After railing on the Adventist church for a couple of weeks, it figure it was time to focus on one of the most beautiful things it has taught me: the need to take a Sabbath.
Either a lot more is being written on this subject or I’m just getting better at looking for it, but I think it’s the former. Last week I found an article with the intriguing title, “Would Jesus Christ Mind if You Flew to Paradise on a Sunday?” On the island of Aitutaki, one of the Cook Islands in the South Pacific, you find this sign:
Since 2008, there are Sunday flights, and it’s the island’s biggest controversy.
While not explicitly calling it ‘Sabbath,’ Dr. Matthew Sleeth endorses a ‘stop day’:
CNN: Why do you think taking one day off a week is so important?
Sleeth: We go 24/7 now, and I think it’s having health consequences. I think more and more, there’s a consensus that it leads to depression and anxiety.
It’s interesting, when a doctor sits down and does a primary intake with a new patient, they ask about smoking, exercise and diet, but they don’t ask how much you’re working. They don’t get any sense of if you’re working seven days a week, or if you have time set aside — like people have always had — for rest.
I think the lack of rest is reflected in our saying, “We don’t have enough time.” I think it’s pretty much generally felt that we don’t have enough time to really get to the things we want to do in life.
CNN: You write about incorporating a “stop day” into your weekly schedule. How do you think that can extend and enrich your life?
Sleeth: A “stop day” is a day you really cease from your labors. This really comes in Western cultures from the Ten Commandments. The fourth commandment tells us to remember the Sabbath. The word “Sabbath” simply means “to cease” — to cease from your labors.
Now, the definition of labor has changed over the centuries and the millennia. For some people, resting from their labors might mean resting from their sedentary job that they have, putting on tennis shoes and going for a run. For those who work physically, that would mean coming to rest.
In the book “24/6,” I don’t try to define what rest is for a person, but I ask you to figure out what work is for you, and don’t do it one day out of the week.
CNN: You go as far as to say that going full-throttle 24/7 is an illness. How do you recognize the signs?
Sleeth: I find that there’s a growing epidemic, really, of depression. We’re the most depressed country in the world.
The World Health Organization says somewhere between one in nine and one in 10 Americans are being treated for depression. We tend to work more hours than any other country in the world; Japan is second closest.
Can positive thinking make you well?
When we’re constantly going, we pour out chemicals to try to meet those stresses. We have short-term stress hormones like adrenaline, and longer-term hormones like the steroids that we pour out. Those chemicals constantly being “on” are bad for us, and they lead to anxiety and depression and to, I think, diabetes and being obese.
It’s interesting that if I took somebody in the emergency department and gave them a big slug of adrenaline, you’ll find that an hour later they’re just wiped out, and that’ll really persist throughout the day. I think that’s what we’re doing to ourselves. We’re constantly bringing stress into our life, and the idea of having one day a week that I can count on to stop is very reassuring.
Even if on Monday I’m very, very busy — and that proceeds throughout the week — if you know you have a habit of a weekly day of rest, of stopping, then you always know that’s out in front of you. A lot of people “go” and never know when it is that they’re going to come to rest.
CNN: You also say this mantra has made a big difference in your own life — for you as well as your family. How so?
Sleeth: My family and I adopted this about a decade ago. My children were in high school, and they went through high school, college — and my son even through medical school — keeping one day of rest, where they didn’t study.
They got their work done in advance. I think it actually helps you to order your life, because in preparing for that day of rest, you… actually get more things done on the six days that you are working.
So for our family, we took it very seriously. My kids really became the guardians of it when they lived at home, and they really wanted to see it happen. I think it actually helped us as a family.
I have many people that I’ve talked to now that have said that keeping one day of rest a week has been the single best thing they’ve done for their marriage, their family and their spiritual relationship.
The modern world is a funny thing: it seeks efficiency whilst creating more work and less time to do it in.
Sabbath was not my favourite day of the week when I was little. To me if was the ‘Day of No Fun.’ I had to go to church where I had to sit quietly and listen to boring sermons, and then I had to have some quiet time, which usually meant a nap. If I was at my grandparents’ house, there was (and still is) no TV. It was so boring!
But now? I crave Sabbath. That downtime on Sabbath afternoon is the best part of my week, as is that time on Friday evening when I can let the stress from the week dissipate and enjoy a quiet evening.
Yet sometimes it’s hard to rest on Sabbath. When you lead out, as I often do, it’s stressful because you end up spending Friday night trying to prepare and then you’re so busy at church that you don’t have a lot of time to enjoy the spirit of the place. Then afterwards there are other activities so by the time you get home, the sun is almost set and you haven’t rested at all. It doesn’t help that I enjoy being busy; sitting still is hard for me.
I’ve slowly been making my way through Judith Shulevitz’s The Sabbath World, which is a history of Sabbath observance combined with a personal account of how one might observe the day in the modern world. It’s a beautifully dense book, hence why it’s taking me a long time to get through it.
One concept she speaks of is the “social morality of time,” the fact that we think of time as a “mathematically netural” entity rather than a moral one (xx). After thinking about it, she’s right: how I spend my spend says a lot about my morals, doesn’t it? It says what I value and what I don’t.
Based on how I spend my time right now, there are a few things I value: family, learning, reading and writing, working, and money. I don’t spend a lot of time simply relaxing, exercising. But what about Sabbath? I don’t always rest then. And what does taking a Sabbath rest mean anyway? It’s something to think about and consider.
For me, Sabbath is a day when I don’t touch homework, when I give myself permission to disengage from the internet and my cell phone, when I try to find time to spend quietly by myself to recharge and when I spend time with family and soothe my spirit. Sure the Sabbath is a memorial to God’s creation and keeping it is a symbol of faith, but as Jesus says in Mark 2:27: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
I don’t always appreciate the way Adventists talk about Sabbath (legalism, anyone?) but I’m grateful I grew up in a faith that values a day of rest because we need it; as I get older, I appreciate it more and more. And sometimes I think the world would be much better off if we all took a day off once a week to simply rest.