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Remember the Sabbath? Me Neither!
The fourth commandment comes from a loving Father who knows we need to take a break.

When I was growing up, the single most miserable day of the week was, without a doubt, Sunday. For one thing, Sunday spelled church, which I did not fully appreciate at the time. In fact, I used to climb a tall poplar tree about nine o'clock each Sunday morning hoping my parents would forget they had a fifth child and drive off. They never did.

… rest became synonymous with boredom.

I loved Sunday dinner, the fatted meatloaf with assorted vegetation. But then came Sunday afternoon—the longest five hours of the week. Jewish texts prohibit 39 specific acts during the Sabbath. My parents' list was longer. We were not allowed to throw a baseball, toss a Frisbee, yell loudly, read comic books, run in the yard, ride horses or chew tobacco. Acceptable activities included praying, napping, reading Danny Orlis books, listening to Billy Graham's Hour of Decision and singing hymns to elderly people at the Golden Hills Lodge. When you are a boy of ten or 11, your world does not revolve around these things.

And so I found myself in that poplar tree often on Sunday afternoons, squatting quietly, my chin in my hands. From there, I could envy the Silvers, who lived on the other side of our garden.

Mr. Silver and his son Mark spent the afternoon in their backyard throwing a football or chipping golf balls at each other. Sometimes they laughed loudly, and when the sun reached its apex they even took off their shirts. I was sure they were ripe for judgment for any one of these sins, and I watched expectantly, waiting for the ground to swallow them.

Though my parents wisely relaxed their rules over the years, to me, rest became synonymous with boredom. But did God want His children miserable when He created the idea of rest?

The ancient rabbis taught that on the six days of creation God created the universe, but on the seventh day He created something else: menuha—or tranquillity, serenity and peace. If God could afford to rest after creating the universe, certainly we could stand to do a little resting ourselves. Our building, creating, planning and running often leave us short of breath.

The God who created the Sabbath did not do so because He is a cranky master who garners delight from watching His subjects' reluctant compliance. The fourth commandment—"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy" (Exodus 20:8)—comes from a loving Father who understands us best, who does not like to see us suffer, who knows we need to take a breath.

Sunday should allow us to breathe. To make room for much-needed oxygen. Sunday clears away the rust of the week. When we set aside our work routine, we allow other things—friendship, music, laughter, conversation, rest and worship—to be born in its place.

"Sunday is no longer about me," he said. "It's about God and my family … "

A friend of mine, who built his own house on evenings and weekends, without taking a Sabbath rest for more than a year, told me: "I don't have many regrets, but that is one of them. My family suffered, and so did I."

"What are you doing differently now?" I asked him.

"Sunday is no longer about me," he said. "It's about God and my family. I throw the ball with my son more now. We attend church together. I hope it's not too late."

The fourth commandment is the only one that begins with the word "remember." Have you forgotten the Sabbath? It's not too late to remember.

I give thanks for parents who can laugh about my times in the poplar tree. "Were we really that strict?" they asked in disbelief the other day. I told them they were, and thanked them for modelling balance later on. Though they aren't as strict today, Mom and Dad craft Sunday around God and others. They are both in their late 70s, and I believe long life and peace has come to them partly because they have honoured the Sabbath day.

My parents still call Sunday the holy Sabbath. I once called it Sunday before realizing that, unless I treat it as a Sabbath, there is a danger my children will only call it the weekend. "Remember," I once heard someone say, "when we keep the Sabbath, the Sabbath will keep us."

Now, I think I'll come down from this poplar tree.

Phil Callaway is the editor of Servant magazine, author of a dozen books and a popular speaker. His web site is: For details about Phil's first novel Growing Up On the Edge of the World click here:

Originally published in Faith and Friends, August 2004.




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