Look, I realize it's Super Bowl Sunday today.
I didn't plan that when deciding to write what you're about to read. But that's the way the cookie crumbled, and I think it's a providential cookie.
So if you read this, and get guilty about that Super Bowl party you've already committed to attending…
…to go or not to go is your call. If you are a Christian and you are reading this, then I'd encourage you to pray about it. On the other hand, if the idea of “fully resting on a Sunday” is a foreign concept to you because that's not your religious background, then I'd also encourage you to at least take what you can from this article, most notably the notion that it's a good thing for you to experience the gift of letting your body and brain truly rest once a week.
OK, here we go!
Recently, I was listening to my friend Aubrey Marcus interview Alex Banayan, who is the author of the pretty darn good personal productivity book titled “The Third Door.”
At a certain point during the interview, Aubrey and Alex began to riff on the topic of the Sabbath. Here's the video below, starting at the timestamp where the discussion begins:
Well, if you watched that video, then you perhaps may have had your interest piqued in reading the book The Sabbath, by Abraham Joshua Heschel. I know I certainly experienced that interest, and so (last week, at the time I'm writing this) I read the entire book the very next day on a flight from Salt Lake City to Spokane.
See, I've been quite interested these days in this topic of the Sabbath (also known as the Shabbat), which is traditionally a day of the week reserved for rest and worship in Judaism and Christianity, but even for people who don't come from a religious or faith background, a familiar idea associated with trying to find some time to simply give your body and brain some much-needed rest and recovery.
Jews traditionally observe Shabbat on Saturdays, often beginning on Friday nights with lit candles and shared meals. In addition to resting from work at their jobs during that time, Orthodox Jews are well known for relatively strict Sabbath-keeping, usually refraining from any activities that are considered work, including driving and switching lights off or on. But, as astounding as it may seem in an era of Super Bowl Sundays, Sunday movie matinees, and 7-day-workaholic-work-weeks, you would have been hard-pressed just a couple of generations ago to be able to find a single store in America you could actually go shop at on a Sunday, much less tens of thousands of people squeezed into a giant stadium to worship the holy idol of sport.
It's not as though I haven't always been aware of the general idea of having one day (for me, growing up Christian, a Sunday) set aside or recognized as a day that is special and different and devoted to some type of rest or relaxation or recreation one might not engage in on a typical weekday. But—and you probably get this if you're Christian, if you grew up Christian or if you've observed the average Christian—my own experiencing “honoring the Sabbath day and keeping it holy” (which is, as many of us Christians or Jews have sadly forgotten, is an actual commandment of one of the big, serious and meaningful Ten Commandments in the Bible that God established for our own protection and well-being and for His glory)—usually looked like…
…sleeping in an extra little bit, then making sure I tried to get church (sometimes on time and sometimes not) dressed in halfway decent clothing, leaving church and spending the rest of the day doing what I felt like, including, if desired getting a haircut (forcing someone else to work on the Sabbath), going to the grocery store (also forcing someone else to work on the Sabbath), watching a football game (definitely causing a lot of people to work while simultaneously representing a giant freakin' distraction from truly dwelling upon peaceful rest in God on the Sabbath), catching up on random bits of work I forgot to do on Friday and Saturday or work that might make Monday easier (c'mon, it's not that much, just a little bit here and there, you know, a few e-mails and what-not), or perhaps visiting a nice restaurant in the evening or hitting the ski resort with the family (you guessed it, resulting in a requirement for the waitress at the restaurant and the guy making the chili-cheese fries on the ski slopes to also work—*ahem*—break one of the Ten Commandments that happens to be laid out alongside murder and adultery, namely, not setting aside one day of the week for refreshing oneself and connecting more deeply to our Creator).
Does that sound like a holy, set-aside day of peace and rest to you? To me, it sounds like a feeble attempt at creating a bit of comfortable, selfish recreation on a random seventh day of the week, but that's about it.
What first got me convicted and thinking about this topic was not the interview with Aubrey and Alex above, but rather a chapter from a book I've been taking my sons through each Monday night. The book is “Disciplines of A Godly Man“ by Kent Hughes, and the topic of three chapters ago was “The Discipline of Worship.” In the chapter, Kent described how so many men fail to ensure their family gets an adequate and restful night of sleep on Saturday night prior to Sunday worship; fail to get the family out the door on time for church; fail to pay attention to the music or really, truly listen to the sermon, often simply moving their lips and perhaps nodding their head, perhaps scrolling on their phone, fully there at church in the body and sometimes in the head but rarely in the heart.
