We live in a very fast-paced world. If you are working or a stay at home parent, you are busy. Even if you are retired like me, you may be just as busy as when you had a job. So no matter who you are or your season in life, you need regular holy rest.
We know that God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:1-3). Was he tired? I doubt it. He is God. Maybe, like Jesus getting baptized by John when he didn’t need it, God rested to teach us that we, too, should rest. In the Old Testament, Moses was given the command to "Keep holy the Lord’s Day" (Exodus 20:8). God is no less powerful or worthy or fearful today than yesterday, so this command still stands. Jesus confirmed that teaching in Mark 2:28 saying, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." He was reminding the listeners of his time and the Gospel readers of today that God gave us a day of rest because we need it. We need holy rest to maintain our mental, physical, and spiritual health.
Mental Health. How do we know that holy rest is important for our mental health? Let's look at the Old Testament. The Commandments were given after the Exodus when Israel was delivered from slavery after being in Egypt for 400 years. They didn’t know how to live or think as freed people so God had to teach them. Today we may also need to be taught to live as free men and women; not slaves to our jobs or other work. Those who are free get to decide what to do. Our mental attitude should reflect that freedom. Holy rest once a week helps us do that.
Another way holy rest benefits our mental health is as preparation for the upcoming week. That message was expressed in an episode of the television show Everybody Loves Raymond called "The Prodigal Son." Ray doesn’t go to church but his wife takes the kids each Sunday. She wants him to go with them but he resists. He asks her why she goes and she responds, "I go to thank God for you and the kids, and to pray for the strength to get through another week with you and the kids." Sometimes our Sunday worship does just that. It gives us mental strength for whatever lies ahead. For me, it brings me peace. I am able to forget about everything else going on and just sit with God, worship God, receive God. At Mass recently I was thinking about how that time is like being in a boat with a storm raging outside. There's a wild storm raging in my life right now, and when I'm at Mass I am safe in the boat with Jesus. I leave church with more peace, and I need that! I need holy rest for my mental health.
Physical Health. We also need holy rest for our physical health. Our bodies need rest so that we can serve God and fulfill the responsibilities of our vocation. Before I retired the first time, I had a very demanding job, working an average of 60 hours a week. It was my own business, so that was a big motivator to work – work – work. Most years when Christmas came around, work slowed down and I almost always got sick – in-bed-for-3-days sick. I was burning the candle at both ends and my body was not being cared for. My immune system was weak and it was easy to crash physically. Rest helps us recharge so we can better meet our responsibilities to God, our families, our employer, and those around us.
We also need to maintain our physical health to avoid getting to our breaking point, which can lead to sin and damaged relationships. I watched a video of football coach Nick Saban in pre-season camp with his players. He explained that he pushed them so hard to find their breaking point – the point when they could not go on. Then through training they would extend that breaking point so they could play better and stay strong through the entire game. We all have a breaking point. When I’m tired, I am less patient. I am less creative, I am less helpful to others, I am less of everything good. The only thing I do more of when tired is sin. Holy rest helps me extend my breaking point.
Spiritual Health. The third reason for holy rest is to maintain our spiritual health. If we keep holy the Lord's Day, we are attending to our spiritual health. Holy means to keep separate or set aside for God. So Sunday is set aside for God. It used to be that nothing happened on Sundays. Stores were closed. Kids didn’t have games or tournaments. Even non-Christians knew that Sunday was different. It was a day set aside. But that's not the way it is today. As Christians we are still called to be holy – to be set apart. One way to do that is to live differently on the Lord's Day. That means we gather with other believers to worship God. We come together as one to worship with each other and strengthen one another. We acknowledge our Maker, our Redeemer, our Sanctifier. We have at least one hour dedicated solely to God. It's only one hour a week. Surely we can give at least one hour a week to God.
We also use the Lord's Day – Resurrection Day – to remember God’s blessings. It should be a day of thanksgiving. Everything good that we have is a gift from God. When we slow down for some holy rest, we are better able to praise God for the graces He has showered down on us.
