that my lifestyle does not conform with what a group of old men who wear dresses (actually robes) in a foreign country dictate what they “think” is best for me. In my opinion the best church (at least I believe it is since I have never attended a service due to location) is the one run by former PTL founder, Jim Baker’s son. His church is in a local pub. The members meet regularly over a drink or two and discuss fellowship and what is happening in their lives. I believe is great! Jesus preached over a glass of wine. Therefore, we should do the same. Life should be enjoyed. Churches make life to be a real “downer.” This is why I do not go. So, there!

  • Vic, your reasoning here is very thoughtful and nuanced, certainly a far cry from “bullshit.” Living your true values is the best gift you can give your kids, and you are doing that.
    Ideally, Sunday church should be the place that the community gathers to praise God for the blessings of the previous week and be nourished for the week to come. But you are right (alas) when you note that many churches take the Sunday gathering as an opportunity to “involve” people in more & more “doings.”

    Years ago, before my husband and I were church-goers, he would take a half-hour on Sunday mornings to read the Bible to our son. The rest of the day was for play. At the time, that’s what felt right to us for keeping the Sabbath. You are doing with and for your kids what feels right to you, and that’s what matters.

  • nathan

    Sabbath is the 7th day of the week (Saturday as we call it), not the 1st (SUNday). Most any calendar on the wall will show you that SUNday is the 1st day of the week and Saturday is the 7th day of the week. God’s Word is very clear on which day He blessed and expects us to keep.

    Genesis 2
    1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.
    2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.
    3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.

    Exodus 20
    8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
    9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
    10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
    11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

    Deuteronomy 5
    12 Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee.
    13 Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work:
    14 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou.
    15 And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.

    Who changed it??
    Peter Geiermann, C.S.S.R., The Converts Catechism of Catholic Doctrine (1957), p. 50.
    “Question: Which is the Sabbath day?
    “Answer: Saturday is the Sabbath day.
    “Question: Why do we observe Sunday instead of Saturday?
    “Answer. We observe Sunday instead of Saturday because the Catholic Church transferred the solemnity from Saturday to Sunday.”

    Our Creator in Heaven only blessed, sanctified and hallowed 1 thing and that was the Sabbath. God’s commandments tell us to keep HIS Sabbath, not the false man made day that many erroneously call Sabbath. Sunday is a false day of worship that was admittedly created by the Catholic Church.

    You have a choice to research and study and see if I am right or wrong or the other choice is to blindly follow the world. This is Truth from the Word of God and not of my own opinion.

    Peace and Mercy from God the Father and our Savior Jesus Christ.

    • pagansister

      What difference does it make what actual day the “Sabbath” is on—Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday? Who really cares? If one chooses to not attend a house of worship on whatever day that faith keeps as a Sabbath, that is most certainly no problem. Whatever god or goddess one chooses to worship can be done anywhere and anytime and doesn’t require a special building built to that entity. Vic has the same impression of what church has turned into—no resting—just for that hour that you sit and listen to a sermon (if you don’t fall asleep) perhaps you rest–between jumping up and down for singing, reading the responses etc. After you should be getting ready for that meeting about what to do to make money for the new building or how to get people to pledge more or collect those that have pledged—and things go on and on. Vic—congratulations on your decision. Your children will benefit from it.

  • rumitoid

    We are to take our rest in Christ, which is 24/7. The Sabbath is, as far as I can tell, no longer a literal day but embodied in Christ.

    • nathan

      The Sabbath is number 4 in the list of the 10 commandments. Right below do not take the Lords name in vain, and above honor your father and mother. The 10 commandments are all still valid today as God does not change (Malachi 3:6). Even Revelation says we are to keep the commandments. Look at the following scriptures and decide if ALL 10 Commandments are important or not…

      1 John 2 – This is bluntly clear on the matter
      3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.
      4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
      5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.

      1 John 5
      2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.
      3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.