I know I've certainly found myself not giving adequate forethought to what I schedule on a Saturday night that could potentially leave me bleary-eyed on my day of peaceful rest; still wiping smoothie shards from Sunday breakfast off my face while frantically glancing at my watch and realizing church starts in ten minutes; allowing my mind wander to Monday's tasks during the singing and then perhaps whipping out my phone a few times for just an occasional “harmless” glance during the sermon, and generally going about the rest of Sunday after church often catching up on quick bits of work or at least thinking of or planning work, glancing at my phone in my free time and banging out a few e-mails, visiting a movie theatre or restaurant or another venue that forces someone else to break the Sabbath, and generally thrusting one big giant middle finger at the idea that this is truly supposed to be a really, really sacred day and a glimpse of our eternal existence.
That last bit, the part about the glimpse of our eternal existence, is important, and I'll get to that shortly. But before I do, I must tell you that after my conviction when reading Kent's book, I began to lay out my Sunday clothes on Saturday night, wake early enough on Sunday for self-care and nourishment without being rushed, turned to my Bible and the sermon notes during the sermon, and began to analyze everything I do or participate in on a Sunday through the lens of whether it is causing me to engage in work or forcing others to engage in work. Frankly, Sundays instantly became an even more magical, meaningful, and special day of the week for my entire family.
Doesn't it sound kind of socially restrictive to not watch a football game or go to the grocery store or see a matinee movie on a Sunday?
Yeah, I'll admit, it is a bit restrictive and definitely very inconvenient.
Yet…nobody said living an existence that acknowledges the sacredness of time and space, obeys the requests of a deity Creator, and values the soul and spirit above the flesh and the blood in exchange for pleasures forevermore in eternity was going to be some kind of walk in the park. See, you're either in, or you're out. There's no halfway, kick-the-tires, one-foot-in-one-foot-out, “I'm not going to cheat or murder or lie but I just don't know about that Sabbath bit” approach.
What is good to know is that if you do decide to keep the Sabbath in the way it was intended to be kept, there are definite benefits. I'll share a few with you now, before revealing some of the beautiful gems that I discovered within the pages of the book The Sabbath.
Five Benefits Of Keeping the Sabbath
A recent paper entitled “‘Re-souling daily life’ – towards a restored spirituality of the Sabbath as a cure for ‘societal madness’” describes how in a world of busyness bordering on “madness” (referring here to fanatical and foolish behavior and not to mental illness per se), technological disruption and dominance, and constant, unreflective distraction, activity, and information overload, a renewed spirituality of the Sabbath is essential for a flourishing, fulfilling and spiritual life, for both children and adults.
Another study co-authored by professor Jerry Lee of the School of Public Health at Loma Linda University investigated the correlation between Sabbath-keeping and mental health and well-being. According to the research, refraining from so-called “secular activities” on the Sabbath was associated with superior mental health and physical health.
Why does it seem that God actually knew what He was doing when He raised the idea of following a day of rest, and also practiced it Himself? I can think of five reasons.
First, the Sabbath allows you to have at least one day of the week to “go deep” with God. What do I mean by that, exactly? Well, although I meditate, pray, and study the Bible for 20-30 minutes every other day of the week, on Sundays I give myself the permission and time to be with God for as long as I want. As a result, Sundays are a day on which I might do a very long 50-70 minute breathwork session followed by prayer and meditation, devote a full hour or two to music, singing, songwriting, praise, and worship, or go on a very long walk while listening to multiple sermons. In the same way that I used to have one “big training day” when training for Ironman triathlon, a day on which I'd clear the schedule of everything else and I'd often swim two to three miles, bike for 50-100 miles, and run for ten to fifteen miles (all in one day!), Sundays can serve as a “big training day” for spiritual fitness and deep time with God.
While that may seem exhausting, it really isn't.
Paradoxically perhaps, it's quite refreshing.
