By Lynne M. Baab —
Illustration by Dave Baab
I can’t imagine there’s an English speaking person on the face of the earth who hasn’t heard the comparison of “human being” versus “human doing.”
These words are often used in discussions about the fast pace of life, leisure activities that are restorative, and various spiritual practices such as contemplative prayer and journaling. The Sabbath is the spiritual practice that taught me the most about these words.
My husband, Dave, and I lived for 18 months in Israel as young adults. In fact, exactly forty years ago this month, we had been in Israel about six months. I was studying Hebrew full time and pregnant with our older son, and Dave was teaching in the dental school at Tel Aviv University. We’d had six months of a Jewish Sabbath every week, and we were starting to relax into the pattern of a day with absolutely nothing to do.
In our Jewish neighborhood, everything was closed, from mini-marts to supermarkets, from movie theaters to restaurants. We didn’t have a car, and the busses didn’t run. In our early months in Israel we chafed at the sense of boredom, but by mid-year we were actually enjoying a day of reading, leisurely letter writing (no email in those days), bird-watching in the nearly field (for Dave), leisurely cooking (for me), and long, leisurely conversations.
The observant reader will note the use of “leisurely” three times in the previous sentence, and that’s the key word for our Sabbaths in Israel and our Sabbaths today. It really did take at least six months to begin to enjoy doing things slowly, in an open-ended fashion with a relaxed spirit.
In one of the versions of the Ten Commandments in the Hebrew Scriptures, freedom from slavery is given as the reason why the people of Israel should observe a Sabbath:
“Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.” (Deut 5:12-15)
God freed the Israelites from slavery to the Egyptians, and after the death and resurrection of Jesus we know that God freed all people from slavery to sin, death and the devil. The Sabbath day is a day to live free lives, celebrating that we are no longer enslaved. When we live one day a week that way, month after month and year after year, something profound is inscribed on our hearts. We change the way we perceive ourselves. We see ourselves differently.
“Leisurely” is a word that reflects the kind of freedom needed today, in our unbelievably busy lives. I can’t achieve “leisurely” seven days a week, and I don’t believe God calls me to try to do that. But I have learned to lean into leisure one day each week, and it truly has changed my perception of myself. Truly I am a human being, not a human doing. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone by my accomplishments. I see myself differently (at least some of the time!) because I keep a Sabbath.
I do not have to live as if I am enslaved to a frantic schedule. I do not have to live as if I am enslaved to other people’s opinions. I am a freed human being.
Figuring out how to keep a Sabbath – what to do and what not to do – is challenging. Some resources I’ve written:
- Articles on my website
- My book, Sabbath Keeping: Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest
- My Bible study guide: Sabbath: the Gift of Rest