I read 24/6 by Dr. Sleeth on coast-to-coast flights in the spring and then quoted from it in one of my weekly emails to the Sabbath Society. What I didn’t know is that the program manager for his non-profit, Blessed Earth, happens to be one of the 300+ recipients reading those letters of encouragement. A whole chapter of serendipity goes along with this introduction but without further ado, I’m beyond giddy about hosting Dr. Sleeth’s wise words. Read them and find a surprise at the end waiting for you.
When I was working as an ER physician, people often called me a workaholic. I’m not surprised. For far too many years, I worked 24-hour shifts in the hospital. During my teens, I knew what it felt like not to have enough to eat. And so when I became a husband and father, I never wanted my family to, well, want for anything.
It was not until I became a Christian in my forties that I discovered God’s answer to our always-on, 24/7 culture of work, work, work. His answer first appears in the opening pages of Genesis. God’s rhythm since the beginning of time has been 24/6—six days on, and one day off. And when I began adopting that rhythm, my entire life changed for the better—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
What does the word “Sabbath” mean? It simply means “stop.” That’s all. The Hebrew people didn’t have names for the days of the week. There was one-day, two-day, three-day, four-day, five-day, six-day, stop-day.
The fourth commandment says that we don’t work on stop day. We don’t make our sons work; we don’t make our daughters work; we don’t make anybody in our household work. We don’t make strangers work; we don’t make illegal aliens work; we don’t make minimum wage employees work. We don’t make anything work, including the cattle and the chicken and the sheep. We stop. We cool our jets. We just idle our engines on that day.
When my wife Nancy started teaching, she had a student named Clinton. Clinton’s essay on the first day of class was three pages long. It didn’t have a comma; it didn’t have a period; it didn’t have a paragraph in it. It was a three-page, run-on sentence.
I don’t think God intended our lives to be like that paper—just one long, run-on sentence. The work of our life is meant to be punctuated by rest. Musicians talk about this. They say that it’s not the notes that make the song, but the pauses in between the notes. This rhythm is equally true for our lives.
I have a memory from when my kids were younger that defines Sabbath rest for me. We lived in a house that had a big attic with a window on either side. The only thing in the attic was a hammock and a pull rope. The kids and I went in there one evening when it was too cold outside, but it was perfectly warm inside. My son Clark was on one shoulder, pulling on the rope, and my daughter Emma was on the other shoulder. I read a book to them and, at the end I put the book on the floor. In that quiet, while the swaying of our hammock slowed down, they both fell asleep.
I think that heaven is going to be a whole lot more like that moment than the typical Monday at work. Best of all, when practiced regularly, Sabbath is a piece of heaven that can be taken with us into the other six days of the week.
If you can’t imagine twenty-four hours of rest, start with four or six hours of holy rest, but just start. Stopping is about restraint. It’s not about doing everything that we can. It’s about finding the peace of God that passes all understanding.
The Sabbath is not meant to be saved by humanity; rather, humanity is meant to be saved by the Sabbath. I know from first-hand experience. After practicing the Sabbath for almost a decade, I have seen how it has flowed into the other six days of my week. I still work hard, but I always know that Sabbath is just around the corner—an oasis of complete and holy rest.
Sabbath rest has saved countless numbers of patients from the physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences of unremitting stress. If practiced regularly, the Sabbath can save you, too.
I pray that you remember to open up this gift of stopping one day a week. I pray that you find peace in this weekly sanctuary of time. I pray that you will be still and that, through rest, you will come to know God. And it will be good.
Does your life feel like one run-on sentence? If so, how can you begin to punctuate your week with rest? Answer one of these two questions or share something new you read here that inspires new thinking about Sabbath. Dr. Sleeth is giving away a copy of his book and DVD (great for groups), 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life to one person who leaves a comment.
Join us every Wednesday in September for more discussion about a rhythm of rest from 24/6 at Redemptions Beauty Book Club.
Matthew Sleeth, MD, a former ER physician, is the executive director of Blessed Earth and author of 24/6 (book and DVD). He lives in Lexington, KY, with his wife Nancy and two children. For more Sabbath resources, visit Sabbathliving.org.