A “Sabbath Testimony”—by Shannon Stewart

Sabbath Study, Part 40

When Cap started studying the Sabbath during the summer we got married, I dreaded the result. Like most Christians I knew, I “kept the Sabbath” by going to church on Sunday mornings and then used Sunday afternoons to finish homework, do last-minute chores, or just chill out with a movie before the week began. When Cap’s study led him to believe that keeping the Sabbath involved a bit more than obligatory church attendance, I wasn’t thrilled. To be quite honest, I didn’t want to think about God all day long. That would be boring.

At the time, I was halfway done with my Master’s Degree in English Literature, a task that required more work than I could give. Despite constant labor, I still went to bed every night with many assignments unfinished. Days upon days of often unrewarding work, with no end in sight, made me exhausted, stressed to the point of physical ailment, and regularly depressed. I spent Sunday afternoons frantically catching up on homework, though these afternoons were usually when I suffered most from exhaustion.

Cap did lead me to keep the Sabbath that summer, and when he did, he was also leading me to a closer relationship with God and with him. I found that I suddenly had time for spiritual work that I usually put off during the week: reading books about God, having long quiet times, thinking about sins and spiritual questions that I usually gave myself no time to consider during my busy weekdays. I enjoyed spending hours at a time talking with Cap about God during walks or snuggled up on the couch, with no distracting errands or chores on my mind to make me want to rush through the conversation. I came to enjoy and guard our restful Sundays together. I realized that, like all God’s other commandments, the Sabbath was a liberating blessing, not a gloomy restriction.

When fall semester rolled around again, I was actually sad to see my Sabbaths go. But I knew—or thought I knew—that taking an entire day off of grad school every week was crazy. I suppose that since I had never kept the Sabbath before, I felt more comfortable taking time off from the fourth commandment than from “Thou shalt not lie” or any of the others.

Three weeks into the semester, I was already a basket case, crying hysterically almost every night and remaining depressed for days at a time. Even though I was working all day, every day, I still couldn’t finish everything required of me, and I was despairing. Realizing that rest—real rest—was necessary for my sanity, I agreed with Cap that I should give the Sabbath a trial run in the midst of the busy semester. I had finally come to the point where I saw that, in my own strength, I could not finish everything. But these two verses made promises to people like me: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for He gives to His beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2); “O LORD, you will ordain peace for us; you have done for us all our works” (Isaiah 26:12). It was not in my power to complete grad school successfully or sanely. But it was in God’s power, and God told me to keep the Sabbath—and that He could easily take care of the rest.

The Sunday we picked to start Sabbath-keeping again was, ironically, the Sunday before what looked to be one of the most challenging weeks of my grad school career. Instead, that week was one of the most joyful weeks I had ever had there. When unexpected problems popped up, I found that trusting God with my time by keeping the Sabbath put me in a posture of trust for other trials, too, and I was able to meet them joyfully and flexibly. I finished all the homework for that week, and it felt like a refreshing miracle rather than a thankless labor. And when I didn’t finish assignments, I found that my world didn’t end.

The Sabbath is not some magic ritual that suddenly made my schedule go right. But it certainly is a tool to help my heart get right. Much that I consistently struggled with—keeping priorities straight, trusting God with my work and schedule, not being a slave to schoolwork, fostering affection for Cap in the midst of a stressful life—are what the Sabbath helps grow in me. The Sabbath is also a statement to my doubting heart of God’s reality. Every week as God proves faithful to provide for us and help us with our work, the proof builds.

The Lord’s Day should be our favorite day of the week, but it was a day I dreaded because of all the last-minute catching up I had to do on Sunday afternoons. Now I can honestly say it is my favorite day, a day I look forward to every week. I gladly give up television and chores on one afternoon for this blessing and this spiritual benefit.