Shabbat seems like the perfect counterpart to Fasting. We are not a culture that says “no” often or intentionally self-sacrifices to make space for God in our lives. Fasting & Shabbat seem to directly challenge those principles more than any of the other disciplines. Shabbat is another discipline that is best practiced within the context of the home but must be modeled first by ministers & pastors.
Today I am grateful that Stacy Smith joins our conversation. Stacy is the Associate Director of Discipleship for Alamo Heights United Methodist Church Student Ministries. She and her husband (who is the Worship Pastor) not only model Shabbat as pastors but also practice Shabbat as a family. Regularly. May we all model Shabbat for those we serve and challenge all to honor one of the most beautiful disciplines given by God.
Two summers ago, my husband and I made our way to Israel for the first time in our lives. It was the trip of a lifetime, destined to forever alter the way I saw God, the way I saw myself, and the way my family engaged our faith. Over the two weeks we spent in Israel, we witnessed many traditions and observances that we ourselves found quite appealing—one of which was Shabbat, or Sabbath.
In Exodus 20, God commands us—quite plainly—to observe the Sabbath: “You and your family are to remember the Sabbath Day; set it apart, and keep it holy. You have six days to do all your work, but the seventh day is to be different; it is the Sabbath of the Eternal your God. Keep it holy by not doing any work—not you, your sons, your daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, or any outsiders living among you. For the Eternal made the heavens above, the earth below, the seas, and all the creatures in them in six days. Then, on the seventh day, He rested. That is why He blessed the Sabbath Day and made it sacred”. God desires for us to rest and builds that time into our lives…if we will only take God up on it.
We spent two Shabbats in Israel and saw everyone else around us—and I mean everyone—stop everything and just rest. All day Friday was a rush of activity, but just before sundown, things started to settle down. Families started setting outdoor tables for that night’s feast, and as the sun set, we would see massive extended families or neighbors gathered around a table with their kids playing around them as the adults sat, ate, talked, and enjoyed resting in each other’s company.
My husband and I came back home and explained our experience to our children. And the first Friday evening we were back, we copied what had been modeled for us in Israel. The first few weeks, our kids thought we were a little crazy, but they, just like us, had started to get into the rhythm of rest. They started to realize that Shabbat meant Mom and Dad would plug their phones into charge and leave them there. The outside distractions quieted, and Friday night and Saturday meant they would have our attention—time for us to be together, to listen to the stories of the week, to eat together, to watch a movie together…maybe to go to a little league game together…whatever it was, it was different from the rest of the days of the week.
Walter Brueggemann wrote, “Sabbath is not about worship. It is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being.”
Similarly, Dallas Willard said, “The command is ‘Do no work.’ Just make space. Attend to what is around you. Learn that you don’t have to DO to BE. Accept the grace of doing nothing. Stay with it until you stop jerking and squirming.”
Our family has now observed each Shabbat since that summer, and our observance changes from week to week. Sometimes, we have other families over to our house, and we eat together and talk together and play together. Other times, it’s just the five of us—eating takeout and piling on the couch for a movie. But always, we start the evening with Shabbat blessings and the lighting of the candles. Each family member has a role; our children have even memorized portions of the blessings from having said them each week. And we pray for each other and thank God for each other.
I think our family’s intentional practice of “Shabbating” has truly soaked into our children and into our daily fabric of life. We look forward to the end of the week when we can shut it all down and give ourselves permission to just rest and enjoy the lives we have and the people we love. This weekly rest—regular and rhythmic—is making us more fully alive because we are stopping those things we do every other day and setting this time apart. We are reconnecting to our true identity as God’s people—beloved sons and daughters who have a home in which to rest. When our family engages in Shabbat, we find God there. I love how this quote from Anita Diament expresses it: “The Sabbath is a weekly cathedral raised up in my dining room, in my family, in my heart.”
This “weekly cathedral” was put on display recently when one of my sons was finally allowed to create his own Instagram account. His inaugural picture was one of our family in our darkened kitchen, lighting the candles of Shabbat and reciting the blessings. The best part? His caption: “Started the Family Sabbath two years ago, still going strong #shabbatshalom #wearedesertpeople”.
Desert people, indeed. Shabbat Shalom.