We don’t often think about this, but while we connect Sabbath to the creation story – on the 7th day, God rested – Sabbath was not part of the practice of the Hebrew people until after they were brought out of slavery in Egypt. We don’t know what their exact routines were before becoming an enslaved people in Egypt, but since they started as a family unit doing agricultural work, and were free, they likely had rest and leisure incorporated into their regular routines. (Even the hard work of farming has times when you have done all the work you can do, and must take a break.)
Upon leaving Egypt, the Hebrew people had grown from an extended family to a nation of people. And it was a nation of people who had only known hard work every day, on someone else’s schedule, not their own. They were a people without a rhythm of freedom.
Sabbath comes as a revelation. Even in the wilderness, God helps the people learn these new rhythms of freedom. They were a people who only knew fear. Their fear had caused them to wander for even longer than they had hoped. And perhaps they needed that time to completely shake off the fears of not having enough, of dying, of truly living, before they could live settled lives where they decided when and how they would work and rest.
In the wilderness, they had only God and each other. The 10 commandments Moses brought to the people and the laws stemming from those commandments are centered around the main themes to love God and love each other.
Planning our sabbath time is often centered around our personal needs and schedules, rather than being seen as a communal affair, but from its very beginning it has been a work of the people. Or, the rest of the people. And if we think about it, we truly need each other to make Sabbath a reality in our lives. In order to not simply fall into the same routine of every other day of our lives we have to communicate how we are changing our rhythms. We have to say no to some things people might want us to do that does not fit into the rhythm of Sabbath. And we should invite others to share our Sabbath.
God created us to be in relationship with other people, and not to do everything alone. Only in community could the Israelites learn to be free, help each other break the bonds of fear. Our Sabbath practice should not exclude our loved ones, but include the needs of those around us, and encourage one another to take a break and enjoy time with one another. Sabbath should be centered on God and God’s will for us to be whole in body, mind, spirit and relationship, which may look different than what we think we need.
Hugh Hollowell, the founder of Love Wins Ministries in Raleigh, NC, wrote about missing his friends. As he was dreaming of and beginning to build Love Wins, a ministry that works with and has created a community among and for people experiencing homelessness in Raleigh, he drew support, comfort and creativity from regular one-on-one meet-ups and conversations with various people who are now friends. As Love Wins was growing and successful in many ways, Hugh realized he hadn’t been taking the time to connect to these friends in the same ways. And he missed them. As Hugh says, it isn’t just the friendship connections, but that not taking the time to simply meet up and talk affects his work life, as these conversations helped create what Love Wins is today. If we don’t take time to step away from our regular, and important, routines, we wither.
You don’t have to throw a big party every week to celebrate Sabbath (introverts are breathing sighs of relief), but perhaps there is someone in your life you haven’t seen in a while that you would like to spend time with. You might have an activity your family enjoys doing that you never seem to have time for – take time to do that activity and simply be together. Don’t miss those connections – recreate them in your Sabbath time.