Knocking off work, practicing Sabbath

Julie Rudd - Contributing Columnist

Last month, Dale McCamish offered an insightful look at several spiritual disciplines. In that spirit, let’s look today at an underappreciated spiritual discipline: knocking off work.

Yes, you read that correctly. Not accomplishing anything is an excellent way to deepen your relationship with Christ and with the community of faith that surrounds you. It’s called practicing the Sabbath.

In Isaiah 58, the prophet lays out the requirements for a community which wishes to be blessed by God: don’t exploit your workers, set the oppressed free, provide the poor wanderer with shelter, and so on. Then, Isaiah writes,

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath

and from doing as you please on my holy day,

if you call the Sabbath a delight

and the Lord’s holy day honorable,

and if you honor it by not going your own way

and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,

then you will find your joy in the Lord,

and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land

and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”

Isaiah places Sabbath-keeping on the same level as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and taking care of your own family. This only makes sense, when you consider that keeping the Sabbath mattered so much to God that it’s listed as one of the Ten Commandments.

Keeping the Sabbath is a matter of justice. It’s not a polite suggestion. It’s a commandment and a prerequisite for blessing.

This is not a debatable matter, to Isaiah or to any other writer in Scripture. You must allow time for the rest that you need. And for those of you who have children in your charge: you must ensure that they rest as well.

Sabbath-keeping is about taking a break from work. It’s about unwinding. It’s about recreation, and re-creation. It’s about quitting the hustle, intentionally setting aside time for rest and renewal.

This isn’t optional, Friends. You can’t sacrifice your need for rest and then call yourself a martyr when the inevitable suffering sets in. And, in the interests of fairness, you also can’t demand that anyone else work themselves to the bone, either.

The predictable counterargument sounds like this: we are so busy these days. We are pulled in all directions, by practices and board meetings and tutoring sessions and homework and job responsibilities and all the rest of what leaves our minds spinning. The modern lifestyle simply does not allow for an entire day per week spent in rest.

Here’s the thing, though: no era has ever allowed for rest. You are no more busy than a medieval serf or a soldier during Jesus’ time or a servant in Abraham’s household. We may be busy with different matters than our ancestors, but the underlying drive to work constantly and do as much as possible remains. There were workaholics in ancient Rome, just as there are people now who are addicted to the rush of a positive evaluation or a job well done.

Here’s another thing: the human body and psyche do not allow for a 24/7 lifestyle. That weariness that overtakes you mid-afternoon, the short temper and fiery tongue that follows you home and infects your household: these are symptoms of being overtired. These are symptoms of not honoring the Sabbath.

We generally point to toddlers, when it comes to throwing a temper tantrum to avoid taking a nap, but the truth is that adults are not so different. The pace at which we live leaves us worn out. We are tired, and instead of resting as we know we should, we become anxious and irritable.

What if we were to see the world differently? What if we were to think of rest as part of living life in the light of love?

Friends, to rest is revolutionary. To rest when one could be working is to emphatically claim one’s own personhood, to shout loudly that one’s own health and well-being matter just as much as the work at hand. Allowing yourself time for renewal is an important aspect of living in the renewed kingdom.

The school year is warming up. The busy holiday season looms before us all. Let Christ liberate you from constant labor. In all the beautiful busyness, don’t forget that you are commanded by God to rest.

Grace and peace and rest to all of you!

Julie Rudd pastors at Wilmington Friends Meeting. You can learn more about Wilmington Friends Meeting at, or

Julie Rudd

Contributing Columnist