That leads me to the second benefit of the Sabbath: it provides for necessary and deep rest and relaxation for the brain and body, assuming you've worked your arse off the other six days of the week so that you really, really need and appreciate and savor that rest on Sunday. If you're half-assing your work on the weekdays while telling yourself you have that extra day (Sunday) to catch up on the weekends, it's like a fitness protocol with zero rest periods, and “junk training” spread throughout the entire year. It's not a smart way to train. The body responds to fast-feast cycling, work-recovery cycling, and workday-Sabbath day fluctuations. One day of rest for your body and brain is just as important as the days of rest you might insert after a tough workout. Should you exercise on a Sunday? Well, that's not necessarily “forbidden” if the purpose of that exercise is focused on rest and refreshment, such as a nature hike, a deep sauna sweat, or a long swim in the river. But if it's for the purpose of putting a notch in your hat to be ready for your next Ironman triathlon or fitness competition, you should probably reconsider your priorities. You can also think about this from a dietary standpoint: rather than eating the same amount of calories every single day of the week, 365 days a year, you should consider the fact that your gastrointestinal tract, your cells, and your biology, in general, respond best to days or periods of hefty nourishment and calories, followed by days or periods of “giving your gut a break.” So don't junk-train, don't junk-feed, and don't junk-work. Work hard, train hard, eat well, rest well. If you're anything like me, your productivity and creativity will skyrocket when you give your body and mind a big break once a week.
Next, the Sabbath day is perfect for feasts, dinner parties, and devoted time with friends and family that might be more difficult to arrange on other busier days of the week. Our own family has derived significant amounts of joy, celebration, singing, worship, service, hospitality, connection, relationships, and general together-ness by reserving several Sundays per month to invite people from all walks of life into our home for relaxed dinner parties with no agenda aside from simply savoring good food and company. I encourage you to consider doing the same, even if you've never hosted a dinner party before. Not to give a shameless plug, but I did write an entire cookbook, and in it, along with many great recipes for such dinner parties, I include more thoughts on how rewarding, meaningful, and beneficial it is to “break bread” with others, so to speak (you may also enjoy my friend Keith Ferrazzi's book “Never Eat Alone“).
Fourth, a well-kept Sabbath nearly forces stillness and slowness into an otherwise hectic lifestyle FOR which period of boredom, nothingness, and pure daydreaming can be difficult to do or to justify. Think about it this way: if you are truly keeping the Sabbath, will you be running from work to various errands during the week, shuffling your children to sporting events, randomly squeezing in e-mail checks throughout the day, waiting in lines in traffic, at the grocery store, or for your Sunday afternoon haircutting appointment? Just imagine if one day of the week involved no scheduled or planned activities aside from those centered around worship, relaxation, recreation, celebration, and feasting. If it's humming away at the back of your mind as you are reading this that such a practice will suck precious time out of your schedule, and you have no clue how you are going to set aside one day of the week for doing nothing that is seemingly “productive,” I have two things to tell you: 1) trust God, let go, surrender, and then just see what happens (you'll be quite surprised at how the God of time and space somehow, magically, fabricates more time and space for you); 2) treat this the same way that busy, driven, stressed folks who are advised to meditate should treat meditation, and I think the saying goes something like this: “if you don't have time to meditate, then you need to meditate.” I have yet to meet a single person who regrets adopting a meditation practice, and I have yet to meet a single person who tells me that they wish they could work more on the Sabbath because they need more free time. Paradoxically, not doing nothing on a Sunday doesn't free up time to give you less stress on your weekdays, but rather leads to burnout and physical, mental, or spiritual exhaustion (was that enough double negatives for you?).
And finally, there are elements of stoic temperance, self-mastery, and self-control you will learn or be reintroduced to when you embrace the idea of self-imposed limits for a day of the week. As opposed to an externally imposed limit, such as your office shutting down for the day so you literally have to get in your car to drive home from work; your workout with a personal trainer or fitness app ending after sixty minutes; the food just not being there on the table so you can't eat any more; you not being able to buy anything else because your budget dictates you cannot spend any more money, or your TV show or book ends when it has reached the final conclusion, keeping the Sabbath dictates that you must make the decision for yourself whether you are going to work or not, and that takes some mental fortitude.
