For years, I was in denial.
My wife said I had a problem. My best friend alluded to the problem. My boss, the CEO of our company, even talked with me about my problem.
The problem: I was a workaholic.
In this series, we’re going to take a deep look at the concept of Sabbath. It’s an ancient concept, with loads of meaning, and very little understanding / adoption / practice today.
In this post specifically, we’ll look at:
What is Sabbath?
Here are a few definitions:
- a day of religious observance and abstinence from work
- kept by Jewish people from Friday evening to Saturday evening
- kept by Christians on Sundays
- Judaism’s day of rest on the 7th day of the week, i.e. Saturday
- Hebrew verb: sabbat which means to stop, cease, or keep; interpreted as rest.
Those definitions sound very technical and dictionary-like. If you want the religious law version of Sabbath, read Exodus 20:8-11. Here it is in The Message Bible:
Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work—not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; He rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; He set it apart as a holy day.Exodus 20:8-11, The Message
A quick interpretation. First, notice that the tone is not a declarative or an interrogative sentence. God isn’t just stating a thing, “Sabbaths are good for you,” implying that you would be wise to do them.
And He’s definitely not asking a question, “Would you please try to not work one day per week?”
He is giving a command. It is an imperative sentence. Do this; don’t do that. I think it’s important to notice that the positive imperative comes first. Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God.
Honestly, I think He could have stopped there. That’s pretty clear. Meaning, that if you do the positive part, you don’t need to worry about the negative part.
Of course, we rarely listen to the positive command on something. We usually need it contrasted with a negative. Because if you’re struggling to follow the positive part or if you have questions about how it works and what it means, you need some more clarity. Keep reading and it will become abundantly clear. Sure enough, there’s a lengthy negative imperative.
Don’t do any work—not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town.
Which immediately begs the question in my mind, “Why didn’t He just stop at you?”
“Hey, you! Don’t do any work.”
Instead, God takes the time to spell out who all shouldn’t be working on Sabbath. Allow me to role-play why I think He does this:
You might have a conversation with God and He asks, “So how is work and Sabbath going for you.”
You say, “You know, God, it’s going well. I’ve actually quit working on the Sabbath.”
God looks at you, looks around at your house, and asks, “Well, what’s all this hustle and bustle around the home then?”
“Ah, well God, You said I couldn’t do any work. But there’s still stuff that needs to be done around the house, so I set my kids on the task. It’s been lovely. My wife and I have taken a break, and the kids are getting all the work done.”
He gently responds, “That’s not the point, buddy. The point is that you all rest.”
“Ok, got it.”
A month later, you notice your house is going to crap every Saturday, so you hire a maid / nanny. “Here Nanny, I need you to do the chores and clean the place since my family isn’t supposed to work today.”
God says, “Buddy, you’re missing the point. No one is supposed to be working.”
“Cool, no more work will be done at this house, God,” you acquiesce.
So the next week, you take your family and head into town to enjoy food and shopping so you don’t tear up the house. Minimum wage workers are running all those places, and since they’re not your family and your home, you feel justified.
And God looks at you with compassion but firmness and says, “Not just you, Buddy. Not just your family. Not just your nanny. But everyone! Everyone should have the Sabbath off. Everyone needs a break from labor. No work across the board.”
Finally, you give up.
And because this is our nature, I want to dive into…
Why You Need Sabbath
Have you ever found yourself exhausted? Run yourself ragged? Burnt that candle at both ends?
Have you ever gotten sick and it’s like your body took two or three days to just purge itself, rest, and do absolutely nothing? Maybe it took a full week and you were completely out of commission?
If you’re an American reading this, I have a strong inclination that you fall on one of two extremes:
- You are a workaholic like I was. You rarely, if ever, rest.
- You are lazy. You barely work a couple days a week, let alone six. And you probably stopped reading this post as soon as I said that. 🙂
If you fall in the first camp, I know your life because I’ve been there.
You work from sun up to sun down at your job. After you eat dinner and say “hi” to the family, you start working again. You take your computer or phone to bed. You fall asleep checking it.
