Busted Halo
column: what works

Practical tools for your personal spiritual life from Phil Fox Rose.

Click this banner to see the entire section.

March 29th, 2010

What Works: A Day of Rest

Devoting a day to faith, family, friends and food



When I was growing up, Sunday was a day for leisure and family. My atheist father did his version of worship: reading the Sunday New York Times from cover to cover while listening to classical music. We had special breakfast meals. (My favorite was ham and cheese pancakes.) In the afternoon there was sports on TV or tinkering at hobbies, and then at night we watched classic Sunday night TV together — especially Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and The Wonderful World of Disney. Sometimes, when my older siblings were still around, we played family board games.

A day of rest has been part of the human routine since, perhaps, its beginning. You need look no further than Genesis 2:3, where God takes a deserved break: “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation.” But like so many of the spaces between things in this hectic modern world, people nowadays seem to want to fill it in with busyness. For anyone in the Judeo-Christian tradition, there is a direct commandment to “keep holy the sabbath day.” How few do!

As I said in the column “How Sweet To Do Nothing,” we need regular opportunities for recreation, as in to recreate. From Henry Ford to the present, productivity experts have agreed: people who get time off to recover are more productive in the long run than people who are worked without a break. But I’m going to say something that’s heretical in this day and age: productivity isn’t the important thing. Even if a day of rest couldn’t be proven to be good for the economy, even if it wasn’t one of the Ten Commandments, I’d be telling you to do it, because it’s good for your soul.

But if you fill your non-working hours with running to the mall, doing laundry and paying bills, you are squandering this vital spiritual tool, a true day of rest — a day in which time and productivity and material wants and needs are not an issue.

Keep it holy

I’ll admit my upbringing was not typical. My father was a tenured professor with lots of leisure time. But I have seen this pattern repeated again and again throughout my life. With the Seventh-day Adventists my sister once lived with, I remember an outdoor feast midday Sunday with the whole community. But, you might say, they weren’t part of the rat race, juggling 60-hour-a-week jobs with a busy home life. I offer, then, the evidence of my brother ­and sister-in-law and their clan in Utah. Here is a family of just such people — far more type-A than I’ll ever be — but still, Sunday consists of three hours at church (service, bible study and peer group meetings back to back) followed by a midday family dinner with three generations relaxing together, catching up, sharing news and love.

You don’t have to travel to a Mormon community out west to find people practicing a serious Sabbath, though. Observant Jews take keeping Shabbes holy to an impressive level, including cooking and driving in the forbidden “work” category. These rules help keep the day to faith and family, since no one is toiling in the kitchen or straying far from home.

I live in New York City, where there are many businesses run by Orthodox Jews. I smile whenever I pass a storefront that’s sealed up tight on a busy summer Saturday, flagrantly deprioritizing material values. Even huge online businesses like B&H Photo and Adorama will not accept global online orders during the Sabbath.

But what is remarkable to secular Christians today — that businesses would turn away money just because of an ancient religious law — was commonplace just a few decades ago. When I was growing up in the Northeast, “blue laws” were still common. Certain businesses, vice-enablers like liquor stores certainly, but also things seen as frivolous like clothing stores and car dealerships, were closed by law on Sundays. Aggressive pro-business lobbying, complex issues concerning church-state separation, and a gradual erosion of spiritual priorities in our culture led to the virtual disappearance of these centuries-old laws in just a few decades.

Carving out space for the divine

You might have noticed there’s a recurring theme in the spiritual advice I offer in this column and much that you see elsewhere: it has to do with carving out space for the spiritual in this hectic material realm. This includes things you can do to bring the divine into your life, like daily meditation and spending time in nature, and things you can do to make sure it happens, like making things nonnegotiable.

Of course, one of the crimes Jesus was charged with was “working” on the Sabbath — he healed people and on at least one occasion he sanctioned his apostles gathering food. His response to this charge is worth noting: "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) Nevertheless, Jesus was arguing against letting law get in the way of love. He wasn’t advocating going to buy jeans and hitting the food court.  What my examples — Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, observant Jews and my Catholic practice — have in common is that they place spiritual values above material ones.

So, try honoring a real day of family and leisure. If you don’t live with or near family, or if a family day just isn’t an option, join with your faith community or close friends — friends you can just relax and be yourself with. Go to brunch after church. Short of that, just make sure that what you do enhances your connection with the spiritual dimension of life. If I have no other plans, I often head into the park and spend the next few hours strolling and birdwatching.  

On the right are some suggestions for how to bring a day of rest into your life. But if you belong to a faith that has clear guidelines about observing the Sabbath, consider simply obeying them. Like all true spiritual principles, they are good for you not just on the spiritual level but on the physical and mental as well. And share your experiences with practicing a true day of rest, or your struggles with trying to make it happen, below in comments or by email to phil AT bustedhalo (DOT) com .

The Author : Phil Fox Rose
Phil Fox Rose is content manager of Busted Halo. He's a writer, editor and content lead based in New York and writes the On the Way blog at patheos.com. He is coordinator for the New York City chapter of Contemplative Outreach, helping promote centering prayer, which has been his contemplative practice for nearly 20 years. Phil has also been a political party leader, videographer, tech journalist, punk roadie, software designer, sheepherder, stockbroker and downtempo radio DJ. A common thread is the process of learning about stuff, figuring it out and then sharing that understanding with others. Follow Phil on Facebook here. Or on Twitter here. philfoxrose.com.
See more articles by (92).
Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Deltaflute

    I’m not into commercialism but I noticed that company Chick-fil-A closes all it’s restaurants on Sundays to give it’s employees a day of rest for spiritual as well as practical reasons. The founder wanted to allow his employees to spend time with their families and this tradition has carried on. He insisted that this was the best recipe for success. So I support them. There are so few corporations that close on Sundays for the benefit of their employees. You’re article reminds us to support a day of rest.

  • Mike K

    No matter to which faith we belong, we HAVE to carve out room for our sabbath day.

    Here in the US, it’s almost anathema to expect supermarkets or department stores will close on Sunday any more. But we can choose not to shop on Sunday (or whichever day). That’s just living our faith, and being witness to it.

    But I really like Phil’s third bullet. Even on those Sundays where I have to work (I’m a transportation professional), I still can’t have a complete day without Mass. Sometimes, that may mean on Saturday night or Sunday night. But even if I have a long day at work, starting (or ending) it with Mass still makes me feel as if I had a real Sunday – a real Sabbath day.

  • jim

    The question implied in Mark 2-was man made for the sabbath? Jesus answers-The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.
    The sabbath is a gift from God. It is wrong to refuse it.

  • Daniel

    Thanks, Phil for this column. It gave me some “spiritual food for thought.” As a undergrad college student, there are always papers to write or something to read, and I seem tend to work on some school work on sunday’s in the afternoon after I go to Mass; but I would like to try to change that at get work done at the beginning of the weekend and leave Sunday as a day of rest. Thanks for your suggestions for carving out a day of rest-I will share this with my family.
    God Bless,

powered by the Paulists