My grandmother’s eightieth birthday celebration began as most of our family reunions do—with a Friday evening worship session. As the sun descended below the horizon, 13 of us from across Canada and the US—one great-grandchild, six young adult grandchildren, four children and two sons-in-law—converged on my aunt’s cosy living room to welcome in the biblical Sabbath.
After a busy week of travel and preparation for the special event, we finally had a moment of spiritual and physical rest. Even family members who were no longer regular churchgoers appeared relaxed and happy as we sang well-loved hymns, read a passage from the Bible and prayed for one another. The familiar scene culminated in hugs as we wished one another “Happy Sabbath”, setting the tone for a weekend celebrating an amazing life.
Being raised in a Seventh-day Adventist home, Sabbath observance was a given. Every week, from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, my family and I would refrain from work (paid employment, study, housework) and secular activities, including sports, shopping, watching TV or reading non-religious books. Our Sabbaths typically included family worship on Friday and Saturday evenings, church attendance on Saturday, lunch as a family or occasionally with other families, and physical rest.
Growing up, while I enjoyed aspects of the Sabbath—such as the increased family time and seeing my peers at church—it often felt like a routine; a list of “can’t dos”. However, as life grew more complicated once I left home, I came to see the beauty of the Sabbath, a reflection of Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28 (NLT*): “Come to me, all you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” I came to crave the Sabbath—a time to set aside stresses and rest in Jesus’ love.
These days, working full-time as a communications professional and living solo, my Sabbaths vary widely—from a quiet Friday night at home and attendance at a local church, to a packed weekend attending special church services or events. To understand a broader spectrum of Sabbath experiences, I interviewed friends from different walks of life—Fifa, a single 20-something media professional; and three women in their 30s and 40s—Aimee, a graphic designer married to a pastor; Pastor Liz, co-director of Family Ministries with her husband at a regional headquarters of the Adventist Church; and Ladine, a high school teacher whose husband is a financial counsellor—all married mums with kids. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Avoid a perfectionist attitude. To gain a sense of peace during the Sabbath, it’s best to prepare as much as possible before sunset on Friday—cleaning the house, ironing and setting out clothes, preparing food and snacks, etc. However, your pre-Sabbath preparations may fall short. As Ladine says, “You feel the challenge of the deadline and sometimes can’t get everything done ahead of time.” Remember that the Sabbath was not meant to be a burden; it was created for our benefit. As Jesus stated, when questioned about healing on the Sabbath, “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
2. Accept that your Sabbath experience may be more stressful, depending on your stage of life. All three mums admitted that Sabbaths with very young children can be difficult. Aimee, who has two boys, Sky and Hero, ages seven and nine, respectively, and a one-year-old daughter, Cassia, described spending much of the Sabbath caring for her kids, particularly her baby girl, so her husband can focus on his ministry—Sabbath is the busiest day of the week for him! This means she’s usually up at 6.30 am so she can get the kids organised. Whatever your situation, remember that while the Sabbath may not always be restful, “[God’s] power is made perfect in [our] weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). For stressed-out mums, that’s a message worth remembering at almost any time!
3. Curb technology by replacing it with other activities. Like many of us, in his professional and personal life, Fifa spends a lot of time on the internet. On the Sabbath, he makes a concerted effort to change his thoughts from everyday things to spiritual matters. He’s found, though, that when he tries to forfeit his usual weekday activities without replacing them with something else, it’s hard to keep from relapsing into those activities. Thus, he reads spiritual books on Sabbath instead of going online—“it refills my spiritual energy and helps me refocus,” he says. Ladine and her family are also increasingly seeking the “discipline of disconnection” with activities such as visiting nursing homes, sharing their faith or going for walks.
Disconnecting weekly helps us better filter what we view online, as per the ancient, but surprisingly apt words of Psalm 119:37: “Turn my eyes from worthless things, and give me life through your word.”
4. Celebrate the beauty of God in nature. Fifa recalls going for family Sabbath walks along the beach in his native Madagascar. While he now lives in the much colder climate of Canada, he still goes on hikes with friends on occasion. Ladine, her husband and kids are taking more walks as a family, where they can actively learn in God’s creation. She notes that it’s one thing to read in the Bible how God cares for the sparrows (Matthew 10:29), but quite another to watch a sparrow in real life and wonder at how God can provide for such a delicate creature. For her, a key purpose of Sabbath is to encourage us to acknowledge God as Creator (see Revelation 14:6,7).
5. Commemorate the Sabbath in community. “Hero loves going to church and seeing his friends,” says Aimee of her nine-year-old. She hopes all her children will experience what she did growing up—lifelong bonds with church friends who became family. Living alone, Fifa especially appreciates his church’s weekly Sabbath shared lunch, which often includes birthday celebrations. As a fairly new vegetarian, he appreciates the wide range of delicious vegetarian foods offered—typical of many Adventist churches. It’s also a welcome opportunity to socialise with friends he doesn’t see during the week. Hebrews 10:25 states, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”
If you grew up with the Sabbath, it’s easy to take it for granted, yet it is an invaluable gift given by a God who cares about our relationships and our health. And Sabbath has proven benefits! Researchers who traversed the globe to study populations with large numbers of centenarians and overall better health discovered that the largely Seventh-day Adventist-populated Loma Linda, California, is a Blue Zone—one of only five regions worldwide known for longevity. Moreover, in this study and others, the Sabbath, including resting from weekly activities and attending religious services, was found to promote better mental and physical health.
Finally, Sabbath is not about rules; it’s about relationships. Ladine said her love for the Sabbath has grown as she’s grown closer to God. “In this world of anxiety, overwork and stress, the Sabbath is an antidote—on a physical, spiritual and emotional basis. The Sabbath reminds us that when God created the world, He carved out a specific time for a cessation of work so He could connect with us. Sabbath observance is a love walk with a Saviour who’s given us so many gifts.”
Christelle Agboka heads up the communication department for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Ontario, Canada.
* Bible verses in this article are taken from the New Living Translation, copyright © 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois.