A Mental Health Day: Thoughts on Sabbath Keeping

Exodus 20: 1; 8-11

20Then God spoke all these words:

8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9For six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Back in the day, there was a DJ named John Anthony on WAMO, then an upbeat AM urban music station in Pittsburgh.

On Monday morning at 6am he would open his show with these words:

“It’s Monday morning and time to get ready for the weekend!”

Then he’d play Disco Inferno.

There was a time when folks looked forward to the weekends because it was time to relax, unwind, and re-energize.

There was even a song that went, “Everybody’s working for the weekend…”

We worked to live.

We didn’t live to work.

But no more.

Now its “Everybody’s working on the weekend…”

Like I did.

When I started practicing law in 1983, I worked for a firm that billed by the hour.

That was our “stock in trade” – the billable hour.

A billable hour was time we spent working on client files.

If we were not working on client files, the hour was not billable, and so unproductive.

Unproductive time was wasted time.

Time with no value.

Our value as lawyers, at least to the firm, was based entirely on how many hours we billed.

We wanted to be valuable members of the firm, so, we never rested.

We worked late into the evening.

We worked on weekends.

I often went to the office on Sunday evenings after dinner to get a head start on the coming week.

The dread of “unproductive” time has stuck with me.

The thought of “wasted time” drives me to be busy and productive all the time.

And when I am not busy and productive, I feel guilty and anxious.

I am not alone.

This from the American Psychology Association:

Americans are known for placing great emphasis on work and career. Working hard, however, should not be confused with overworking at the expense of relationships and physical health. According to a 2007 nationwide poll by the American Psychological Association, three-quarters of Americans list work as a significant source of stress …. [Yet], almost half stated that they did not use their allotted vacation time ….

… The APA survey found three quarters of people have experienced physical symptoms as a result of stress, such as headache, fatigue, and an upset stomach in combination with feelings of irritability, anger, nervousness, and lack of motivation.

[Moreover][b]ecause of e-mail, cell phones and the Internet, Americans are finding it increasingly difficult to switch off from the stresses of the workplace and concentrate on their personal priorities ….

Increased stress can lead to using unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, comfort eating, poor diet choices, inactivity and drinking alcohol to manage their stress.

That article was from 2007.

Today we have other more healthy ways to manage the stress while still being “productive”.

It’s called exercise.

That’s what I do.

But even the fitness industry points out that we need a rest from exercise as well.

Listen to this from Fitbit.

Step count, active minutes, calories burned… These are all important pieces of data that help us live healthier, more active lives. But we often don’t stress the importance of rest and why your body needs days off. … But that’s just part of the equation. Your tracker can also be extremely helpful in keeping tabs on your down days and limiting your activity so your body can fully recover in between your more active days of the week.

But if you’re like me, you find that advice difficult to follow.

Gotta work.

Gotta get those steps.

Gotta burn those calories.

Gotta be productive.

Good thing there are weekends, right?

We work long hours all week, then TGIF.

But …

Friday night is high school athletics.

Saturday morning is Betsy’s soccer game.

After that we need to mow the lawn and do the yard work.

Billy has his baseball game in the afternoon.

We have to stop at the store on the way home to get food for the week.

Now we have to clean the house.

Drive the kids all over town.

Saturday is gone and we are not particularly rested.

But that’s OK.

Tomorrow is Sunday.

Sunday is church, right?

Not always.

More games and activities.

Then we have to do the laundry, pay the bills, and call or visit our parents.

Maybe a few random hours to relax before we get ready to go back to work.

Sometimes there are emergency chores, visits out of town, people visiting.

Goodbye weekend …

Time to go back to work.

There is no rest.

We work our bodies to exhaustion, and never let up.

We consume pots of coffee, 5 Hour Energy or Red Bull.

We think it’s funny when we go to Caribou Coffee and see the t-shirt the staff wears.

“There will be plenty of time to sleep when you are dead.”

We brag about being “crazy busy”.

That is not the way it is supposed to be.

That is not what God Commands.

God commands that every 7th day, we are to give ourselves a break.

9For six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work…

What is interesting about the fourth commandment is that it is a bridge between the “love God” commandments and the “love neighbor and self” commandments.

It includes both.

First, it is a sabbath to the Lord.

Second, we shall not work (and, by implication, not make anyone else work).

Let’s first look at making the seventh day a “sabbath to the Lord”.

How is taking a day off “loving God”?

There are several ways, but I highlight these.

First, it is a day where we have time to worship and consider all God has done for us.

Second, it is a day where we observe the cosmic order as described by Patrick Miller and Jon Levinson:

[B]iblical law … is of the same order as the laws of nature, the inner mechanism of creation. … The keeper of the Sabbath thus brings one’s life into harmony with the intrinsic rhythm of the cosmos, instituted by divine fiat and observed [first] by God.

