People who enjoy God take the Sabbath command seriously. They take time to recharge their batteries. They are almost legalistic about this day of rest, although it may not be on Sunday. For most pastors, for example, Sunday is anything but a day of rest.
Even Jesus needed rest. We find Him on several occasions seeking to get away from the crowd in order to have time alone, time with his disciples and time to rest. In fact, he even described the Christian life in a paradigm of rest in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Mark 6:31-32 is an example of Jesus’ need for rest, “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.”
I learned this lesson the hard way. I will illustrate from marriage, though the principle of Sabbath affects every area of life—our kids, our relationship with God, our work, our stress level, and our joy in God.
I can still hear myself at two in the morning, totally exasperated, saying, “You are not saying I am a lousy husband, are you?”
My wife’s silence was not very comforting. She was too kind to agree and too hurt to disagree, so she said nothing. I could not believe what I was not hearing. Sometimes, silence is not golden at all.
What I did not know was that this was to be the first of many painful conversations. These conversations would bring deeper pain than anything I had ever known.
I felt we were speaking different languages. I heard the words; I could not discern the meaning. We shared a house, we shared our son, we shared our friends, we shared our church, and we shared our pain. But we did not share ourselves.
I remember going to a pastor for marriage counseling. I resisted going for months-just like the men who came to my office often said they did. I promised things would get better when, in reality, I did not have a clue what to do. Yet, I could not stand the humiliation of calling a pastor and making an appointment.
I felt “at home” in the office of a pastor. Even though this pastor was of a different denomination, the books were all familiar titles. He too read “Leadership.” I wanted to talk to him – even coach him – in church management issues. I was not comfortable baring my soul as the patient. It was embarrassing arranging the baby-sitting and remaining distant about where we were going. I wanted to go at night so no one would see us. It was only comfortable on one side of that desk.
That Creeping Schedule
We had a number of problems, but the one I want to speak of here has to do with schedule. It had taken us a while to get to this point. The first few years were great. We spent lavish time together and everything was Eden. I made a decision in the third year of our marriage that led to near Armageddon. After an especially heavy Christmas candy season, I decided to start exercising during lunch, instead of coming home. This also meant I quit taking a day off, to compensate for the long lunches. (My church considered Sunday a workday so I got a day off during the week. The rule of thumb is: if you have to be there, it is work.) We might have survived this new schedule, except for what happened next. Our church lost her pastor and I began filling the pulpit, as well as taking care of my other responsibilities. This resulted in not taking a day off, as well as cutting out lunches altogether. This translated into about 65 hours a week and a neglected wife.
But this was not the real problem. The really fatal error was cerebral. It was not just what happened in the Day Timer. Actual time that my feet were not on our carpet was not the real problem. Mentally I was becoming addicted to work. It was this line of thinking: “If I can just stay a little longer, I will be completely finished, and I can give myself completely to my wife.“ Dumb. It is like saying, “One more drink.” It is like pulling a loose thread. It never ends, and you lose your shirt. Work crawled more inside of me, occupying every corner of my imagination. Ministry drove big stakes into my mind – I could not think about anything else. Even when I wanted to, I could not.
Quality conversation, like a good cut of beef, only comes in quantity.
A time problem by necessity will create a communication problem. Our best conversations did not happen when I sat down on the couch as if to say, “I have ten minutes before a deacons’ meeting; anything you want to talk about?” Quality conversation, like a good cut of beef, only comes in quantity. It is in that leisurely, no-agenda, rambling, small talk that great conversations are birthed. It is here that trust is born. The logic is simple: “If he cares enough to listen when I talk about the dryer, maybe he cares enough to listen to my frustration about the kids.” By the way, the same is true of prayer. Consider the meaning of being the bride of Christ. Quality prayer only comes when lavish, unhurried time is spent alone with the Bridegroom.
Coming Home Doesn’t Mean I Have Left the Office
One night, my wife asked pensively, “You are not here, are you?” We were sitting on the love seat together. I was three inches from her. What did she mean, “You are not here?” Yet, I knew. It was what someone has called, “emotionally unavailable.” I had been on the return trip from a conference that night and my head was still spinning with the conversation from the trip home. Yet, I was home, what more could she want? I was home and she should be happy. But she was not happy. She was miserable. When the Bible says, “It is not good for man to live alone,” ( Genesis 2:18) it is not talking about geography; it is talking about relationships.
