Sabbath and Self Care

(I shared this reflection on Feb 11 with students at Northeastern’s Asian American Center for its Self Care Week. The reflection was influenced by Tim Keller’s sermon on rest.)

The spiritual practice of sabbath taking is important to both the Jewish and Christian faith. Let me read two passages from the Bible, one from the Old Testament where God is speaking the 10 Commandments to the Jewish people, and a passage from the New Testament where Jesus is speaking to his followers.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

Exodus 20:8-11 (ESV)

Jesus picks up this theme in his teaching and he says to his followers:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

The sabbath is special because it originates in God and God’s work in the world. The Jews are called to rest because God rested. And in participating in the sabbath, the people are entering into God’s story. So the sabbath has the effect of drawing the person into a greater story than his or her own. And what makes Jesus’ teaching so compelling is that he acknowledges the human condition as being restless and burdened and he suggests that the answer to this restlessness is himself. He promises to give rest to the human soul. Saint Augustine put it this way, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

So when the Jew or the Christian stops to take a sabbath and rests from work, it challenges two assumptions that our culture believes. One, we are what we do. And second, we are in control of our lives. When a person participates in the sabbath, it proclaims an alternative reality. One, it proclaims that God is in control and God is the author of our lives. Second, it proclaims that there is intrinsic value in each person, not because of what he or she can produce, but because he or she bears the imprint and image of the Creator.

The fruit of participating in the sabbath is rest and refreshment. One can experience through the sabbath a deep soul satisfying rest, because one has found rest in God.

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