Who Knew the Toughest Commandment is Take a Day Off?

Who Knew the Toughest Commandment is Take a Day Off? January 20, 2014


I have completed my first Sabbath-honoring Sunday, and I have to admit that I think I needed it.

I did it because I decided that I was blithely ignoring the real demands of one of the Commandments.

It turns out that Sabbath-keeping is not for sissies.

The Catechism says that we not only should cease from our own labors on Sunday, but that we should also not do things that require other people to labor.


Does that mean no movies, no eating out, no fun on Sundays?

I decided, at least for yesterday, that it does.

What that meant for me is that I was stuck all day in the house with a football play-off thing. My men watch football all day throughout the weekend. They flip from one game to another during commercials, and as soon as a game ends, they dial up another one somewhere else. They can literally watch football for the entire weekend.

I’ve always regarded this as an opportunity. It makes a great time to go out with my girlfriends. Movies. The occasional play. Shopping. Swizzling in fern bars and eating in nice restaurants.

It is so good.

I come home to happy, football-sated men. Everybody has a grin on their face and nobody is bored out of their gourd — which is what I was for much of yesterday.

I entered this sabbath-keeping thing all unprepared. I only decided to do it about an hour or so before mass on Saturday. I didn’t even get around to re-reading the Catechism to see what Sabbath keeping means until I got home from church. Then I wondered what kind of weekly purgatory I had signed up for.

No shopping? No eating out? No fern bars?

Say you don’t mean it Lord. Puleeez say you don’t mean it.

I ended up wandering around the house listening to the yelps and yips from the men while the football droned on in the background. I didn’t work. Not on anything. I didn’t write a word on my book. I didn’t even look at Public Catholic. And I kept my greasy little fingers off the legislation and the lists of things I need to do for the office. I didn’t even call up other legislators and talk shop.

What I did instead was play the piano, because I decided piano playing, which I do with total incompetence and certainly not for money, is not work. I also read a book about atheism that inspired ideas about a future blog post, and spent hours on the iPad reading blogs by writers talking about writing. I followed that by browsing the internet, looking at the software (which I don’t need) that these writers talked about in their blog posts. Then, to top it off, I noodled with ideas for political activity on an issue I’m concerned about.

I didn’t do any work. But I never stopped thinking about it.

The odd part is that I was sorry when Sunday was over. After I got past the listening-to-football-is-punishment phase, I kind of got into this no-work thing. I think that if I had several of these Sabbath days in a row, I might actually figure out how to do this deal.

One day is just not long enough for me to turn off that work stuff. It swirls in my brain, no matter whether I do it or not. To be honest, even going out with my girlfriends and gossiping down the town doesn’t really divert me. I need at least three days of no work, back to back, to stop work from owning me.

I wonder if I’m being too severe with this Sabbath stuff. After all, I’ve had plenty of good times with priests in restaurants on Sundays. Every priest I know eats out on Sundays. Does that mean that we’re all breaking the Sabbath together? Or does it mean that I’m misunderstanding the requirements?

I’m going to keep plugging on with this Sabbath-honoring thing. As I said in my prayers before sleep last night, I know I didn’t do it too well yesterday. I’m just hoping that somebody who understands it better can give me guidance.

In the meantime, I am a bit gobsmacked. The toughest commandment, at least for me, may very well be “take a day off.” Who would have guessed that?

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28 responses to “Who Knew the Toughest Commandment is Take a Day Off?”

  1. Football is why I started crocheting. I can sit with my husband while he watches and make something beautiful for someone, and we can talk (when he’s not cheering or groaning). Sure, I’d rather crochet while watching Doctor Who, but it’s still nice.
    I tend to feel like Sunday’s are a day of rest for everyone in the family except me, because all the kids are still little enough to pile on me when I sit down. There is no rest (nor much crocheting), just different work.

    • Second the hand-craft suggestion. You are “allowed” to do charity work on the Sabbath … so knit or crochet warm wearables for charity. Frankly, it’s how I “redeem” my TV time in general; being in a semi-shut-in-household, there’s a lot of TV time here.

      Playing the piano is awesome, too 🙂

  2. I’ll also be interested to hear how others do this. It is the one commandment I think virtually all North American Christians (can’t speak of anyone else) tend to let slide. In our case, we don’t have tv at home, so when a team we care about (go Seahawks!) is playing, it means venturing to a restaurant with a sports bar. On a Sunday. :-p And many Sundays, after we leave church around noon, we hit a restaurant even if there’s no game–it’s kind of our “date time” for the week. I don’t feel right about effectively ignoring the Sabbath command, but have never gone beyond a vague attempt to get shopping done before or after that day, and considering taking the OT sabbath of Saturday off. :-/

    • I live where there is a large number of Orthodox Jews who strictly (and I mean strictly) honor the Sabath. They have some six hundred something commandments from the OT they have to follow. Orthodox Jews do not use any electronic devices on the Sabath, and occaisionally they ask me to come over and turn their heat on if they forget.

