Considreing sabbath

In the last two days, I only visited the church briefly. I have primarily taken the days off from work, with the exception of a few phone calls, a few text messages and a few emails. I did spend a little while volunteering with other members of the church to move some firewood yesterday, but for the most part I’ve been focusing on home chores and personal duties. It isn’t common that I take two days off n a row. The circumstances were a bit unique. Because of a blizzard the week before Holy Week, church meetings had to be rescheduled. And Holy Week was already full of events and activities, so the next week was filled with meetings. Therefore I didn’t have any days off for three weeks in a row, and I was needing a break and a rest. I looked at the my schedule and the list of tasks and by putting in a little extra time on the other days of the week, I was able to avoid going to the office on Friday and Saturday. I got my lawn mowed, did some home repair tasks, and caught up on a bit of there backlog at home. I took naps and renewed my energy.

One of the chores I did was to stop at a local big box home improvement store to pick up an item that I needed. While I was there, I had a conversation with a church member who is working there for the summer. He is a full time student at theological seminary and his summer is dedicated to earning and saving as much money as possible to help him make it through the next year of studies. My brief conversation with him reminded me of the days when I was a full time student. Full time student doesn’t quite mean full time. Two academic semesters or three quarters, depending on which system the school uses add up to about nine months of the year. Although many academic institutions offer seminars and summer school opportunities, many students opt out of summer experiences in order to take part time seasonal work. When I was a student the norm was about ten hours of classroom activities each week. The formula is four hours of homework and reading for each hour in class, so I suppose that the general workload is about 50 hours per week. By the time you are in graduate school, however, you learn a few efficiencies. I had developed the ability to read a bit quicker and to overlap research and library work in ways that gained me some time. I found that I could work 10 to 15 hours a week at a job earning money to help with expenses. In the final two years of my four year program I had internship positions that I was able to balance with classroom work and stopped counting the number of hours per week.

I did, however, enjoy the rhythm of academic life. I would focus and work hard and write my papers and then I would get a big change of pace during the summer when my attention was elsewhere. Two of the summers during our graduate school experience we managed a church camp back in our home state, so we picked up and moved away from the school for three months.

My life doesn’t have the same kind of seasonal rhythm, and hasn’t had that kind of rhythm for 40 years. However, speaking briefly with the seminary student in the midst of a much shorter break for myself brought back fond memories.

The concept of sabbath is a real challenge in our fast-paced always-connected society. We are used to being always available, taking phone calls no matter where we are or what we are doing, responding to text messages when we have a few free moments, checking our email multiple times a day. I am a student of the Bible. I know that a day of rest every week is a commandment that is placed up there with other basic commandments like not committing murder, not committing adultery and honoring one’s parents. One of my teachers commented, “I don’t know how we can expect people to get the commandment about not committing murder when they can’t get the commandments about no other gods and honoring the sabbath.”

Because we work on Sundays, we pastors are prone to letting sabbaths slip, thinking, “Well, I never skip worship, so that must count for something.” I try to take Mondays as a day off, but there are certain things that disrupt that pattern. I never try to tell a family when they should have a funeral, for example. And there are some meetings that cannot be scheduled unless they are placed on a Monday. There are only so many days in each week. And I know that my work gives me the flexibility to take a personal call during the work day and even to leave the office to run a personal errand or keep a medical appointment. So I try to return the flexibility by not being rigid with my day off. I’ve noticed that while the Monday off was the common practice when I began my career, many of my younger colleagues take Friday and Saturday off to get a kind of a weekend. A few weeks ago, I went out to deliver Palm Sunday posters to area churches and found that most of the churches on my list were closed on Friday. They don’t even have office staff in their buildings on Fridays. Perhaps there is a new generation of church leaders who are taking the sabbath commandment more seriously.

I joke that I’m looking for a part-time job in the next phase of my life, but I don’t want one where I work 20 or 30 hours a week. I want one where I work 9 months and get 3 months off. I’m not really sure if that would work for me. I’ve been continuously employed since graduating from seminary and I’ve adjusted quite well to full-time work. Still, a couple of days off was a nice luxury and I’ve asked for and received a bit of extra vacation for this summer. I’ve enjoyed regular sabbaticals during the last 25 years.

Maybe by the time I reach retirement, I’ll have figured this out.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!