Baggage about the Sabbath

As I continue to work on The Sabbath Year, I’ve been collecting a list of objections people have to the idea or practice of Sabbath. These are things I’ve heard personally, statements I’ve read in other books on Sabbath, or things I’ve even told myself as our family engages and resists this strange weekly rhythm we have chosen to adopt. I hope to address some or all of these in the book in some form or another.

Do any of these statements resonate with you?

What would you add to this list?


Sabbath is so legalistic.

It’s not relevant for our time. Sabbath is a relic of a bygone era.

I don’t have time.

I’m fine. I’m happy.Β I don’t need to do that.

We observed the Sabbath when I was a kid. It was SO boring. I swore I’d never do that again.

I’d rather not spend a day doing faith-based activities, quietly reading the Bible, etc.

My kids would never agree to it.

My teenagers would never agree to it.

We’re not Jewish and we shouldn’t co-opt their practice.

I already make time to rest from my work and don’t need a fancy title for it.

People who have time to take Sabbath rest obviously don’t have enough to do.

The problems in the world go on—there is too much to be done already, how can you sit around and “be spiritual” while there is suffering happening that you could be a part of the solution for?

You can rest when you’re dead. Life is too short.

The seven-day week is a false construct. Rest when you need to, not when the calendar tells you to.

Technology means you can work when you want and rest when you want—taking a whole day is a false construct. Be more fluid and intuitive about when you need to work and rest.

It shows a lack of sensitivity to the needs of others—face it, sometimes people need you on that day. The vast majority of the world doesn’t observe Sabbath—they’re just going to see you as selfish if you’re not available.

Sabbath is a practice of privilege—other people have to work at those times—how can you enjoy that time of rest when other people don’t have that luxury?

Sabbath just creates more work. I spend the day before getting ready for it and the day after cleaning up from it.

Of course you can do this, your kids are young. They aren’t in that many activities yet.

Your kids will miss out on opportunities to play sports, do drama/speech team, marching band, etc. They won’t get into college because you’ve had to say no to these extracurricular activities.

That’s what vacation is for.

That’s what retirement is for.

Kids are constant work, so you might as well embrace it. Life with kids is work no matter what you do.

My kids are very active and energetic. They’d be in all kinds of mischief if we all just sat around all day.

21 thoughts on “Baggage about the Sabbath

  1. Lisa Daross says:

    I second the remarks about kids and activities. Mostly we hear “Sorry, my child can’t come to church/confirmation/Sunday School because of a (insert sport here) game/practice/scrimmage.”

    Also – I work on Sunday, sorry. Can’t make it to church.
    8am service is too early…10:45service kills the whole day…church is too long…

    And that’s just excuses for missing worship – not even addressing an entire day of rest!

  2. anne says:

    the list raises lots of questions in my mind about what you personally allow yourself and your kids to do on your sabbath day. what’s in and what’s out? inquiring minds . . .

    • MaryAnn says:

      Anne, last week I was working on a list called “10 ways to think about the Sabbath,” which discusses ways of defining work and Sabbath activity. I’ve found that these definitions and boundaries can shift over time. I’ve been encouraged to expand that list to 10 essay-like pieces that will be in the book. So… yes. That’s something I’m working on clarifying.

      But generally speaking we are very inclusive and permission-giving. It is NOT a day of pious activity. We let the kids follow their own interests throughout the day, though we limit their TV watching. They play, they read, they do art projects. And the adults are pretty much the same—we play, we read, we do projects πŸ™‚

      One other thing—because we spend so much of our week having to shoo our kids from here to there and be places at certain times, we are very reluctant to do time-specific things on the Sabbath, even if they are recreational. So we’d go to the zoo, but probably not the movies. But that’s not absolute either.

      But I’m glad you’re intrigued by that question of because that’s really what the book is about.

      • anne says:

        don’t know if you follow basketball, but will you watch the semi-finals of the ncaa men’s basketball tournament on saturday. (i think i recall that’s when you do your sabbath.)

        i often skip ‘list-making’ on sunday (which is my sabbath day). i think it must by waaaaay harder w/ 3 young children. and if they join sports teams then watch out!

  3. sherry says:

    I want to know if Sabbath is like many other “rules” in the Bible….did it originate from a tradition or need of Biblical times?

  4. Sue says:

    interesting on the comment that Sabbath creates more work…I have tried sitting in my house relaxing and not doing anything “productive”. be it family activity, reading, etc. Many times I end up more stressed the next day b/c I have to do 4 loads of laundry instead of 2, etc. SO, any benefit I gained seems lost in the stress of catch up (or a crazy day of “prep” before hand). I guess I’d be curious like Anne asked – what’s in and out? Does it have to be a whole day? I personally seem to gain more from “Sabbath time” each day. I think it helps me keep a better attitude than putting it all in one “all or nothing” day.

    • MaryAnn says:

      Indeed, Judith Shulevitz writes in her book, The Sabbath World, that “Sabbath seems designed to make our lives as inconvenient as possible” πŸ™‚

      I can relate to what you’re saying. And I really hope my book isn’t about “have to.” It really is a description and exploration of our family’s experience.