      • That is some serious dedication! I’ve been thinking about this more today, and I wonder if we Christians aren’t inclined to be sloppy in “sabbath keeping” in part because Jesus said “the Sabbath was made for Man, Man was not made for the Sabbath.” But He didn’t actually do away with keeping it, He just seemed to say it was unnecessary to obsessively avoid the barest hint of “working” on the day (the kind of nitpicking the Pharisees were using to accuse His disciples of working on the sabbath), as that crosses over from honoring the sabbath to burdening people with unnecessarily excessive rules. Dangit–it’s one of those moments where He frees us from dry rule-keeping, but then we are given the responsibility to think about our actions and heart to determine when we are or are not honoring the Sabbath! 😉

        • I think he was speaking of two things, (1) the legalisms concerning Sabbath-keeping that were making people’s lives miserable and the Sabbath a burden, and (2) the refusal to do even save lives or help people on the Sabbath.

          I think that what He’s saying is that the Sabbath is a gift, not a burden.

        • I don’t know when historically it happened – perhaps it’s a recent development – but we Christians have lost any sense of a Sabbath. I don’t even think we could call it sloppy. It’s beyond that.

          • This is a new realization to me, but I think you’re right Manny. I’ve also decided that this is our failing. I don’t think God has rescinded the Sabbath.

            • It hasn’t. Given that I grew up in Brooklyn, NY where there are a lot of Orthodox Jews, and given I now live in a neighborhood with substantial Orthodox (across the street is a synogogue) I have a real sense of what Sabbath observance is.

      • I have a book on the sabbath by Rabbi Abraham Heschel, which I picked up from a Jewish bookstore some years back. I’ve only skimmed it. Perhaps it’s time to actually read it. There has to be some balance between avoiding work and becoming obsessive. I gather the Catholic Catechism talks about the sabbath, and I am thinking my own Presbyterian denomination must have something about it in the catechisms we ascribe to also. I guess the grownup thing to do is stop pondering and read to see what smarter people than myself have to say and try to actually learn something. 😉

      • Before I read down this far, Manny, I mentioned the Orthodox Jews and what I thought were some of their rules for following the Sabbath.

        • I see the Hasidic walking around the neighborhood in their garb. One was shoveling out his car just now ahead of where i was shoveling out. Like I said somewhere in here, there is a synogogue across the street from my house.

          • Buried in snow, Manny? We have lived in snow country a few times before we retired. I remember shoveling to get to my car and then shoveling to get my car out of it’s parking place. Must admit—-as beautiful as snow is, and the wonderful silence surrounding my house when we would wake up in the morning after a snow fall, I do not miss the shoveling or driving in it. 🙂

  3. “Sabbath-keeping is not for sissies.”

    Hahaha! That’s a great quote. You have to save that as one of finer ones. So you can’t go to the movies on the Sabbath? How about watching movies off a DVD player at home?

    “…spent hours on the iPad reading blogs by writers talking about writing”
    Oh, which ones. I’d love to follow those blogs. I don’t usually talk about writing on my blog, but I do talk about literature.

    • David Hewson’s blog was one. It got me going so much I’m going to try to write a post about it later tonight or tomorrow.

      As for watching on dvds, it isn’t the movie so much as the social outing with friends.

  4. Perhaps you and your girlfriends should start meeting at each other’s houses, or at a public park or other public space, on Sundays, and take turns bringing cookies or salad or the like, and (to the park) carafes of coffee and tea?

  5. Love the piano part. We read, watch a movie on tv, and try to avoid “servile labor.” So, I try to avoid laundry, big cleaning chores, sometimes I iron, but I don’t mind ironing, so it really isn’t servile. Often I make an easy dinner, like steaks on the grill, rather than a labor intensive meal.
    I don’t embroider because that’s work for me, and I’m working on a big project for my parish, which I really want to finish, but not Sunday.
    I always thought it was weird that we could go out Sundays, because of the folks who have to work so we can eat in a restaurant.

  6. I’d say we are successful half the time. It’s getting harder and harder as the kids get older and busier. I do as much as I can to control the children’s schedules on Sundays but it’s difficult. I make a big meal in the afternoon and then dinner is a snack or leftovers. Weather permitting, meaning it’s above 20 degrees and not snowing or raining I like for us to be outside. We live near many trails and ice skating. I don’t know if that is honoring the Sabbath or not.

