“And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation” (Gen. 2:2-3).
After God created the heavens and the earth, he rested. He commanded his people to do the same. The fourth commandment says, “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it” (Exodus 20:8-11). Rest is important. Ask any body builder and they will tell you that rest days are just as important as workout days. If a body builder doesn’t take rest days, then their muscles will become toned, but they won’t grow larger. If a marathon runner doesn’t take a rest the day before a race, then they won’t be ready for the main event. Football teams take a whole week off of competition between games, and they always take a few days off from practicing after a game. Our bodies and minds need time to recover, and God recognized that in the beginning of time. He doesn’t suggest, but rather commands, that we take time for something called sabbath.
There are certainly varied ways to interpret what is meant by sabbath. The English word sabbath comes to us from the Hebrew word sabbat for rest. It then made its way to English through Greek and Latin. If you speak Spanish, then you know the name for Saturday is sabado. This comes from the Latin root sabbatum. The “sabbath day” traditionally is the seventh day, the day God rested.
Some religious folks will tell you that you must honor a specific sabbath day. Orthodox Jews and Latter-day Saints fall into this camp, although their sabbath days are different. In Judaism, the sabbath remains Saturday. Latter-day Saints and other followers of Jesus Christ take sabbath time on Sunday, the day of the Lord’s resurrection. I’m not a proponent of enforcing any specific sabbath day. Some people have to work on Saturdays or Sundays. They have no choice. Hospitals must be open. Gas stations must operate. Police, fire, and paramedics need to be available round the clock. We obviously can’t all rest at the same time. But we all can take time for rest. In fact, we all should take time for rest. God told us to do so.
Priests are afforded four weeks of vacation time every year and two weeks of continuing education time. Priests are also expected to take time for retreat, prayer, and study. While you are reading this, I am on a vacation with my wife, our daughter, our grandsons, and my in-laws at Walt Disney World in Florida. While some people might balk and wonder why a priest should take so much vacation time, it is actually important for us to take sabbath time. We need to ensure we are psychologically, spiritually, and emotionally healthy so that we can then share that health with you.
Part of our ordination vows include promises to live a life that our congregations might want to emulate. So when clergy take sabbath time, we are modelling healthy behavior that we hope you shadow. While taking time for work is important, taking time for rest and recovery is equally important. We absolutely cannot be at our best if we are overtaxed and on the brink of burnout. Most clergy are not good about taking all of our vacation time. Some of that is because it is challenging to make plans that match up with the lives of our spouses. Some of it is because it’s hard to leave our congregations. Maybe it is a challenge for some priests to find supply coverage. Fortunately, St. John’s has a number of retired clergy in residence and finding supply coverage is not a problem. Probably the biggest reason we don’t take all of our vacation time is because we don’t feel we deserve it. We have been conditioned from our time in the corporate world to think that the eight weeks or so of time out of the office is excessive and gluttonous. We are conditioned to think that sabbath time is “good for thee but not for me.” Every bishop in the Church will tell their clergy to take their vacation time. Every bishop in the Church probably also struggles to take their own.
Please know that while I am away in Florida, I am thinking of you and praying for you. I am taking this time to recharge and reset so that I can come back to you well-rested and invigorated to continue our shared mission. I assure you I am taking in plenty of time in the Florida sunshine (with sunscreen, of course), enjoying the Disney parks, eating yummy food, and spoiling my grandsons. I also am eager to see you all again and to be back in church with you on Sunday.
Please let my time away serve as an example for you. While some things are too important to step away from, most things are not. When we’re working on something like a jigsaw puzzle, we need to sometimes step away for a few hours before continuing because it resets our focus. Take some time to reset your own focus. Take some vacation time. Follow the commandment of your God and take some time at regular intervals for rest, renewal, and sabbath.