Then, you have the weekends. Supposed to be time off, but instead, you’re running kids to practices and games on Saturday mornings. You’re running all the errands to keep all the things running. You may even log on Saturday afternoon to knock out “just a couple quick things” which turns into four more hours.
On Sunday, you’d think you rest, but instead, you rush around to get kids and family ready for church. After church, there’s a group of people wanting to do something, or maybe you have another round of kid games and tournaments, or maybe the lawn needs to be mowed. When you finally sit down on Sunday evening and think about exhaling, you remember tomorrow morning you hit the ground running at work.
So you better take an hour or two to prep and get things ready for the morning. You collapse in bed on Sunday night and start work before sunrise on Monday.
Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.
It’s exhausting to write that out. It’s even more exhausting to live that out. And you do it week after week, month after month, quarter after quarter, year after year.
You do it until you eventually burn out.
Which is why you need Sabbath, and why I need Sabbath.
Why I Need Sabbath
I was the person I just described above, and I needed the ceasing from labor in a major way.
So what happened?
I lost a part of me in 2015. I went through the summer from hell, working 2 full-time jobs and a part-time job, 80+ hour weeks, even pulled a couple all-nighters. After that, I didn’t have adrenaline at the same level. Pretty sure it was all used up.
After 2015, I learned I needed more sleep. No more all-nighters, no more 80+ hour weeks, no more 5 hours of sleep. If I didn’t get 7.5 hours of sleep, I felt like garbage. And if I worked more than 50+ hours, I felt like garbage.
Taking care of myself on those two fronts, I thought I was ok for a few years. For the most part, I was. But then, it started creeping back up.
In 2021, I hit a similar wall but in a different way. I was losing my drive at work, even resenting it at times. I was frustrated and losing my temper more easily. Essentially, oscillating between work and frustration, work and frustration. If I wasn’t working or frustrated, I was asleep.
Clinically, probably, depressed.
What came to my attention was needing something I call seasonal sabbaths. I was getting daily naps and daily sleep of 7+ hours. Weekly Sabbath was hit and miss. Probably 60% hit, 40% miss. But quarterly or yearly Sabbath, aka seasonal Sabbath, was a total miss. I wasn’t taking vacations or multiple days in a row.
The rhythm of my years was still work, work, work and grind, grind, grind all year long.
I need Sabbath on the daily, on the weekly, on the quarterly, and on the yearly. Ironically, this is exactly what Dr. God prescribed. When you read the Old Testament, you learn there were/are quarterly feasts and festivals. (More on that in another post.)
This year, I’m doing those things and I’m in much better shape. Still not perfect, but healthier than ever. I’m a work in progress.
Now, if you need Sabbath, and I need Sabbath, then it follows that we all need Sabbath.
Why We All Need Sabbath
Very few people have a good rhythm to life.
Our bad rhythm as Americans became abundantly clear to me when I was in Israel a few years ago. In Jerusalem particularly, on Friday night, the city started to shut down. Lights out, literally. On Saturday, you stayed home, hardly saw any cars on the street, and nowhere was open.
Can you imagine this with me?
In America, if restaurants, shops, etc. shut down on Friday nights? If on Saturdays, there were no cars on the road?
Or, if we didn’t honor Saturday that way, what if we actually shut all the stores down every Sunday, like Chick-fil-A. Can you imagine?!
In my estimation, this would be glorious!
We, as humans, need rest. We need to cease from our labor. We are not cogs in a machine. We are not robots. Our batteries need to be recharged and changed every once in a while.
I’ll close with this, we’re all made in God’s image. And as Exodus 20 states, For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; He rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; He set it apart as a holy day.
Did you catch that? God rested.
If He needs rest, surely, we need it too.
May this article help you live a more joyful and integrated life!
Be sure to check out the rest of The Sabbath Series, as it develops.
- The Sabbath Series: What is a Daily Sabbath?
- The Sabbath Series: What is a Yearly Sabbath
- The Sabbath Series: How to Not Screw Up Sabbath
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