What is Sunday For?

When I was a kid, I loved Sundays.

My mom made the same breakfast every Sunday – toast, cheese, and hot chocolate. And the hot chocolate was always served in the same little glass pitcher.

That was just how things were done on Sundays.

We always wore fancy dresses for church, and my mom would curl our hair. If she was busy, my dad would curl our hair, which is so cute to think about now. I remember thinking that when my mom curled my hair, it lasted until Tuesday or Wednesday, but my dad’s curls were looser, and only made it until Sunday night. I never really understood why that happened…

Somehow I just knew that toast, dresses, and curls were never really the point, but I always understood that Sundays were special and different. There was no mistaking that.

I loved it when my parents would nap on Sunday afternoons, and we could play for hours, without being interrupted with any requests to help with housework.

I liked it when my parents would invite company over, and I’d try to listen in to all the interesting things the adults would talk about. I listened especially carefully when they were speaking Low German, because that was the stuff I wasn’t supposed to hear. I only understood bits and pieces, but I did my best to figure out the rest.

But my most favorite, favorite part was that my dad would always be home on Sundays. He was a farmer, so especially during seeding time or harvest, he was on the field, six days a week.

But Sundays were for resting and fun.

He was always so fully present, so ready for fun with family, that it didn’t seem to matter how little we saw him during the week – we knew he was all ours on Sundays.

Sundays were a big deal for our family, when I was growing up. They were sacred. You didn’t mess with them.

I’ve tried to keep that up in our home. We wear our best clothes for church, I do as little housework or cooking as I possibly can, and Ben devotes the day to family. Sometimes we enjoy the day with friends or family. Sometimes it’s just the four of us.

But there’s more to Sundays than that. There’s more to resting, and learning how to truly do Sabbath, and I’ve been chewing on it for the last few months.

I’m reading a book called The Sabbath, by Abraham Joshua Heschel, which Ben recommended.

The Sabbath

It’s quite Jewish, which I’m not, but I think there are so many interesting ideas in this book that apply to anyone wanting to learn how to set aside a day for worship and rest.

I’m not done the book yet, and I’m not done thinking over the idea of Sabbath yet, but I get the feeling that will be a lifelong kind of thing. The book is introducing many new ideas into my thoughts:

1) We live for Sabbath.

I have always thought the point of Sabbath was to honour God, and to rest up for another new week of work.

Heschel has turned my thinking upside down, by suggesting the opposite to be true:

“The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life. Man is not a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of his work. ‘Last in creation, first in intention,’ the Sabbath is ‘the end of the creation of heaven and earth.’

The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of Sabbath. It is not an interlude but the climax of living.”

That makes a difference. If Sabbath is the climax, we’re not just taking a little break after a busy week. I think it means we live in anticipation of this beautiful gift of a day, almost like a holiday, each and every week.

“The climax of living…” I love the sound of that! So much of a difference from seeing Sundays as a legalistic kind of a day, when a guilty conscience keeps us from doing what we truly want to do.

2) Sundays are a gift to be enjoyed.

“The Sabbath is the most precious present mankind has received from the treasure house of God. All week we think: The spirit is too far away, and we succumb to spiritual absenteeism, or at best we pray: Send us a little of Thy spirit. On the Sabbath the spirit stands and pleads: Accept all excellence from me…

Yet what the spirit offers is often too august for our trivial minds. We accept the ease and relief and miss the inspirations of the day, where it comes from and what it stands for.”

I feel as though I’ve been missing the inspiration of the day. I’ve been seeing it as so much less than it really is.

Many times, I’ve been involved in discussions about what exactly Christians should use Sundays for. I’m sure you’ve heard similar thoughts:

“We’re freed from the law, we don’t have to be legalistic anymore. If you love mowing your grass and find it relaxing, then that’s exactly what you should be doing on Sundays.”

“Sabbath was made for man, not the other way around. Take that day to relax and enjoy yourself in whatever way you like best.”

