About 12 of us women from church gathered on October 12th at Antiochian Village (southeast of Pittsburgh) to laugh, cry, listen, learn and bond. The theme of our retreat was honoring the Sabbath, which means obeying the command to make time to meet with our Creator God in the midst of busy work and family schedules.
Several Old Testament scriptures explain this, but I will focus on Exodus 16:21-23. “Each morning everyone gathered as much manna as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much – two omers for each person – and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. He said to them, “This is what the Lord commanded: “Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a Holy Sabbath to the Lord. Bake what you want and boil what you want. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.”
Thousand of years ago when the Israelites were wandering the desert after their deliverance from Egyptian slavery, God first issued the 10 Commandments, and honoring the Sabbath is among them. God rested on the Seventh Day of creation not because he was tired, but to give us an example of what we need to do. We were not created to work nonstop. Yet, it was as difficult for the Israelites to understand this as it is for us today.
They had to work hard physical labor from dawn to dusk just to make their food and clothing. The idea of stopping may have seemed life-threatening for them. They were told manna would not be available to gather on the seventh day, because they were to rest, not work. God was also teaching them to trust in His provision. “Nevertheless, some people went out on the seventh day to gather some, but found none. Then the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and instructions?” (Exodus 16:27-28)
Two millennia later, the commandment still applies. Why is it just as difficult for us? Because there are meetings to attend, meals to make, dogs to walk, phone calls to make, bills to pay, checkbooks to balance, laundry to do, grocery lists to make, groceries to buy, dusting and vacuuming and more cleaning to do, garages to organize, leaves to rake, kids to raise, and those girl scout cookies aren’t going to sell themselves!
We long for a break, our souls yearn for rest, yet sometimes we find excuses to avoid honoring the Sabbath. We tell ourselves the Sabbath is outdated. Yet, this is not merely a suggestion. The Bible tells us that the Sabbath is not negotiable, although honoring the Sabbath, our speaker pointed, does not necessarily have to be on a Sunday, but she encouraged us to choose a time and method.
Whatever we choose, and whenever we choose, any encounter with the Divine always transforms. Is that why we are afraid?
One participant bravely confessed it. If she stops going 300 miles an hour, she might be accused of laziness or deal with complaints that her work isn’t enough. Another confessed the difficulty in facing herself and confronting negative thinking. But if we fail to honor the Sabbath, we miss the blessing God is waiting to give us. Like encouragement, or affirmation of a job well done.
Our first assignment on that sunny, Saturday morning was to go through an act of confession via a nature walk around the retreat center grounds. Confession is the first step toward transformation. Scripture passages printed on beautiful cards were placed at specific locations throughout the property. For an hour, we walked, read and meditated on their personal significance to us in the midst of 65-degree temperatures. The fall leaves were ablaze in reds, oranges, golds and browns.
When we returned, we were invited to select a “Sabbath glass” and decorate it with the available materials. Our leader explained that these glasses were significant, to be used only by us, as a visual reminder of resting over a cup of coffee or tea.
Next came discussion, which was meaningful for those who shared their experiences with this activity, and for myself who learned much by listening. I sensed power and strength in collectively acknowledging our failure to honor the Sabbath. We were the Israelites, confessing that we have made not a golden calf, but busyness an idol. We were a support group, recognizing our powerlessness over this addiction and praying for ways to re-focus our hearts and minds.
We concluded the discussion with more scripture readings and a candle lighting ceremony. We disbanded our sisterhood late Saturday afternoon with the encouragement to find our way to refocus our attention on Christ.
Oh how the enemy delights in blurring our perceptions. The last thing the Devil wants is awareness; to see clearly into ourselves or others.
Before this retreat, I was asked to write reflections from five different scripture passages. These were due the following Monday after the retreat and I had not started until Sunday afternoon. During this process, the Spirit whispered to me, “Why stop there?” I was filled with the desire to continue reading scripture from our church Lectionary, and to continue writing brief reflections. This, I believe, is one of many ways in which I can begin to honor the Sabbath.