Today is Black Friday–one of the most anti-Sabbath days I can think of. Sure, some people may find it rejuvenating to stand in line and be part of a mob looking for a good deal on the latest gadget. But I think it’s fair to ask whether the level of consumption we see in our country on this day alone, let alone the rest of the upcoming season, fits with an understanding of Sabbath.
This year we also have a new development–several chains of stores opened not at 4am (which was already crazy) or midnight (which was fairly horrifying), but just after dinner on Thanksgiving night. This means that retail workers had to punch in before the last football game ended.
Where does it stop?
It feels like we, as a culture, need the enormous re-set button that Sabbath has to offer.
In this chapter we think again about three really big concepts, all related (as usual).
The first is easily summed up in the acronym JOY–Jesus, Others, Yourself. It’s often used as a reminder of priorities–we serve Jesus first, then others, and ourselves last. It’s supposed to remind us not to be self-centered. Unfortunately, its simplistic characterization of the Christian life can often lead us to forget that Jesus said to Love God with our whole selves, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Which at least implies that we need to show ourselves some love too. Caring for oneself is not the same as being selfish–but that message is a hard sell in our culture (especially for women). We can’t offer a cup of cold water to another if our own pitcher is empty. Sabbath is one way we can re-fill our pitchers.
If that metaphorical, spiritual approach doesn’t work, there’s also the logic of MaryAnn’s statement: “there are 7 billion others in the world. The need is always greater than we can meet. When does it end?” (p126) Which is not to say she advocates ignoring the needs of others–only that sometimes your own needs really do belong at the head of the line. Not all the time, maybe not even most of the time, but some of the time, for sure. We need time to remember that “we aren’t loved because of what we do. And we aren’t loved in spite of what we fail to do. We are loved because God is love.” (p126)
The second big concept is that of commandment: Sabbath is one of the Big Ten, given by God when the Israelites were first becoming God’s covenant people and treasured possession. Most of the Ten Commandments (and usually all the ones we can remember) are “thou shalt nots”–don’t murder or lie or cheat or steal. But a few are “thou shalt” commands–and Sabbath is one of those. It’s a positive command–do this! Not because God won’t love you if you don’t, but because God loves you so much that God built rest into the rhythm of time. It’s built into the rhythm of creation, the rhythm of the week, the rhythm of the cycles of nature and time and light and dark and even our bodies. If even God can rest a spell, why can’t we? If even Jesus could go away from the people in need of his time/energy/healing in order to pray and nap, why can’t we? The purpose of the Sabbath commandment isn’t to be just one more thing we have to do, but to show us a better way to live.
Third, but not least, is MaryAnn’s answer to the common (maybe even constant) question about taking the Sabbath day–can’t we just take snippets of Sabbath time, an hour here or a half day there? She says, “for me, snippets of Sabbath feel inadequate without a longer stretch of time each week or so. I end up feeling like Lightning McQueen in the Pixar movie Cars, making a much needed pit stop but cutting it short: “No tires, just gas!” If I keep that up, I’m going to have a blowout.” (p136) And that’s true–and part of the side effect of Sabbath is the rejuvenation it brings, though it may not bring that rejuvenation the first time or every time–it’s called a practice for a reason! But the reality is that however much we want to think we can get all the benefits in half the time, that’s just not true. It takes commitment to practice Sabbath, to obey the commandment, to fill your pitcher.
But the larger part of her answer to this question is the most important, and is the common thread that unites all three of these big concepts: “The primary biblical purpose [of Sabbath] is to put away the idol of control and power and a sense that we run the show.” (p136) In other words, it’s really about the first commandment–to have no other Gods. We have set ourselves, our responsibilities, our desires, our fears, up as idols and thinking of challenging that idol by letting go for a day is extremely difficult. It’s ours, and we like it that way, and we’re too important to stop now, and people are depending on us, and there’s so much good work to do, and the list goes on and on….we need to do, and the doing needs us. Or does it?
MaryAnn compares keeping Sabbath to tithing–a practice that involves acting on faith. People who practice tithing often say that God has provided what they need even as they give what seems like more than they can handle. Sabbath is like a tithe of time–one of the ultimate gifts.
What did you think of this chapter? Of this conversation? How do you see the interplay of Sabbath and the upcoming Christmas season? Are there any idols in your life that need displacing? How might Sabbath help you honor the first commandment?