A friend of mine who grew up in Benin was recently asked what she found to be the hardest thing about living in the States. She responded: “Probably the way the Sabbath day is treated like any other day. I mean, if ‘do not kill’ is high up on the respected list of 10 Commandments, ‘remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy’ must be way at the bottom.”
Of all the things that she could have thought of, I certainly wasn’t thinking of this one. Having grown up in Europe myself, one of the things I liked about the States was precisely the ability to run out for milk or eggs on a Sunday when we spontaneously wanted to make pancakes, or say, print photos when I wanted to send them first thing on a Monday morning. Who doesn’t enjoy getting their home to a place where you can start a new week without a pile of dishes stacked to the roof or four new loads of laundry awaiting you on a Monday morning?
But my friend’s response to the question struck a deep chord in my weary body. Perhaps precisely because my job as a mother never. ever. stops. I too have become anxious to hurry up and get everything clean on Sundays because Monday lurks around the corner and I’ll lose my babysitter and household help (aka my husband). My Sunday evenings are kind of a miserable race to tidy up.
I remember being reprimanded once in Germany for washing my car on a Sunday: Also, man kriegt hier in Deutschland eine Strafe dafür! (You’ll get a fine in Germany for doing that!) I even recall hiding my college laundry when I wanted to wash it at a friend’s home in Germany on a Sunday. I hated this strong societal scorn and strict legalism through which this Sabbath idea was enforced.
At the same time, businesses being closed and a whole country choosing to stop toiling (regardless of faith), forced us to enjoy a walk in the countryside, a drawn out Sunday lunch or a bike ride with friends. I never thought of it until our friend mentioned it, but when I was growing up in France, we never ran errands on a Sunday because everything was closed for business. Sure, we moaned about the impossible business hours, but as a consequence, the pace of life was also much slower and restful on the weekends.
For a few years now, I have been toying with this idea of a Sabbath and what it would take on a Saturday (and Monday!) for an extreme achiever personality like mine to allow our family – but first and foremost myself – a day of rest.
It takes a butt-load of work on the Saturday, that’s what it takes!
It means preparing kids’ lunches, doing laundry, mopping the floors, running errands, meal planning … so these things can be set aside on Sunday. Now, in the same breath, and pardon my French, but I don’t want to get all Germanic about my Sundays. I really don’t feel like I am a complete heretic if I press “start” on my washing machine one Sunday. Heck, I don’t really mind hanging out the laundry in the glorious SUNday sun or whipping up a quiche for my family.
Life with small children simply can’t be brought to a grinding halt. Rather, I think the attitude of guarding a day for rest should be entirely in the heart. So, I have started to ask myself on a Sunday: Is what I am doing today necessary? Or am I toiling to provide for myself, trying to get ahead, instead of basking in the rest available to me? Do I trust that God will provide the strength I need on Monday? Also, what does it look like to rest with other people on a Sunday?
As a result of these simple questions and small changes, it has surprised me to discover that I have never before looked so forward to Sundays and that I have so much more strength come Monday morning.
Esther Brumme is a mother of three under the age of 4 and as a result, a self-confessed espresso addict. She blogs about motherhood and multicultural life as a third culture kid on ThirdCultureMama.com