So we are called to take a day of rest – a Holy Rest – for our mental, physical – and most importantly – our spiritual health. Maybe you agree with that but you just can't see how it can happen for you. Here are 5 ideas to consider:
Make it a habit to go to church and listen for God's voice. We are called – commanded – to worship God. He gave very detailed instructions in the Old Testament about how to worship. Is God less deserving of worship today? I don't think so. If there is something that's keeping you from community worship, take that to God in prayer. The strength you gain by attending Mass or a worship service is great – and we all need that. If you are already regularly attending church, make yourself fully present there. Listen for one thing that you can take into your life to draw closer to God. Try also to take some quiet time alone in prayer during the day. Meditate on Scripture. Pour out your heart to God in prayer. Read a spiritual book. Time with God strengthens our spiritual health and that overflows into our mental and physical heath.
Focus on your family. Be fully present to them, especially when they want to talk. Put your phone away. It will make them feel like they are the most important person in the world to you in that moment, and everyone needs to feel that way sometimes. Train your family to appreciate holy rest. Do a family puzzle, cook together, take a walk. When we train our families to make the Lord's Day holy, it increases the likelihood that they will continue that into adulthood. I missed church for about 20 years, but every Sunday I knew where I was supposed to be. I learned that from my parents and it stuck with me. Eventually I made my way back by the grace of God. If we train our children to value holy rest, they may be more likely to stay in church and less likely to give away the Lord's Day to the demands of a job or other distractions. If your kids are grown, make Sunday a day you talk by phone. If you don't have blood family, you probably have others who are like family. Is there a way to have a day of holy rest with them?
Stop. Take a pause from the busyness of your life. When I had my business, there was one employee who would sometimes get overwhelmed with her workload. I could see how stressed she was and would tell her to go out for a walk. She thought she couldn’t pause because there was too much to do, but it was exactly what she needed for her mental health. Sometimes we need to stop, even when it seems like we can't. Maybe you can stop for 15 minutes this week. Then you try for 30 minutes, and then gradually add more time. Start small and let the time for God expand. Holy rest is a gift for you from God. Accept it!
Avoid unnecessary work. I am the type of person who is always doing something. It's hard to just sit. And there is always something to do. I have a long list of things I want to clean up or organize in my home. But – if I remember that Sunday is for holy rest – I have to resist doing those chores. I should do enjoyable things, but not chores. If working in the garden is fun for you, do it. That is definitely not fun for me, so I happily skip that chore on Sundays. If there is really no other time to do the laundry, or someone suddenly remembers they need something washed for Monday, I do laundry. My family needs to eat on Sundays so we cook – and we often cook together. I don't consider that work. Maybe you like to visit an elderly neighbor – that's not work. Jesus said it is right to do good on the sabbath. The point is to try to learn what is unnecessary work and resist doing it. Let your day be as relaxing as possible.
Attend to the well-being of your body. If we don’t take care of our bodies, we cannot properly serve God. That may mean taking a nap. On Sundays I like to nap after dinner. It’s not being lazy. The Lord’s Day is literally a day of rest! So don't feel bad about actually resting. Maybe you like to take a walk and Sunday is the only day you have time. Go ahead! Use that walk to notice the holy around you. Ponder the great questions of God. Experience God in nature and marvel at His creation. A holy rest should lift our hearts and minds to God.
God made the sabbath day – a day of holy rest – because we need it. He knows what is best for us. He calls us to holy rest once a week. If you are hesitating and think it's not necessary for you, think again. If you think you don't deserve it, think again. If you think it won't make a difference – think again. Set aside a day of Holy Rest – the Lord's Day – Resurrection Day. Celebrate God and receive His grace and His rest. That is where you will find peace.
Questions to ponder in prayer:
When you don’t have a day of holy rest, which aspect of your health suffers the most: mental, physical, or spiritual?
What challenges do you face in practicing holy rest? Bring those challenges to God for help.
What might God be calling you to do regarding a day of holy rest?