      To your question though, I’m of two minds on it and am still working it out myself. First, after doing this for some time now, I *don’t* feel more stressed the next day with having more to do. I feel *less* stressed because I took time to truly rest. Real rest, not just the minimum amount of rest to gear up and be productive again. Daily Sabbath time does seem to work for some people, and I do some of that too, and who am I to say what’s right? But for me at this stage it feels inadequate without a longer stretch of time each week or so. I end up feeling like Lightning McQueen, making a much-needed pit stop but saying, “No tires, just gas!” I need an extended time in Radiator Springs. (Yes, I am the mother of a three-year-old boy)

      On the other hand, the Sabbath isn’t really about rest and rejuvenation, at its core. That’s a by-product, sometimes, but not the primary purpose. The primary biblical purpose as I see it is to put away the idol of control and power and this sense that WE run the show. We do not. Are we really so, so very indispensable that we have to be “on” every single day of our lives except vacation, sickness and when we just plain crash?

      In that sense it reminds me of tithing. We basically tithe my income to the church and then give to other organizations on top of that, but we have not hit 10% overall, though it’s something we aspire to. But people I know who tithe do it as an act of faith that God provides what is needed. And they find that they have what they need. Sabbath feels like a “time tithe” to me.

      That’s the theory, anyway. Do I do work sometimes on my Sabbath? Yes, sure, but there’s a bright line I try to respect. So for example, I did fold two small baskets of clean clothes on Saturday because folks needed them… but I didn’t put them away, people just grabbed what they needed from the stack. And a minor work kerfuffle erupted as well, and I responded, but I did the absolute bare minimum response to diffuse it until the next day. There was way more I could have done at the time but I triaged and let it go.

      I am loving these questions/responses… they are very helpful to spur my thinking.

  5. Becca Messman says:

    Here’s one I have heard – might fit into one of your “construct” categories: Sabbath is a state of mind. I can do my work, take kids to activities, go to church or not, and still feel close to God.

    • MaryAnn says:

      Becca—excellent. Yes! And I must admit, I have felt that sense of ‘flow’ myself. But I don’t find it sustainable without regular trips to the well πŸ™‚

  6. Lee says:

    I’ve wrestled with the conflict between resting and doing work that doesn’t absolutely have to be done but would enhance my life – like home improvement projects. I could spend Saturday afternoon resting and playing, or I could paint the bathroom or go shopping for a patio table so we could enjoy our back yard.

    That kind of work doesn’t have the same deadlines and pressure as my job, or as the daily routine of cooking, laundry etc. But if I always forgo those bigger, less necessary projects in favor or resting/playing, they never get done. On the other hand, time for play and rest is hard to come by…

    • MaryAnn says:

      So excellent, Lee. Robert and I talk about this a LOT.

      Running off to add “all of my Blue Room readers” to the book acknowledgements page πŸ˜‰

  7. Martha Fein says:

    I can’t find the actual reference, but I know that there was a classical criticism (I think by a Roman, but I’m not sure) about how “those people” waste one entire day in rest. There’s nothing new under the sun. πŸ™‚

  8. Keith says:

    My main objection (besides a general-purpose “Why?”) is that it’s not compatible with survival right now. Sometime Saturday off would merely be an inconvenience; other times it would be the difference between losing and keeping an important source of income–and by extension, losing or keeping the apartment.

    CARS 2 coming in June!

  9. I’m not married, don’t have kids, and I don’t feel like I’m “on” 7 days a week. But I have taught elementary school for 15 years, and for most of those years, I worked long hours after the school day was over and on the weekends, preparing lessons, grading papers, tracking down supplies, and doing all of the little extras that made my classroom special. I would stay at school until 6 or 7 on a Friday night to make sure everything was just right for Monday morning. Call it workaholism, perfectionism, hypomania or just plain stupidity – it overtook my personal life. I finally got sick and tired of my colleagues leaving at 3:30, happily traipsing off to the next part of their day, so I just quit! I quit doing my job outside of the time for which I am contracted. There are times during the year that do require outside-of-school work (beginning of the year prep, report cards, parent conferences, etc.) but I basically gave myself a sabbath from my job – every weekday and every weekend. And I’ve truly never been happier! So, I think there’s something to the idea of taking sabbath – but maybe it looks different at different times in your life.

  10. Manya Lisse says:

    Sean and I often have non compatible schedules so we don’t often get a full family day off. I try to take one full day off a week because I feel more willing to face the annoying tasks (dishes, laundry) that suck my mental energy if I have that day. That being said, I have no control over my schedule in the hospital: Days, nights, weekends, weekdays, it is a crap shoot. So I have no fixed sabbath and sometimes I end up taking 2 half days. During our “sabbath” (time off seems too casual, using the word sabbath seems to imply a fixed day)David and I read, sing, put together puzzles, make cookies, go to the museum, tromp through the woods. Nothing that need to be scheduled unless they are wonderful and joyous – like a puppet parade this weekend. I try to do nothing that “needs” to be done. No work email, dishes or laundry, grocery or clothes shopping, working on projects that have been hanging over my head. This past weekend, David and I worked on starting the garden…until it became no longer fun and then we moved on to something else.

