This past weekend my spouse, Kip, and I agreed to observe Sabbath by not doing anything that felt like work on Sunday. We’ve been very busy lately completing some household projects and it just seems like there’s never an end to it. The weekend comes and goes, Monday arrives and we’ve had no time to rest.
When I was a pastor — which I was for 17 years — I was much more committed to Sabbath-keeping. Pastoring, like many occupations, is a job that’s never done, and recognizing the dangers of burnout (which pastors suffer from in large numbers) I was diligent about taking a day off.
In the Christian world, Sunday is the Sabbath, but for pastors of course Sunday is a work day. So I decided Friday would be my Sabbath. On Fridays I would do nothing work related. No email. No sermon preparation. No planning. No phone calls. The only exceptions were the rare pastoral emergencies or wedding rehearsals.
After I left the pastorate I became more lax about my Sabbath-keeping, in part because I felt the weight of trying to figure out what was next for me and building a container for my new vocational work. There was too much to learn and too much to do, and I no longer felt entitled to take time off.
And yet, deep down I knew that was a foolish and counterproductive way to live.
The Counterintuitive Wisdom of Sabbath-Keeping
Many years ago I heard a lecture by Marva Dawn, author of Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, and during the lecture she told an account she’d come upon in her research of a group of pioneers who set out for the Pacific Northwest on the Oregon Trail. They were a religious bunch, and each Saturday, when it was time to stop their traveling for the night, they would unhitch the mules from the covered wagons, set up camp and stay put until Monday.
But as summer waned, the days began getting shorter and the weather cooler and they started to worry that they weren’t going to make it to Oregon before the snow. Wrestling with what to do, they wondered if they should continue observing the Sabbath or just push ahead in hopes of beating the winter.
They couldn’t come to consensus, so they agreed to part ways, half of them continuing as they had been, stopping and resting each Sunday, and the others forging ahead.
Marva Dawn paused in her lecture and posed a question: “Guess which group got there first?”
The Sabbath-keepers reached their destination before those who tried to press on. Mules, Dawn pointed out, are not made to go 24-7, and neither are we.
Tech-Sabbath: A Contemporary Expression of an Ancient Wisdom
This past Sunday I decided to do more than take an ordinary Sabbath, simply refraining from anything that felt like work, and to make it a tech Sabbath as well. The computer, I decided, would be off-limits.
Technology, as we all know, is a marvelous tool that allows us to connect and learn in ways that our ancestors could never have dreamed of. And yet, as we also know, it has become one of the most invasive and demanding aspects of our lives. Ever-present, it crowds out the quieter insights and inspirations that can only come to us when we are in the peacefulness of our own inner rhythms and following the gentle leadings of our hearts.
My inaugural tech-Sabbath was wonderful, because instead of “killing time” by surfing the net or going on Facebook, as I might have been tempted to do, I did things I never would have otherwise. I sang, I knitted, I baked a batch of blueberry muffins. I even pulled out the makings of a quilt I’d put away in my closet years ago, and realized it’s a project I’d really like to finish.
What about you? Do you ever take a day away from work, or give yourself a day a week away from the computer? If not, would you be willing to give it a try? You might be surprised at the gifts it can bring.