Thoughts from a Book Group: Some People Don’t Need Sabbath

Hey folks,

It’s Easter Monday, which means clergy catch-up, or rest, or both. I’m still getting over being sick. So today we have a guest post of sorts, a wrap-up email I received from a good friend who leads an adult Sunday School class at his church:

We finished our Lenten study of Sabbath in the Suburbs
this past Sunday. Your book was overwhelmingly well-received (we’re
ready for the next one – “Sabbath in the Suburbs with Teenagers”?) We
had lots of good discussion and your study questions provided good
jumping-off places, not that we always needed them. Our main
takeaways as a group were: (1) You can’t do and be everything, Sabbath
should be the time when you’re free to admit that and be your
authentic self; (2) No “J.O.Y.”; (3) God wants us to be rested and
happy. Everyone liked the Sabbath hacks.

We had a really good debate about abundance vs. scarcity in our last
session, that to me was one of the strongest ideas in the book. We
also talked about “play” in the Bible. Remember the cute video of the
Christmas story with the kids from New Zealand (“They woon’t be
ixpicting that”)? I used that as an example of the playfulness of the
Gospel. We really like the section about Moses as the overworked
manager who doesn’t know how delegate.

I’m actually not familiar with that Christmas video. I wonder, is this the one?

Not everyone embraced the idea of setting aside a block of Sabbath
time every week – a minority said their families weren’t overscheduled
all the time and didn’t necessarily need a weekly respite. They
didn’t seem to buy in to the idea of Sabbath as a time of rest and a
religious practice, not just the former. That may be due to my
limitations as a moderator, not the text.

I doubt it was him…

As I go around talking to groups, I meet folks who don’t struggle for Sabbath the way many of us do. They often don’t see a need because their lives have a natural balance of work and play (what’s their secret?).

But I also meet people who seem to love their jobs so much that they literally work every day. A pastor of a large church admitted to me recently that he hasn’t had a regular day off in several years. Vacations, yes, but not days off. And I met an imam several weeks ago who shared that Islam does not have a provision for the Sabbath like Judaism and Christianity do. In fact, he admitted he has not taken a vacation in three decades. I was astounded in both cases, but in talking to him it was clear that he was deeply committed to his work. Neither is on the verge of burnout. Both are functioning well in their jobs. Both seem to be perfectly healthy psychologically.

you-must-fall-in-love-with-your-work1And last night Robert and I watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi. (BTW: what sumptuous, simple pieces of sushi. Trip to Japan, anyone?) Here is a guy who’s 85 years old and who still pushes himself (and his apprentices) to new heights in the craft. He hates it when he’s not working. He only takes a day off when he has to. And as the title implies, when he’s not working, he’s thinking about work. Yet he’s kept this pace for 75 years (yes, he started young).

What makes the difference? Are people like that just wired differently? Or have they found such a perfect intersection between their deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger (thank you Buechner) that rest is not needed?

What do you think?


12 thoughts on “Thoughts from a Book Group: Some People Don’t Need Sabbath

  1. Alex

    This post reminds me of the NY Times magazine cover story from this weekend. Buried in the second half of the article is the note that this extremely prolific man has a stay-at-home spouse:

    Which leads me to wonder — to suggest — that those who don’t take a break must have someone in their lives who is picking up the slack, so to speak. I wonder if the pastor and the imam you mention are not burned out and are functioning well because someone else is “sabbathing” on their behalf, in some fashion?

  2. Deborah

    The desire and need for Sabbath resonates with me and is one of the things I liked about your book. I know that when I have practiced Sabbath I’ve felt more balanced. So I know I need it and I usually appreciate it when I stop and let it happen. But I also don’t think “feeling the need” for Sabbath is the point. In Barbara Brown Taylor’s book “An Altar in the World,” she talks about the fact that Sabbath is a commandment, which by its very nature means we don’t have to think about it or agree with it or believe it will “work,” we just have to do it. (This is in her chapter on “The Practice of Saying No” which is her Sabbath chapter.) She insists that the practice of the commandment is God’s way of “wooing us” to this same truth. This means that somehow in the doing of it, over time, we are formed and transformed by God — not by what we think about what we are doing. It seems to be an important aspect of Sabbath and I do think you go there in your book, too, as your family’s experience and practice changes shape over the year….I also want to push back on the idea that if you love your work you don’t need Sabbath. It’s not about loving work but rather about having a life deeper and wider and not always focused on work. It’s about not-doing and not-working and realizing because of that that the world still spins and that we can, indeed, trust God to keep things going for a while.