The rhythm of the cosmos.

I like that one.

God rests on the seventh day.

So should we.

But why is this a commandment?

Maybe because when we work 24/7/365 we aren’t acting like people who follow God’s rhythm.

That was one of the problems for Israel in Egypt.

In Egypt, Israel was given no rest.

There was only, as Walter Brueggemann calls it, “feverish productivity”.

God freed Israel from this and said, “now you are to be like me, which is appropriate because you are made in my image.”

“People will know you are mine because you will have a sabbath day every week.”

We in 2018 need to be freed as well.

According to the New Interpreters Bible Commentary:

… [S]abbath concerns the periodic, disciplined, regular disengagement from the systems of productivity whereby the world uses people up to exhaustion. The disengagement refers also to culture produced expectations for frantic leisure, frantic consumptions or frantic exercise.

The fourth commandment, if followed, frees us from these things.

It allows us to be God’ image bearers.

It illustrates our devotion to God.

It is a sabbath to the Lord.

But it is also a sabbath to us.

And so, we will do not “work”.

But what does that mean?

The Rabbis of Jesus time spent a good deal of time on that.

It is one of the most frequent criticisms of and accusations against Jesus.

Jesus “works” on the sabbath.

What does Jesus do that creates this conflict?

He heals.

He preaches and teaches.

What does Jesus condone ass a response to the accusations and criticisms?

Caring for God.

Caring for ourselves.

Caring for others.

Caring for creation.

I like the way Miller summarizes the distinction Jesus makes when responding to his critics.

… “[Jesus said] [T]he sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath (Mark 2: 27). That has been the point all along. “To sanctify the Sabbath means to save lives and do good, not just to rest and give rest to others” [citation omitted]. Human need is not all the Sabbath is about, but it is at the heart of the matter. In Jesus’ actions on the Sabbath Day, the commandment becomes an embodiment of the love of neighbor.

Sabbath is a day of meeting need.

For God.

For us.

For our neighbors.

For creation.

It is truly about loving God, ourselves and each other.

One question I get asked a lot when talking about sabbath is this:

Does it have to be Sunday?

Well, Sunday is the day we set aside to just sit for an hour or so for worship and to think about what God has done for us.

But that is not always possible.

Here is what some are doing.

What we call Mental Health Days.

Listen to this statement from ComPsych Corp:

82 percent of Americans admit to taking mental health days. “Taking a mental health day is responding to a crisis. We’re running at 120 mph with work and family, and […] you need to re-energize and re-focus. If you don’t, you’re going to get burnt out.” So take the day if you need it!

A day without the responsibilities of life.

Sounds like sabbath.

You can pick your own day for that.

But there is more to sabbath than just sleeping in, staying in your jammies all day binge watching some trendy Netflix series or reading that entertaining thriller.

We are to spend time with the Lord on the sabbath.

The sabbath day is that day where we glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Since the dawn of the church, it has been recognized that gathering with other disciples of Jesus is the preferred way to spend the sabbath.

In addition, the gathering of disciples offers a place where the disciples can encourage each other and provide mutual care.

You know, fellowship!

When I was in Malaysia and Vietnam and New Zealand, church was always followed by food and social interaction.

No one and I mean no one, left right after worship.

People stood around and talked to each other for an hour or more.

It was during those times that the needs of the community were shared, discussed and met.

It was during those times that the children played with each other.

It was during those times when people got a chance to catch up on the news, share stories and jokes and relax.

One of the interesting things about Jesus is that he did those kinds of things on the sabbath.

But he was not doing those things to teach that the 4th Commandment was no longer applicable or necessary.

He was teaching that while the rule was not to work, sabbath was also a time for glorifying God, providing mutual care and ministering to the community.

They went hand in hand in hand.

Loving God.

Loving each other.

Loving our neighbor.

Loving ourselves.

The cosmic rhythm.

The divine rhythm.

And part of that rhythm and balance is church.

The 4th Commandment should drive us to church, where we can have a day where we live into God’s plan for us.

So, what does that mean for us here?

Is JMPC a 4th Commandment community?

Is this a place where we can make space in our lives for rest and for worship and for fellowship?

It certainly is on Sunday mornings.

Two worship services, a Bible study and Children’s church.

That is what our between services coffee hours offer.

It can also be when we gather for Bible study two Tuesday evenings and two Wednesday afternoons a month.

We have music ministries that begin with prayer and practice music that glorifies God.

And while I am not sure how worshipful Pickleball is, it certainly is a good opportunity to disengage from the world and have fun with folks at church.

Maybe we need more sabbath opportunities here.

It is what the 4th Commandment is all about.

8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9For six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work…

That is time with value.

To us individually.

To us as a community.

And to God.

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