“Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8)
Right now, I am not good at keeping a Sabbath in my life. Between kids and jobs and trying to sleep long enough to not look like a zombie and trying to be good at all those thing, taking a break is rough. Not to mention, when I take a break for a night from editing photos or answering emails to spend time with my family, I more often than not, find myself thinking about all the things I “should” be doing. And then when I work until all hours of the night I think about all the things I’m missing out on in the life of my family and friends. And in that tension I believe the lie that tells me I haven’t made my time holy enough.
But that isn’t what God asked of the Israelites thousands of years ago. He did not say, “Remember the Sabbath and MAKE it holy.” He said, “Remember the Sabbath and KEEP it holy.”
God gave the Sabbath as a day of rest to people who hadn’t heard of a day off ever. For 400 years God’s people were slaves in Egypt and their slave drivers weren’t about to give them Sundays off an holiday pay. The idea of a day without work was as much of an urban legend to them as the Loch Ness monster. And so in the creation story, God, the one who could have made all existence in the blink of an eye, took a rest. It was a day set apart, and that is what holy means, “set apart.” This was a gift and almost immediately, because it came down as a “law” it began to be regulated and legislated and given legalistic parameters. The emphasis changed from keeping to holy to the lie that people could make what God had created even more holy.
I once heard a story of villages of orthodox Jews in Israel that are surrounded by high walls and on top of those walls are eyelet screws with wire running through them. That wire is meant to represent a curtain rod. In truly devout Jewish traditions there are regulations on how many steps you are allowed to take outside your home before that is considered “work” since there is no “work” allowed on the Sabbath. But if your entire city is surrounded by curtain rods, and obviously you would only ever have curtain rods in your home so therefore the city is your home and you can walk where ever you like. In those same communities, chairs with three slats are considered ladders and you can’t climb a ladder on the Sabbath, so families only buy chairs with two back slats, which they can climb and still be holy. Lists like these go on and on and on.
This isn’t freedom, this isn’t what the gift of the Sabbath was for and our human attempts to make something holy that God has already made holy not only places our own bravado over the holiness of the Almighty God but it negates the gift of it all and makes holiness into work.
Throughout the scriptures God says to His people “Be holy… because I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:45) But instead of hearing that as an encouragement as a membership into a set apart people, wholly and dearly loved, we hear it in a tone of impossibility. It’s as if Heidi Klum walked up to us and said “Be skinny because I am skinny.” That would require work and self-loathing.
God’s gift of the Sabbath was as a reminder we are not slaves to our jobs, to our finances, to our food or our futures. It was the gift of time, something God created on the first day and called it good.
So, instead of believing the lie that since you can’t make your Sabbath time holy enough you shouldn’t even take it, move forward in the membership of a set apart people and know that your time is already holy. Maybe your Sabbath is resting at home or someplace beautiful, maybe it’s in the garden until your knees ache and your neck is red, maybe it’s hiking breathlessly to the top of a mountain. But if it is set apart from the push and grind of the lives we live it is already holy, our job is to keep it as such.
Ali can be reached via email here.