Admittedly, it is much harder to engage in this self-imposed limit when we live in a society where there are ample opportunities to break the Sabbath, but if you're currently questioning whether you “have what it takes” to defy the status quo and begin to keep the Sabbath the way it was meant to be kept, I would encourage you to look a tiny section of the Bible in Philippians 4:13. Did you read it? Good. Hopefully, now you get it: you're not in this alone. And if it gives you any consolation or offers you any solidarity, please know that I'll be over here in my tiny pocket of the Inland Northwest fighting the same battles you're fighting and resisting the urge to accept an invite to an afternoon football game watching party that all my friends are going to, but I am not, because I have decided to choose future glory rather than to commit a mortal sin against my Creator.
In addition to the blessings we have been promised for following God's law, not because we have to but because we love Him so much that we want to, the benefits of Sabbath-keeping I've listed above are just a few that I can think of. Perhaps you can think of others. If so, leave them in the comments section below.
Now don't get me wrong: Jesus clearly states in the book of Matthew that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.“
Therefore, while it's good to know all these benefits of keeping the Sabbath, your biggest reason for setting aside one day of the week to keep as holy should not be so that you live longer or feel better or experience more productivity or better sleep or anything like that. It should simply be—as I alluded to above—because you love God and desire to honor the sacred relationship with the Creator of the universe by acknowledging that you are not only created in His image, but also deeply desire in your heart to create as He created, with a day of rest and rejuvenation included in your creation process, so that you may be most fully satisfied in Him and give Him all the glory and love and worship this practice of Sabbath-keeping will ultimately enable you to give.
Think about it this way: it's kind of like how we know that the practice of serving others carries along with it a host of biological benefits, including better heart health, lower risk of chronic diseases such as Alzheimer's and diabetes, and a generally longer life, but your core desire for going to help your neighbor move their couch shouldn't be to make your telomeres shorter or have a healthier heart or smoother skin, but rather because you love your neighbor and deeply desire to assist a fellow human being, whether or not you get anything out of it yourself.
What I Learned From The Sabbath
Finally, I'd be remiss not to return to addressing the book that I mentioned at the beginning of this post: The Sabbath, by Abraham Joshua Heschel.
In the book, Heschel argues that our modern Western life is dominated by an obsession with space—namely, with building, mastering, and conquering things of space. But Heschel writes that life turns dim “when the control of space, the acquisition of things in space, becomes our sole concern,” calling us to instead reconsider our priorities and relax our attachment to “thinghood” while shifting our attention to the “thingless and insubstantial” reality of time.
Most notably, he describes the Sabbath day as an actual “palace in time,” whose architecture is built through a blend of intentional abstentions (refraining from business dealings, long-distance travel, etc.) combined with acts of prayer, worship, study, joyous feasts, and interaction with loved ones. This offers us the opportunity to retreat temporarily from our work-a-day routine, from the world of what Heschel calls “space consciousness,” and to enjoy the manifold gifts of creation in a deeper and more profound manner than we do on other days. The book explains how the Sabbath not only offers us an opportunity for weekly spiritual communion, but also has the potential to help shape the way we live the other six days of the week, meaning that we can not only view it as a day of much-needed rest from six days of work, but also as a day to warm us up, fuel our engines and prepare us mentally, physically and spiritually to be as impactful as possible when Monday begins. It's almost as though the Sabbath is both a “cool-down” and a “warm-up” all at once.
So what does Heschel mean exactly when he says the Sabbath day is a palace in time?
He explains that the Bible is more concerned with time than with space. It sees the world in the dimension of time. It pays more attention to generations and events than to countries and to things, and it is more concerned with history than with geography. While the deities of other peoples were traditionally associated with places or things, the God of Israel was the God of events: the Redeemer from slavery, the Gifter of salvation to the world, and the Revealer of absolute morality and truth, manifesting Himself in events of history rather than in things or places.
Sabbath-keeping, therefore, teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, and to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year. The Sabbaths we savor throughout the year are the great cathedrals of God—a holy shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn and a shrine that even apostasy cannot easily obliterate.
Admittedly, this is a radical departure from accustomed religious thinking. The mythical, pagan mind would expect that after heaven and earth have been established, God would create some kind of a fancy, beautiful holy place, like a holy mountain or a holy spring or a holy oasis, whereupon a sanctuary such as a magnificent cathedral could be established. Yet it seems as if to God it is holiness in time, the Sabbath, which is more important than any holiness of space.