Another part of what it means to really be home is to have an opinion about things at home. I am so passive it was easy for me to be genuinely open to almost anything. I thought I was being gracious by saying, “Whatever you want to do is fine.” She read it as apathy. (You know the old saying, “If anything can be taken wrong, it will be.”)
She might ask, “How do you like my dress?”
“Should I wear the blue dress or the black dress?”
“They are both fine.“
“I think I will wear the pink dress.”
All men should strike that word—fine—from their vocabulary. To us, it means “fine,” but to a woman, it means, “You don’t really care.” I do better to answer in full sentences, something that is more personal than a computer- generated letter: “I think you should wear the blue dress because I haven’t seen you in it in a while. It always makes me think of the time we spent that weekend in El Paso.”
Of course, I am not allowed to be offended by her response: “I think I will wear the black dress.”
God did not only give us the Sabbath for Him; it was a gracious gift for us.
Love Takes Time
It takes time to recover, even when you are aware of the problem. It is a strange thing to be aware that your emotions are not home and your mind is spinning a million miles an hour. Like an out-of-control race car, you know it is going off the track, but you cannot get it back.
I remember hearing a sermon where the speaker described coming home from a trip, seeing his wife in the airport and thinking, “I must be the luckiest man in the world. I would rather be with that woman than any other person alive.”
I remember thinking, “You can’t be serious. I get along with my wife fine, but if I had an evening and I could spend it with anyone in the world I would spend it with Billy Graham, or the President, or somebody famous!”
But, as time ticked by, things did get better. Feelings that lay dormant for years came to life, like seeds left in the desert soil that spring to life when finally watered. I just had to learn to water them.
The most objective of the marriage disciplines is as old as Exodus 20: take a day off. I must mark it on my calendar, put a fence around it and don’t let anyone in. I need a bulldog outside, just to be sure.
This is what happens during an average week: My compulsion about work tightens like the rubber band on a toy balsa airplane. I love the ministry, and I should love it. But if I am not careful, it will get to me. A full day off lets the plane go, the rubber band unwinds and I am able to relax. I am home and really home. Only then can I begin to enjoy being home. I am there because I want to be. This is the only way to meet the needs of a wife. Obligation, or responsibility will never do.
The same is true with God. He does not desire obligation or responsibility. He wants us to enjoy him. He wants us to want to be with Him. The discipline of slowing down and taking a Sabbath helps me to grow a relationship with everyone: God, my wife, my children, and others. God did not only give us the Sabbath for Him; it was a gracious gift for us.
A weekly date night is a proven strategy for keeping the flames of romance alive. But, like the discipline of daily quiet time, it is often talked about more than practiced. It is medicine for the marriage, but only works when taken.
Taking a sabbath is not always easy. It is hard work finding time to do nothing. But it is important. It is hard for the self-employed, for they work seventy-five hours a week for themselves to keep from having to work forty for someone else. It is difficult for those who have bosses who want their soul as well as their body. It is difficult for those in school, for there are always more projects, more tests, more studying that must be done. It is difficult for ministers who are always on call. It is hard for people who are heavily involved in church, for this becomes a second job. It is a strain for moms who have to pay someone to take their responsibility in order to get a few hours off. By the way, that is why God created grandparents.
It is hard work finding time to do nothing. But it is important.
And it is not just marriage. The weekly discipline of a Sabbath allows the system to slow down enough to reflect on what is important, to adjust priorities. I need to lie in bed until I wake up on my own sometimes. I need to think about life and God and my family and what I love and what is important. I need to lay there in bed and do this for half an hour. I need to get caught up on “honey-do’s” and household chores. I need to get to the bottom of my to-do list. I need to get caught up. I need to slow down. I need to get bored once a week. There is no enjoying God without it. Taking a Sabbath will not guarantee that you will enjoy God, but not taking one will almost certainly prevent you from enjoying God.