Searching for “Set Apart”

I’m struggling, again, with a growing dissatisfaction about the way my Sundays feel. This is an ongoing thing for me – it crops up every so often, and I read and pray and read and pray. Honestly, though, Chris has never shared my burden for it, so actually implementing changes has never happened. Eventually, life gets busy or something else comes along and my focus shifts and I forget about it… until something reminds me, and I circle back around to this.

I want Sunday to feel “set apart.” I want a Sabbath. I want rest.

Oh, not necessarily literal rest. Every mom of a baby would enjoy an extra day just to catch up on her naps, I guess, but that’s not the issue here.

Usually, Sunday goes like this:

5:30 a.m. Jonas wakes up, creeps into our room, and whisper-asks if it’s time to get up. We tell him no, he goes back to his room, and we roll over and try to doze off again.
6:00 a.m. Chris gets up and goes to the hospital. If he’s on-call, he’s likely there all day. If he’s not, he either makes rounds and races home just in time to hop in the car as we leave for church, or he makes rounds and does a small case and misses church but is home for the afternoon.
6:30-ish a.m. I get up and tell Jonas he can get up and open Susannah’s door; we all head downstairs for breakfast. The next couple of hours are just like every other day – fixing two separate breakfasts for the big kids, gratefully sipping a cup (or three) of coffee, letting the dog out and in and feeding him, at some point Abigail waking up and doing diapers/dress/nurse with her. I usually flip the TV on, even though I’d like to have at least ONE day without it, and try to catch a weather report before the kids start clamoring for PBS versus DVR versus whatever-the-current-video-obsession is. The benefit to giving in to the clamoring is that it usually buys me a few minutes to get myself dressed (and possibly even put makeup on) while they’re watching something. I wish I didn’t feel so dependent on a screen to accomplish that, though.
8:30 a.m. I start wrangling everyone into “church clothes.” Jonas is pretty capable at this point of assembling an appropriate outfit that matches, and only needs help with combing his hair, cleaning his glasses, and tying his shoelaces. But Susannah tends to wiggle and muss and undress and pull ribbons off and generally takes twice as long to get ready, so it evens out. Abigail is still at a cooperative stage for getting dressed, but at least 50% of the time has a last-minute diaper-change needed just as we head out the door.
9:20 a.m. I grab Susannah’s bag, Jonas’ worship bag, my diaper bag, (and my Bible if I’m lucky) and shepherd my little animals toward the garage. Queue up at least one lost shoe, missing hairbow, diaper blowout, or trip-and-fall-scrape. Then someone freaks out about carseat buckles and/or which CD is in the car stereo.
9:45 a.m. Sunday School starts, and hopefully we’re there. 🙂 Worship follows.
12:30 p.m. Home! Throw some sandwiches to the hungry lions children. After we eat, we have quiet time, during which Jonas plays in his room, Susannah lays on her sleeping bag in the family room, and Abigail may or may not nap, depending on how well she slept in the sling during church.
2:00 p.m. Everyone’s awake, and unless Chris is on-call, he’s probably home. And then we…. I don’t know. I feel like we don’t really do anything special, but it doesn’t really feel restful or relaxing, either. We probably have the TV on, because we’ve gotten into a movie rut lately. One of the adults might run to the grocery store or some other errands, and leave the kids home with the other of us.
5:00 p.m. Dinnertime, and while I sometimes try to make a nice “Sunday dinner,” sometimes I don’t. Again – it’s nothing special.
6:00 p.m. We start getting the big kids ready for bed. They’re usually down by 6:30. Abigail has been following around 7:00. Then we have a few hours to ourselves (we tend to go to bed around 9:30) but there’s nothing remarkable about how we spend it on Sundays. Catching up on something we DVR’ed, watching a Netflix movie, chatting about the news. If Chris is on-call, this is usually the time of day he finally makes it home, so he’s exhausted.

I’m intrigued by faith communities that make set-apart-Sundays happen. As an outsider, I have really enjoyed reading about the traditions and rules that have come about to support and encourage and maintain the discipline of keeping the Sabbath ‘holy’ – and the parameters of ‘holiness’ that each group chooses. We all know that the Amish and Mennonite communities have very strict guidelines for eschewing many of the technologies that make up modern life; but even so, they have further restrictions for activities and endeavors that are prohibited during the Sabbath. And orthodox Jews observe Shabbat, which falls from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, but which they “set apart” by refraining from work of all kinds. When we lived in Fort Lauderdale, we’d sometimes see orthodox families walking on Saturday – usually with father and son in their black hats up front, mother and daughter a little ways behind. Their dedication to keeping the Sabbath holy is striking: NOBODY walks in South Florida. 🙂

I’m struck by the fact that the wider Christian community, evangelicals and mainline Protestants alike, tend to give lip service to the fourth commandment – but anyone observing our families would probably be hard-pressed to see a difference between believers and nonbelievers. Oh, sure, we’re probably in a church building for a few hours that morning… but after that? We shop, we play sports, we watch sports on TV, we waste time on the Internet, we patronise restaurants, we text and chat and game on our phones, we go to movies, etc. Wikipedia offers this explanation:

Many Christians look upon the Sabbath as a principle to be observed in spirit and not the letter. They point to the meaning of Sabbath as “rest” and the only New Testament admonishment to rest being Jesus’ invitation to rest in him (Matthew 11:28). Those who hold to the spirit of the Sabbath believe that a more permanent rest is offered which a day could never fulfill, rest in Jesus.

Sounds good, I suppose… Except for this restlessness I feel to make Sundays more special. I don’t quite know what it would look like – would we “unplug?” Or keep our phones on but turn off the TV, laptop, iPad screens? Play board games and read stories with the kids (oh wait, we do that all week long…)? And honestly, I’m still not sure of the reason I want to make the change.
While I wrestle with the idea, I welcome your feedback. I’m reading and praying and reading some more. A few things I’ve found this time around:

From the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship: God’s Countercultural Invitation to Sabbath Rest

From an apparently secular blogging family: Unplugged Sunday

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MICHELLE NEBEL

I write uplifting women’s fiction woven with threads of faith, grace, and Southern hospitality. My blog is where I share a glimpse of my life, and I hope you’ll find the thoughts here encouraging!

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“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

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