    During the endless sports, I read or do handcrafts like crocheting or cross stitch. Not for charity though. I need to think about that one. I do make hats and mittens to give away but that isn’t always the project I’m working on during sports on Sundays.

    I am going to follow Rebecca’s example and stay off the interwebs 🙂

  7. Rebecca,

    One of the great things about Public Catholic is that you are willing to share the real-world situations as you confront them – as evident in your decision an hour before Mass to honor the Sabbath. And I admire your commitment to do just that. It is an example I need to follow. And thanks for reminding us that it is hard to do.

    Having said that, I think that the primary reason behind this commandment is that we need to set aside time to “be with God” or to be “present to his presence.” And I don’t do that as well as I would like either. Fr. Henri Nouwen, the great late 20th century spiritual writer, often wrote about our need for Solitude – the place (even if it is just in our heart) where we can go and hear the still small voice of God calling us “Beloved.”

    In fact, today’s Daily Meditiation from the Henri Nouwen Society (from Fr. Nouwen’s book of daily meditations “Bread for the Journey” speaks beautifully of
    The Voice in the Garden of Solitude. Nouwen writes,

    “Solitude is the garden for our hearts, which yearn for love. It is the place
    where our aloneness can bear fruit. It is the home for our restless bodies and
    anxious minds. Solitude, whether it is connected with a physical space or not,
    is essential for our spiritual lives. It is not an easy place to be, since we
    are so insecure and fearful that we are easily distracted by whatever promises
    immediate satisfaction. Solitude is not immediately satisfying, because in
    solitude we meet our demons, our addictions, our feelings of lust and anger, and
    our immense need for recognition and approval. But if we do not run away, we
    will meet there also the One who says, “Do not be afraid. I am with you, and I
    will guide you through the valley of darkness.”

    Let’s keep returning to our solitude.”

    Perhaps this is the opportunity that is presented to each of us if we follow the 3rd commandment.

    If you or any of your followers are interested in receiving Nouwen’s Daily Meditations, you can sign up here: http://www.henrinouwen.org/Resources/Meditations_and_Reflection_Emails/Meditations_and_Reflection_Emails.aspx

    • Thanks for the link and the meditation Ray. I’m going to try to use some of my Sabbath time for prayer next week instead of reading blogs on the internet. Baby steps.

      • And here is the Henri Nouwen mediation for Wednesday, Jan 22… It speaks to Community Supported by Solitude (and I would include a virtual community such as the followers of Public Catholic)

        “Solitude greeting solitude, that’s what community is all about.
        Community is not the place where we are no longer alone but the place where we respect, protect, and reverently greet one another’s aloneness. When we allow our aloneness to lead us into solitude, our solitude will enable us to rejoice in the solitude of others. Our solitude roots us in our own hearts. Instead of making us yearn for company that will offer us immediate satisfaction, solitude makes us claim our center and empowers us to call others to claim theirs. Our various solitudes are like strong, straight pillars that hold up the roof of our communal house. Thus, solitude always strengthens community.” — Henri Nouwen
        And it is worth noting that today is the March for Life–a magnificent example of “Community” in the service of the Lord.

  8. I SO GET THIS! I decided to do this years ago when we first moved to Daytona Beach in 2005 with 4 children 18 to 5 years old. We didn’t go shopping (the biggest thing) and spent the day together as a family. However, we did go out to lunch together after Mass. THEN I STARTED WORKING IN THE CHURCH. Talk about having difficulty keeping that commandment when your work life and your faith life are intertwined — I have yet to figure that one out. And since I am only off on Saturday mornings, Sunday afternoons and Mondays and still have two teens and a work-a-holic husband at home, it is hard to not end up doing laundry on Sunday afternoons. For now, I am going with not making anyone else work on Sunday, so we have stopped eating out and going to the movies that day along with the shopping.

  9. We’ve been really trying with this one… the time spent together is really great but no work–homework, cooking and dishes hard. So I have to travel to a conference on Sunday and prepare to give a presentation….? Not much I can do about that but at least get some rosaries in on the long journey I suppose?

  10. Don’t Orthodox Jews observe their Sabbath by not even allowing themselves to turn light switches on? I think I read that, at least at one time, they would hire a person to do things like open and close doors, carry things etc. At one time i lived in a neighbor hood that had a strong Jewish presence. There were 2 little boys (twins as it happens) who had come to play at our house with our son. They had to leave before sundown, and went home on time. They left their coats, (it was slightly cool) but were not allowed to come and get them until their Saturday afternoon at sundown, when their observance was over. I’m not sure what is done in the 24 hour period by those that observe their faith conservatively.

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