Situational Sabbaths

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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I work for a nonprofit organization and have spent many years of my adult life hovering around the U.S. poverty level. Despite the apparent hardship for a family of four, we are wealthy enough that we don’t feel the financial threat of a day off each week.

The Sabbath provides a break from necessary labor and offers a weekly chance to rest, play, garden, read, visit with friends, and worship with a community of believers. More importantly, perhaps, it’s supposed to teach us that we’re not entirely self-sufficient, that God cares and is in control, and that God will provide, just as Moses and the people of Israel learned during their exodus from Egypt.

I do a lot of the resting and visiting sort of Sabbath activities, but sacrificing one day of work per week doesn’t intimidate my independence. Rather, I stand with the visitor from a developing country who remarked, “It is amazing to me how much can be accomplished in this nation without God!”

This is a problem.

Richard Foster wrote, “More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us.” Keeping the Sabbath is a form of fasting, which, like all fasting, has the potential of alerting us of unhealthy degrees of autonomy. Unfortunately, when NFL games and family picnics and overall abundance distract me from felt dependence on Sunday afternoons, I need something more than just a day off.

I need to observe the Situational Sabbath too.

Situational Sabbath

Consider this scenario. It's a Tuesday, and I’m working on a Kmart roof with a group of rough and tumble guys. We use two kinds of glue to apply the roofing material—yellow for wood and black for rubber—and I accidentally use black glue on wood. Todd yells, “What are you doing?! I thought you were in college!” to which I respond sarcastically, “I’m sorry. They don’t offer classes on glue colors.”

What I should have done was take a Situational Sabbath. Like the traditional form, Situational Sabbaths are moments to rest and to recognize our dependence on God. Yet this version isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires a lightening-fast decision—and ability—to stop time in order to step outside of your self, assess the situation, and consider what God might want you to do. If that weren’t enough, these instantaneous moments often call for very challenging actions to be performed upon re-entry, such as this one which I didn't hear: “Sam, Todd needs you to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” Ugh.

In that moment on the roof, I wanted justice and restoration of respect. I wanted a healthy teaching environment and grace enough to allow for my mistakes. This wasn’t a Sunday where I had all day to contemplate God’s desire to give these items to me, but a hot Tuesday afternoon with an angry boss in my face. I had one, maybe two seconds at the most. And what did I do? I failed to ask how God might provide and instead “restored” a bit of respect on my own by mocking Todd’s lack of education.

Now You Try It

We face the need for Situational Sabbaths many times a day. Drivers cut us off in the morning traffic, coworkers lure us into gossip at lunch, neighbors take our parking spaces in the evening, and children push our buttons at night. All of these require that we halt briefly before taking matters into our own hands. Extremely difficult to do, yes, but that’s why the Sabbath—in all of its forms—is so important. It teaches us to recognize the inadequacy of self-sufficiency.

This week, remember that God’s request for surrender comes from his desire to care for you and others involved. Practice a Situational Sabbath and see what happens. You might discover a new way to live out your high calling.

Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups

  • How is the traditional Sabbath day spiritually significant to you? And how is it not?
  • In what area(s) of your life do you sense the most dependence on God?
  • Have you ever observed a Situational Sabbath? If not, where can you see the need for one?
  • Think of a current scenario at work (e.g., interactions with a trigger-setting coworker). How might a Situational Sabbath help you when the problem arises again?