When we discuss those particulars, I think we make the Sabbath about so much less than what it really is. I don’t fully understand what it all is, but I want to.

I want to learn what it means to live the whole week for Sundays. I want to see Sundays as the most important day, and I want to learn to worship better, and rest better, and see the Sabbath as a gift.

I’m getting the feeling that there’s a lot more going on here than just a debate about mowing the grass or shoveling the driveway. But it’s pretty typical to get very human about this, and think, “Look what I’m being held back from doing!” when in reality, following Jesus always means giving up something earthly and gaining all the gifts of heaven.

We think we know how to enjoy ourselves, but do we REALLY? God made us, He knows what we need, and He knows what will bring us true rest and joy. I want to learn to receive His gift, and use it well, which seems so much more important than focusing on something as trivial as mowing the grass.

3) Sabbath is about saying “No” to the things that control us all week long.

It’s our chance to separate ourselves from the things of this world, and draw near to God. We get to forget about everything from the rest of the week, and focus completely on God.

The faith of the Jew is not a way out of this world, but a way of being within and above this world; not to reject but to surpass civilization. The Sabbath is the day on which we learn the art of surpassing civilization…..

In regard to external gifts, to outward possessions, there is only one proper attitude – to have them and to be able to do without them. On the Sabbath we live, as it were, independent of technical civilization: we abstain primarily from any activity that aims at remaking or reshaping the things of space. Man’s royal privilege to conquer nature is suspended on the seventh day.

But then there’s temptation.

What becomes clear to me as I run these ideas through my head is that we are easily tricked. All week, the temptation is there to indulge myself, to rest when there’s work to be done, or to spend far too much time on the internet and allow my time and efficiency to be stolen from me. I naturally long for rest, pleasure, and enjoyment. I must always be working on managing my time well.

But on Sundays, temptation turns, and now it is tempting to spend the day working. Finally, I have a day when rest is what God desires most for me, but I’m trying to figure out how to feel okay about working, how to justify doing what I most want to do, even if it’s work.

I feel this tug of war inside of me growing stronger as I try to become more intentional about Sabbath.

I can relate completely to the many different thoughts and opinions of people who struggle with what to do on Sundays.

Some say they won’t get everything done if they don’t do it on Sunday. Or they won’t sleep if they don’t spend time working up some physical exhaustion.

But this book keeps bringing me back to the fact that God has commanded rest, it is His gift to us, and we may never fully understand it.

Do I need to understand it to do it? Will I ever really appreciate this gift until I start using it the way God intended?

And maybe I don’t fully understand what He intended, but I’ve decided to go with the fact that in the Bible, it says there was a whole lot of creating going on, and then it came to a complete stop.

So we’re trying to stop.

As an act of worship, obedience, rest, and learning.

And you know what? I think there’s a whole lot of room for figuring things out. I think we need to be in relationship with God on this day, and there isn’t a set of rules, a list of do’s and don’ts.

It’s just an adventure of figuring out how to stop, how to disconnect from the world, how to worship as we live this special day, how to anticipate it each week, because it’s going to be awesome.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts. What do you do with Sundays? Do you feel the same longing to rest during the week, and work on Sundays? And can we enjoy this day without it becoming legalistic?

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2 thoughts on “What is Sunday For?

  1. Great post! I’m going to have to read it again (when I’m not in the “clean out the inbox” mode). I know some folks who are sabbitarians and I think I could learn something from them and from what you’ve written here. Growing up, we prepared for Sunday by washing floors on our hands and knees, and yardwork but what I vividly remember is Mom baking a chocolate cake. I was always annoyed when she would do that after we finished the supper dishes! I would like to get in the habit of having Sunday breakfast and dinner in the crockpot. (We usually eat lunch out because that’s our time with David before taking him back to his dorm.) At the very least, I would like to have the meals very specifically planned with as much preparation done on Saturday as possible. I do love to read, scrapbook and sometimes nap on Sundays.

  2. Wow i never even considered what to think about Sunday. We always go to church then out to lunch and then we go home and relax the rest of the day.

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