      1 John 3 – Sin is transgression (breaking) God’s Law (His 10 Commandments)
      3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
      4 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.

      24 And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.

      John 15:10
      10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.

      Revelation 12 – Satan attacking those who keep the Commandments
      17 And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

      Rev 14
      Verses 9-11 talk about those who receive the Mark of the Beast and verse 12 is those who don’t. What is special about those who don’t? They keep the Commandments of God… all 10 of them.
      12 Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.

      In Matthew 7, Christ tells us that He will turn many away from him because of their unrighteousness.

      20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
      21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
      22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
      23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

      iniquity – Synonyms : injustice – inequity – wrong – evil – wickedness

      We are to believe on and follow Christ. No one comes to the Father but through Him, however nowhere in the Scriptures does it say that any of the 10 commandments are done away with as much as many would like to believe. We want to be saved in our sin rather than being saved from our sin. But our Messiah did not sacrifice himself to let us stay in our sins, he died to give us strength to overcome it and rest in Him. That is our rest in Christ. We rest because we are freed from sin, we are no longer slaves to wickedness. We can stand strong in righteousness with Christ as long as we repent from our sins and work with every fiber of our being to resist temptation.

      Peace and Mercy from God the Father and from Jesus, the lamb who takes away sin from the whole world

      • pagansister

        And your point is?

      • rumitoid

        @nathan. I did not say the sabbath was done away with: I said it was embodied in Christ. He is our rest. the Love of God holds all the commandments. We are to surrender to the spirit within, the seed of God, which is perfect righteousness. Our relationship to the commandments have changed. “I give yoou a new commandment, ‘Love others as I have loved you.” How is that new? It does supplant “Love your neighbor as yourself” but expands on it to love as Christ loved us. Love is all of the commandments that we need.

        • rumitoid

          Edit: meant to write ‘It does NOT supplant…’

    The Ten Commandments were given by God to the nation of Israel as a covenant. The Ten commandments were not given to those living under the New Covenant. Nine of the Ten Commandments have been restated under the New Covenant. The one commandment that has not been restated under the New Covenant is remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
    New Testament Christians worship on the Lord’s Day, “Sunday.”


    Exodus 34:27-28 The the Lord said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did not eat bread or drink water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the Ten Commandments.

    The covenant was made with Israel. It was not made with those living under the New Testament (The New Covenant).


    Ten Commandments with Israel. (Exodus 20:1-17)
    1. “You shall have no other Gods before Me.

    Restated in the New Testament. Matthew 4:10

    2. “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.

    Restated in the New Testament. 1 John 5:21, Revelation 21:8

    3. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.

    Restated in the New Testament. Matthew 6:6, Acts 19:13-16, Matthew 5:33-37, James 5:12, Matthew 7:21-23, Mark 7:7

    4. “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Exodus 20:8-11….9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you…..

    Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy has not been restated in the New Testament.

    5. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.

    Restated in the New Testament. Ephesians 6:1-3

    6. “You shall not murder.

    Restated in the New Testament. 1 John 3:15

    7. “You shall not commit adultery.

    Restated in the New Testament. 1 Corinthians 6:9

    8. “You shall not steal.

    Restated in the New testament. Ephesians 4:28,

    9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

    Restated in the New Testament. Luke 3:14, Matthew 15:19

    10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or any thing that belongs to your neighbor.

    Restated in the New Testament. Ephesians 5:5

    Christians under the New Covenant did not and do not worship on the Sabbath nor did they, nor do they keep it holy. Christians worshiped and worship on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week.

    Acts 20:7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and prolonged his message until midnight.

    1 Corinthians 16:1-2 Now concerning the collection for the saints, I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. 2 On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.

    Sunday is not the Sabbath, it is the Lord’s Day.

    The Sabbath that Christians should be concerned about is their final resting place.

    Hebrews 4:9-11 So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. 10 For the one who has entered His rest has Himself also rested from works, as God did from His. 11 Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.