    1. MaryAnn McKibben Dana Post author

      This (the doing it whether you ‘feel the need’ or not) is an excellent point and, if I’m honest, one I didn’t spend as much time with in the book as I perhaps should have. (OK, let’s say “could have,” since I don’t want to should all over myself.) Because I need it so badly, myself!

      On a personal level, so long as there are people out there who operate this way—without vacations or days off—it sets up an unreachable standard for the rest of us. I don’t begrudge them what works for them, but for some of us, it just doesn’t… whether because of personality, circumstance, or whatever else.

      I will say that Jiro joked in the movie about the rare occasions he’d sleep in on Sunday morning when his kids were young, and his boys were terrified because “there’s a strange man sleeping in our house.” But then, I know so-called workaholics who are very close with their families, so, go figure.

      1. Deborah

        Maybe God woos us in the ways we need wooing, so for you (and me) it’s the undeniable reality that life doesn’t work right and is overwhelming without the rest and pit stop of Sabbath.

        I’m with you on the unreachable standard. And I think it’s one of our biggest losses, that we don’t celebrate Sabbath all together on one day every week — it’s very, very hard to do on your own, even as a family on its own. This is one of the places I recognize the competing (warring?) voices in my own head: when I stand in just the slightest hint of balance and can breathe again and then my American competitive crap comes rearing up as I hear a colleague boast proudly about over-work and lack of vacations. It’s probably also one of the most persistent opportunities to be prophetic about where God is calling all of us…but prophets don’t have an easy go of it, do they?

  3. Bob Braxton

    … and, in some cases, the slacks …
    A good Monday for … NOT in the garden again
    Easter Monday, also known as Bright Monday, Renewal Monday, Wet Monday … by pouring buckets of water on each other (hence the name “Wet Monday”).
    How about Gator-aid Monday?

  4. Suzy

    As a tentmaker who works M-F at one job and nights and weekends as a pastor, I’ve learned that the balance between my two vocations means that each provides a respite from the other. I suspect that idea works for people who think of Sabbath as the absence of something. I also suspect that some of those people are uncomfortable with what they perceive as emptiness.

    I also suspect that today, a whole lot of us are chuckling at the idea that Easter could be called a Sabbath.

    Best to you!

    1. MaryAnn McKibben Dana Post author

      I keep wanting to “like” these comments!

      But yes… I resonate with that quite a bit, as a pastor/mom/writer.

      Regarding the emptiness, BBT writes about “Sabbath sickness” in one of her books—the aimless wandering around the house, the loose-ends feeling… it is certainly an incredible emotional barrier to sabbath. My friend Ashley-Anne jokes about eating your feelings (e.g. mac and cheese). We also “busy” our feelings as well.

  5. Cathy

    I am pretty sure the video you have posted is the correct one that was used in the class.
    I love my job. But, I need a break. I have worked in many high profile tech companies where the competitiveness extended to days off/ taking lunch etc.
    I just am not at my best if I am in a situation where the work/family balance gets skewed one way or the other.
    I think the emptiness is scary to a lot of people. And, even if their lives aren’t ” over-scheduled” ( thanks for the insult btw…that everyone else is out of control) I do think that the fear of the unknown may keep them from truly embracing the Sabbath. As any extrovert will tell you, sometimes the hardest thing in the world is to sit by oneself and think about the day/week/life. And, these truly unplug is a scary thing for most people.
    i live in Texas. We cook our own Easter Brunch. We had taken 24 hours off beginning Friday afternoon. We realized on the way home from church that we didn’t have any appetizers for guests who were coming over. I decided to go to HEB to get some crackers and cheese. They were CLOSED! We had passed a Target earlier that was also closed! It felt so right that the parking lots were empty!
    No one starved, and we had our bit of Sabbath! I hope we can continue to embrace the unknown.

  6. Pingback: Puttering as a Sabbath Activity | MaryAnn McKibben Dana

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