  11. Susan says:

    Speaking as the single mother in the apartment without reliable laundry, if we could not run errands (i.e. laundromat, grocery) on Saturday, we’d be on the department of social services hit list. I can’t keep my 4 year old out after day care for these things and Sundays are for church and church projects. I realize that sounds like a copout, but realistically, I know that the whole idea of Sabbath originally was to be a life different from enslavement–a life where the freedom to not work, to recreate, was viewed as a precious privilege. For me, a sabbath sounds like a privilege that I am unlikely to experience soon (both professionally–17 years in ministry) or on a week to week basis. TINY little first world problem right there. Tiny little whine over with—I remember growing up with a half dozen Mormon friends who practiced “family night” where once a week there was no TV, no telephone, no leaving the house, no friends over, just family from dinner to bed. As a non-Mormon it was hard to keep track of which family had family night on which night, but I find that idea–a very Sabbath-like idea sort of refreshing. No, I don’t believe that families are a particularly Christian invention or convention, but I like the idea of taking one night a week where the only thing you engage are the things in your home–even if the thing in your home is just you. In some families, they could read, but they did it in the living room together. A few families allowed for a family movie, but most did not. I don’t know. It appeals to me…..a mini sabbath from all the noise of the world.

    • MaryAnn says:

      Several of these comments are helping me flesh out the “privilege” thing. which is helpful.

      Susan, re family night, I read about a Jewish family with busy teenagers that took Sabbath on Friday nights—people could do whatever they wanted (including homework) as long as they were all together.

  12. sherry says:

    At what point will honoring the individuality of your children and their interests/beliefs/life commitments make Sabbath keeping fracture?

    I am thinking of how one of my children rides horses. He works all week to train and exercise the horse. Horse shows are on Saturdays….would he have to give that up to keep the Sabbath?

    I am thinking about my other child and her rejection of my views of religion. How would I honor her beliefs and spiritual journey and still keep the Sabbath? It seems that the boundary issues would be mind boggling.

    And, finally….I wonder if part of the need for a separate day for Sabbath in your household is because you are in the Sunday ministry profession. If those of us in the pews would/could actually keep a Holy Sunday….only worship service and the other things you describe for your Sabbath day…..why would we need/want another day?

    • MaryAnn says:

      When we did The Sabbath Project at the church I served, each family defined its own Sabbath activity. One family with three teenagers decided to all take the dog for a walk sometime during the weekend. That was the thing (and I think I can accurately add “the only thing”) that made sense given the personalities and schedules involved. And even that was hard to pull off sometimes.

      I also know a family that takes a Sunday Sabbath. One of their daughters has occasional Sunday games. Their concession was that she would participate, but that the whole family would attend to cheer her on.

      I’m generally not a fan of one-size-fits-all approaches. I think Sunday would work well for some people, but not all. In case it hasn’t been clear from my posts thus far, the Saturday approach has been our approach, but it’s not what I’m advocating for everyone.

      In fact, I’m not even sure I’m advocating anything so much as exploring and describing.

      The faith aspect is an interesting question. Our Sabbaths don’t feel all that God-focused, and in that case I really feel like it’s a practice that has broad appeal. Who doesn’t see the benefit in time for rest and play? But there’s no denying that it’s a practice that comes out of specific religious tradition(s). So I don’t know. I don’t have teenagers so I don’t know how you suddenly introduce something that hasn’t been part of the family practice before. Perhaps you can’t.

      We had some folks at the church I served who felt personally pulled toward better Sabbath-keeping but they knew their teens would be like “no way.” So I told them to just find time to do it for/with themselves. Otherwise we’re letting our children live our life for us. Of course we need to sacrifice for them, it’s what we sign up for. But letting a teen’s distaste for something be a reason for our not doing it goes beyond mere sacrifice.

      • sherry says:

        While I wholeheartedly agree that a person’s distaste for something is not a reason in and of itself to not do that something….parenting a teen requires moment by moment decisions about exactly which ditches are worth dying in.

      • MaryAnn says:

        Of course.

        This stuff is very hard to discuss in the abstract—I don’t know what you mean in practice. Yes… our kids need us, at every age, and these needs do not conform to our well-laid plans and schedules. But as a pastor, if someone who truly cared about this stuff* told me that her personal attempts at self-care/Sabbath were always (or almost always) being thwarted by her kids’ needs I would want to help her troubleshoot that. Is this a case of self-sabotage (“I don’t really deserve to have my needs met”)? Is there a different way to set boundaries for herself? Does the parent need more support than she is getting in parenting this child?

        But to your point… yes. Life happens.

        *That’s a big if. People’s needs are different. Not everyone’s wired the way I am. There are perfectly happy, productive people who never take vacation and only need 5 hours of sleep a night. I don’t get that, but good for them. This thing is not going to be a NYT bestseller and I’m OK with that…

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