“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8).
Not long ago, many of us lived our lives during an average week with very little rest. Every day, including the weekend, was filled with lots of activity and our calendars were pressed with priorities. Then, everything changed. A little-known virus rearranged our lives. A common event caught the world by surprise and we have been finding ourselves dismayed as to what to do with ourselves. We simply did not see it coming. But God did!
In my childhood, I can remember days of very little activity on the Sabbath. Other than going to church, I remember subtle family activities, being together, reading Scripture, praying, and plenty of space for God. It was truly a day of rest. One Sabbath I can remember feeling rogue when a group of church friends played softball on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. I do not remember many stores being open. If they had been open, my family would not even have thought of going. We always had Sunday meals together at my house or my grandparents’ house. I do not remember a single exception.
Our states used to enforce “blue laws” or “Sunday laws.” For religious reasons, these laws were designed to restrict or ban activities such as business or shopping on the Sabbath. The primary purpose was to encourage the observance of a day for worship and rest. In more recent decades, most states have relaxed or repealed these laws that were so highly valued by our culture … even by labor unions and trade associations. A broad study published by MIT and Notre Dame economists in 2008 found the repeal of blue laws led to decreased church attendance, decreased donations to churches, and increased alcohol and drug use among religious individuals.
Today we are being forced into a somewhat similar situation of restrictions under completely different circumstances. To some it seems to be a daily reoccurring bad dream, and to others it is a blessing! We have all kinds of “white space” in our calendars. Last Sunday, for the first time ever, I was not in a church building on Easter Sunday. Yet I was blessed to virtually take in my local church service and four other services in churches from coast to coast.
It is becoming difficult to remember what day it is … nearly every day seems the same. We are “socially distancing” and trying to figure out what it means to make good decisions as we look ahead. So, what do we do with all of this white space? It is my prayer that we declare it God’s space, a new Sabbath. It can mean more time with God and our family, creating a new normal for your spiritual life and family life.
Even now that our freedom to move about has been subdued, we can appreciate the daily benefits of what God has for us. Use this space for prayer and reflection. These days of reduced scheduling can be used as a “reset button.” With all the debate on how to reopen our country, perhaps we should be praying and asking God to reorder our lives as a country under God, to help us be closer to Him and closer to our families. As we begin to prioritize the opportunities ahead, perhaps we can figure out new ways to keep connecting with each other. As the hymn states, “The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.”
It is my prayer that not too long from know, we will be together again. Until that day, may God help us to find Him in every moment of every day. It’s the Sabbath!
Tim Burkhart is the vice president of estate and gift planning at the Free Methodist Foundation.2