In other words, the meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space and bastardization of time, and then, on the Sabbath, we instead become attuned to holiness in time. It is on this day that we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to catch a glimpse of what it means to not have a care in the world when it comes to time, because we are suddenly cast into the infinite reflection of the glory of an eternal afterlife in Heaven.
Heschel goes on to note that…
…”Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else. Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate the self.”
…”Man is not a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of his work…The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of Sabbath. It is not an interlude but the climax of living.”
So the Sabbath as a day of abstaining from work is not a depreciation of labor but an affirmation of labor, and a divine exaltation of and head nod to the dignity of our work. “Thou shalt abstain from labor on the seventh day” logically leads to the conclusion that is actually a sequel to that command: “Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work.” So it's back to what I said earlier: keeping the Sabbath is a way to “work hard,” then “rest hard.” Heschel notes that “to set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily turned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of detachment from the vulgar, of independence of external obligations, a day on which we stop worshipping the idols of technical civilization, a day on which we use no money, a day of armistice in the economic struggle with our fellow men and the forces of nature—is there any institution that holds out a greater hope for man’s progress than the Sabbath?”
Once again, paradoxically, we can see that Sabbath-keeping via a day of pure, unadulterated rest ultimately leads to better work, better productivity, better inventiveness, better creativeness, and a deepened ability to make maximum impact in the world with your life's purpose. I suppose, in that sense (not to sound trite), keeping the Sabbath is the ultimate life hack.
Heschel also explains that the word Menuha, used in the book Genesis to describe the rest that God took after the six days of creation, designates a very special sort of rest. Menuha means much more than withdrawal from labor and exertion, more than freedom from toil, and more than removal of strain or stressful activity of any kind. Menuha is not a negative concept (e.g. stop doing work) but is rather something real and intrinsically positive. What was created on that seventh day? Tranquility, serenity, peace, and repose. Menuha is the same as happiness and stillness, and the same as peace and harmony. It's basically the same type of peace we will experience when living in heaven for eternity. It is, therefore, the deepest, most heavenly rest imaginable that we can experience if we truly keep the Sabbath as it was meant to be kept.
The heaven that you and I will experience in the afterlife is Sabbath eternal, and the seventh day, a day in which we put time on pause and recognize the sacredness of time, offers us a tiny glimpse of that heavenly eternity. The Sabbath was gifted to us as a foretaste of the world to come: a token of eternity.
As Heschel writes in the very last sentence of his book…
…“eternity utters a day.”
So what thoughts are going through your head right now?
Do you plan on doing a better job keeping the Sabbath?
If the Sabbath gives you a glimpse of what heaven will be like and you are actually able to create a tiny taste of heaven on earth once every week, what does that Sabbath day here on earth—meaning the one that you create in your own existence and household and community—actually look like? And more importantly, is it the kind of heaven you would want to spend an eternity in? Or is it “just another day”?
Do you plan on experimenting with what actually happens when you actually take a day off, and break your possible addiction to constant hyper-productivity, perhaps letting go of the conveniences of treating the Sabbath kinda-sorta like most other days, with just a little extra downtime thrown in, unless you have a whole bunch of stuff to catch up on or a really good game is on TV?
Do you plan on tucking this article away, saving it on your Kindle, marking it as “read later,” and then perhaps forgetting about it because, well, let's admit that it's an inconvenient, uncomfortable, and painful reminder of how much we may have failed in keeping one of the Ten Commandments?
If you're a Christian, and this is really important, do you plan trading in your conscience today to instead worship Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Mary J. Blige, and two golden calves in the shape of a Ram and a Bengal?
Or do you plan on rising to the occasion, strapping on your spiritual armor, fully relying upon the sufficiency granted by God that you are promised in 2 Corinthians 3:5 (where we are told that laws and letters like the Ten Commandments are impossible to follow without His help) and being that one person who creates ripples of change through your family, your church, your community, and your city because you decided to put your foot down and see what happens when you actually obey God?
Pipe in below if you have your own thoughts to add, and also pipe in below if you plan to renew your commitment to honoring the Lord's day, keeping it holy, and, as Heschel says in his book, allowing “eternity to utter a day.”