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A Practical Sabbath

Recently, an article by Mark Bittman on sporadically disconnecting from technology appeared in the New York Times.

Recently, an article by Mark Bittman on sporadically disconnecting from technology appeared in the New York Times. He references a term already appearing in blogs on the web: “secular Sabbath.” In short, Bittman practices this non-religious break by taking a day each week to “unplug” from the PDA, the notebook, the RSS feeds, the text messages, the unending e-mails.

With the subject of technology on the table, it should also be noted that reports are surfacing on web addiction–people who overextend daily time for gaming, gambling, networking, blogging and shopping. Web addiction is only theory now, but research continues to build credibility.

Bittman conducted his first disconnection on a Saturday, also eliminating the television from the lineup. He characterized his early disposition by uneasiness with a twitch. However, he succeeded. He filled his open time with reading newspapers and books, a walk with the iPod, a nap, a cup of tea, a simple stare out the window. Now six months in, he summarizes his new-found clarity by saying, “I felt connected to myself rather than my computer. I had time to think, and distance from normal demands. I got to stop.”

Bittman uses the term “secular Sabbath” for one reason: no spiritual framework underscores his life. However, if someone without belief in a higher presence recognizes the importance of mental and physical rest, this is a cue for all believers. God placed it in motion. In the Genesis story, Moses writes, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” In other words, this day is unique, atypical, distinct and special. The Hebrew word for “Sabbath” is shabbat and means to cease. It is simple to forget, but taking part in Sabbath is noted in the Ten Commandments too. A pragmatic understanding of Sabbath is also good. Seven days of unending work exacts harsh toll on the mind, the body, the spirit. In turn, fatigue lingers. Frustration rises. Distress overtakes. A day for rest recharges the body in every way.

Defining and practicing Sabbath is a continuing challenge. Sabbath falls on Sunday for numerous people, a time for morning church. When the service concludes, do you ever meditate on the word “work” and the implications for the day? Do you mow the lawn, pick up groceries, wash the car, clean the house? Or do you read the paper, have brunch, take a nap, share a picnic, enjoy dinner with family or friends? The latter clearly hold merit for rest, but are chores relegated to the weekend due to lack of time? Indeed, this is tough. And, if you’re a ministry leader, Sunday may be packed full of work. Do you take another day to disconnect and stop from your labor?

Another difficulty in practicing Sabbath is the feeling that we often have to be continuously productive. A drive to be in motion is in constant conflict with a focus on sustained rest. Oddly enough, when one returns to work, days of productivity call the body into rest, retreat and refuge. This is the tension. When the kingdom is fully recognized, work is not cursed, not coupled with toil. When one completes a task requiring difficulty, overtime, sweat falling from the brow, a strong sense of satisfaction fills the spirit. King Solomon outlines this principle in the book of wisdom writing when he says, “All hard work brings profit.”

Of course, there is a danger in practicing disciplines. There’s always the potential to become consumed with the details, forgetting the spirit behind the practice. In the Scriptures, it’s amazing to watch Jesus upend regulations. Jesus reminds listeners it is important and lawful to do good on the Sabbath. Does doing good require work though? It might.

This tension is strong. Two realities pull the mind and body in distinct directions on a daily basis, two realities holding choice: work and Sabbath. The conclusion that zero work equates with happiness is incorrect. After days of rest, the mind feels the pull to be productive once more, to participate in collective collaboration. But when day after day of productivity unfolds, a simple yearning returns to the soul for rest, disconnect and peace.

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Remember, the Sabbath isn’t a harsh rule meant to enslave us, instead, it’s a refreshing means of worship, made for use to remember who’s really in control.

What are your thoughts on practicing the Sabbath today?

As a leader, do you keep a healthy rhythm that includes both work and rest?

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