I’ve heard Christians talk about this time of self-quarantine as a Sabbath, and though I believe this sentiment is well-intentioned, there are many reasons to make it impossible to think of it as such.
The Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments:
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. - Exodus 20:8-11
The Sabbath is a command from God, a predictable time period designed to help us rest, grow closer to God, and worship.
Why you should stop calling this a Sabbath
In these current times of pandemic, we do not have an end date to our quarantine. A forced rest in which normal life goes on hold for an indefinite period of time is not life-giving, it is anxiety-producing.
Many of us who haven’t lost our jobs are telecommuting and working from home. The technology that allows us to do so also makes us available around the clock. The provost of a local university sent a faculty member a text at 11:30 PM. The worship leader of our church hasn’t been able to take a full day off since the quarantine started seventeen days ago.
Those of us with jobs as well as kids home from school understand that this time is more stressful than restful. Last week, I passed by my neighbor’s house as I was walking my dogs. She had her laptop set up on a table on her patio. I stopped for a minute to say hi (from a respectable distance).
“I’m trying to get some work done,” she told me. “I can’t get anything done inside because the kids are constantly interrupting me. Last night, they walked past my husband who was cooking in the kitchen to shout through the office door and ask me what was for dinner!” She gave a deflated sigh.
Juggling the demands of home and work at the same time doesn’t sound like Sabbath to me.
Made to worship
The Sabbath is also a time to set aside to worship:
What is to be done on the Sabbath? (…) Worship through the gathering of believers, through music, through study of God’s word. Enjoy the beautiful world He made and worship Him as creator. Worship through loving other people and spending time with them, cultivating relationships.– Joel Stucki
During this prolonged time of self-quarantine, we are unable to gather together with other believers, unable to spend time in person with others to cultivate relationships. Though many church services have moved online, and there are more options than ever to connect virtually with others, each of these “screen encounters” leaves me deeply dissatisfied. There is something in the physical gathering of community that cannot be replaced. I end up with a nameless longing at the end of every virtual meeting. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
And you would think that living among the mountains and the beaches of San Diego would provide plenty of opportunity to worship God as creator, but even our access to nature has been limited. County beaches and hiking trails are closed, and trespassers are fined. Local law enforcement keeps people away from public parks. Last week, our family was shooed away from an empty parking lot by a man driving a security truck.
No more guilt
Friends, I’m not writing this to throw a pity party. I’m writing this to remind us all that we shouldn’t feel pressured to treat this time as a Sabbath. The Sabbath is a holy day set apart to reconnect with God through rest, through the joys of his creation, through our relationships with others. What we are collectively experiencing is anxiety, fear, grief, disappointment, and stress. Let’s not add guilt to the pile by thinking this time should be a restful Sabbath.
Instead, let’s treat it as one more season in our lives: a season at times dark and difficult, but a season still able to be redeemed and used by God to bear fruit in His kingdom.