By Sarah Mae Ratliff
God gave the command of observing the Sabbath, but we often feel too overworked and busy to obey this command. Our culture generally allows a week or two of rest throughout the year or maybe during a few major holidays, but in our fast-paced, busy society, a weekly Sabbath observance is a foreign idea. Instead of resting, the Sabbath becomes another day of work or a day to catch up on the other tasks that we have neglected during the week. Oftentimes we become so busy on a day God has planned us to be resting that we become even more worn out than on our regular work days.
One Day of the Week
Traditionally the Sabbath was observed by God’s people on Saturday. Many Christians historically observe their holy day on Sunday. I remember growing up and going to Sunday school and church service each Sunday unless I had a really good excuse. The only excuses that I remember being valid were if it was snowing so much that we had a level two snow emergency or if I was running a fever. Some weeks I would go to church in the morning, come home to eat lunch with my family, take a nap, and go back to church in the evening. I considered Sunday to be the Lord’s day and have for most of my life.
For some people, Saturday or Sunday are not days which they could observe Sabbath rest. I know some families who are pastors. For these families, Sunday is one of their busiest days of the week as they are focused on meeting the needs of their congregation. Families of ministers are not the only ones who are unable to observe the Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday. Many jobs require work on Saturdays. I am thankful that stores are open daily. I am glad individuals who work in nursing homes provide care for their residents on weekends. Similarly, I am grateful for workers who provide emergency services each day, even on Sundays.
If the traditional Sabbath days won’t work for your work schedule, seek God’s wisdom for his will for your life and when he wants you to observe the Sabbath. If you happen to have Mondays or Fridays off work instead, then ask God if he would rather you rest and focus on him on these days. “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord” (Romans 14:5, 6).
Maybe your career doesn’t hinder observing the Sabbath, but you might feel like your family life does. If you have children who still live at home, then a complete day of rest is not an option. Babies and toddlers need their diapers changed and their bellies fed every day. Preschoolers and school-age children continue to need constant supervision and direction as parents meet their physical and emotional needs. Although teenagers are much more independent than when they were younger, it is very few parents who feel that they have the luxury of a complete day of rest.
Even parents of older children find that the traditional Sabbath days of rest can be a challenge. Families may visit on weekends because it fits best with their schedules. Showing hospitality to them can mean that you are actually working harder than you would other days. Just as Martha in Luke 10:41 was busy and “worried and upset about many things,” we can find ourselves feeling the same way on the day we had decided would be the day we observe the Sabbath. This is not what God has planned for us. He doesn’t want us worried and overwhelmed.
What is the solution? Just like Martha’s sister Mary did in Luke 10:39, take time to meet with Jesus and focus on what he says. Instead of becoming overwhelmed with daily tasks, ask God what he wants you to leave for another day. What type of rest does he have planned for you?
You can’t leave changing your baby’s diaper for another day, but you can save another day to do a deep cleaning of your preschooler’s playroom. It is reasonable to have meals for your family, but maybe instead of taking the time on the Sabbath day to create a time-consuming meal, you can prepare a meal ahead of time in the slow cooker. I know one family who has ice cream and popcorn for dinner every Sabbath. Not only do the children enjoy it, but it saves the parents time that they can use to rest and focus on the Lord. I believe they will remember these meals with joy for the rest of their lives.
Another family that I know gathers up their young children each Sabbath and takes a hike at a local park. While they are outside, they appreciate the beauty that God created and the parents don’t feel stressed by things around the house that can be taken care of another day. Someone else I know has special candles and a prayer that they use on the Sabbath to set aside this day as special. Each of these families have found things that God wants them to do to focus on him.
Much of the time we are unable to rest is due to the demands we place on ourselves or the distractions that we allow in our lives on the Sabbath. A few people I know have committed to staying off social media on the Sabbath. They say that committing to this discipline helps them keep their focus on Christ. Other people I know won’t respond to work-related emails or phone calls unless they are of an urgent matter. Technology has made things in our world instantaneous. We know people want things right away, and many times we may worry about pleasing people. If we don’t take the time to have Sabbath rest, then we can find that all of these short moments of pleasing people have stolen away bits of our lives and have taken away our joy.
If I am not purposeful about creating an atmosphere of Sabbath rest for myself and my family, the Sabbath becomes a day that I can use to make up for the time during the week that I didn’t get other tasks done. Instead of reading the Bible outside with my son, I have him clean up his outdoor toys while I mow the lawn. Rather than taking the time on the Sabbath to talk together as a family in thankfulness for what God has done, I complain that someone needs to fix something that broke earlier in the week. However, if I try to get these tasks done earlier with the help of my family, I find that the Sabbath can be a time of rest and renewal.
Observing the Sabbath shouldn’t be another chore on our to-do list that leaves us feeling empty and tired. Isaiah 56:2 promises that if we keep the Sabbath, we will be blessed. How we celebrate and observe the Sabbath might not look like how other people in our families or in our church observe it. That’s OK. Our relationship with Christ and obedience to his desires is what is most important. Spend time asking God his unique plans for you, put them into practice, and he will bless you.
Sarah Mae Ratliff is a homeschooling mom who lives in Lancaster, Ohio.