I was near breaking point. The constant bickering, the sleep deprivation, the dishes in the sink, the never-ending errands . . . this wasn’t a job I could quit. This wasn’t just “one of those days”. This was my job—this was my life. I was a stay-home mom.
There was never a time when I was not tired. I so longed for rest. We went on family holidays, hoping they would help Mommy regain some equilibrium. But they were never enough. The double load of laundry on our return always welcomed me back with open arms, and all too quickly, the afterglow of the vacation would fade away. I simply could not escape.
I tried to protect my time with God. I woke up early to do my quiet time, but many a morning, reading the Bible was like looking through a frosted windowpane—I just couldn’t see the glory beyond. And it wasn’t long before I heard the dreaded patter of little feet. Sigh, shut the Bible, mumble a quick prayer, and off I go.
I lived with guilt for many years. I wasn’t sure how Christians were supposed to keep the Sabbath, but I was sure I was not doing it right. The Israelites were instructed to set aside a full day every week for sacred assembly, offerings, and worship (Leviticus 23:3). I could barely keep a single hour of quiet meditation.
But how could I possibly keep the Sabbath? How could I stop work when my work was my life? There were always meals to prepare, children to wake up, arrangements to be made. Was I sinning against God? Was He going to cut me off from His presence for breaking the Sabbath?
In desperation, I prayed: Lord, I love You. I want to honour the Sabbath and to rest, really rest. But You know my life. Please teach me how to obey You. I need Your help.
What God Showed Me
In His marvellous way, God began to open my mind. He showed me these truths:
I am not a slave anymore. Deuteronomy 5:15 says: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.”
Keeping the Sabbath is about remembering and celebrating God’s rescue. I was once in the death grip of sin, but I have been set free. God sent His Son to die and rise for me, redeeming me from the reign of darkness into His great light. No longer a slave but a daughter (John 8:35), I now do everything for the Lord as a free person. It is privilege and not a duty; a labour of love and thanksgiving.
I am free from the need to be perfect. I am also free from the exacting burden of perfection. Only Jesus, the sinless High Priest and incorruptible Son, could fulfil the law perfectly. He keeps God’s covenant on my behalf because I can’t. On my own, I could never love God, my child, my husband, or my neighbour the way I was meant to. But God has given me grace and written my name in the book of the Lamb by His blood.
What Freedom Really Means
With one masterful stroke, God had freed me from enslavement to sin’s power and to law-keeping. So why should I bind myself to a day or time to observe the Sabbath? Why should I be crippled by fear of punishment when I failed to do it? Why would I go back to being a slave?
Unless I actually wanted to. Unless I was looking for security in legalism. Unless I was looking for a step-by-step guide on keeping Sabbath as a Christian, or, like a modern-day Pharisee, setting my own rules to ensure that I kept the Sabbath. Don’t go there. You have been freed by grace.
I was reminded that a person can make a big show of keeping the Sabbath perfectly while doing great harm in reality. Jesus himself said:
Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath? Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly. —John 7:23–24
If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. —Matthew 12:11–12
Is it wrong for me to feed and bathe my children on the Sabbath? Of course not. Neither is it wrong to lie down and rest. If all I can manage this season is just one Bible verse a day, I believe God will be pleased with the meditation of my heart.
A New Look At The Sabbath
So, what would keeping the Sabbath mean for me?
Exodus 20:11 provides context for the Sabbath:
For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
The Sabbath was created because God rested. He has given us a pattern to follow:
The Sabbath is about rest. All things created by God have rest written into their DNA. Both machines and human bodies will break down from overuse. My children suffer when I am tired, and molehills become mountains. That is why Jesus reclaimed the Sabbath as a blessing to man from the burden that the Pharisees made it to be (Mark 2:27).
The Sabbath is about restoration. The Sabbath is not wholly about ceasing from activity. It was a day to care, restore, and release from bondage; and to celebrate the triumph of God’s salvation over Satan’s power (Luke 13:10–16). This was the work Jesus spoke of when He was accused of healing on the Sabbath: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17).
The Sabbath is about worship. At its root, the Sabbath was a discipline of guarding our time and our spiritual posture. It was meant to help God’s people know that He was their God (Ezekiel 20:20), and that He was the One who made them holy (Exodus 31:13). God’s people were to stop work and business so that they would remember Who sustained them.
The Sabbath is about thanksgiving. A heart set on giving thanks in all circumstances will be on the watch for the wonderful works of God, big or small. Take time to feel the softness of a child’s hand, cherish the trust in his eyes, consider the lilies in the field, and thank the Father for caring mightily for you.
Setting Aside Time For God
I have also realised that I can’t celebrate the Sabbath without resting in the Lord. And I can’t cultivate a Sabbath heart without actually setting aside time just for the Lord. The busier I am, the more I need to rest in Him.
Isaiah 58:13–14 notes:
if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honourable, and if you honour 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.
For me, the most effective way to keep Sabbath is to practise it every day, throughout the day. Every morning, in a quiet, private spot, I go to our Abba Father like a child. My morning devotion gets me in the groove to spend the rest of my hours wisely, and to keep in conversation with God throughout the day.
My day begins as I go to God to beg for wisdom, to weep and cast my cares onto Him, and to sing and rejoice in His goodness. I mine His Word for treasure, knowing that He wants to speak to me. I wait on the Holy Spirit for revelation and encouragement. Sometimes I just stay silent, content in His presence.
This short time is the highlight of each day. It didn’t start off this way, but day by day, as I learnt to say no to distractions and just went to Him expectantly and faithfully, I began to hunger for Him more. And it wasn’t always easy: there were days when I had to read the Bible with a child on my lap, or turn on the TV just so my children would leave me alone for a while.
I am still learning to rest. I don’t think I will ever say I have arrived until the day I enter the new heavens and new earth. Some days I am filled with His presence, other days I have to ask Him to peel my eyes away from worthless things. But I take heart in Jesus’ promise:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. —Matthew 11:28–30