My practice of Sabbath took a dramatic turn when I took a two-year study leave from parish ministry. During that time I was once again sitting in the pew on Sunday mornings. Those two years of Sundays took me back to the routine of my childhood: worship, Sunday School, a table full of excellent dishes prepared by my mother, and a take-it-easy afternoon with family. I prefer celebrating the Sabbath on Sunday; however, now that I am once again serving in a church, I am practicing Sabbath on Fridays. I do very little on Fridays. I don’t shop. My current appointment is much closer to my parents, so most Fridays I spend time with my parents. I have a tendency to be task oriented and tasks can be never-ending. Keeping these tasks at bay can be a challenge for me on Sabbath. Practicing Sabbath is a necessary reminder that life is not all about work. For me, ministry can be a guilt producing endeavor since there is always more that could be done. But the God who loves us infinitely has commanded that once a week we refrain from our usual activities and instead rest. I think that the Duke Clergy Health Initiative and the North Carolina Conference’s focus on Sabbath echoes God’s commandment and in a sense provides another layer of permission for pastors to live by Sabbath rhythms. I hope my practice of Sabbath provides encouragement for my colleagues and parishioners. Sabbath is a key ingredient in our relationship with God, our physical and mental health, our relationships with one another, and the health of the world.
Tracy Clayton: (B.S. Public Health and MHA, UNC-Chapel Hill; M.Div., Duke Divinity School; D. Min. in Spiritual Direction, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary) is an ordained elder in the North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church. In 2014, Tracy completed a two-year study leave in which she received a D. Min. and two units of Clinical Pastoral Education. Since July 2014 she has been serving Phillips Chapel United Methodist Church.
Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, NC will be hosting a day-long Sabbath retreat on Monday, February 9th. This event will run from 9 am to 3 pm. Registration cost is $10 and includes lunch and a copy of 24/6. For more information, directions, and registration, visit the Chapel of the Cross website here.
Below is an excerpt from “How will you measure your life?” by Clayton Christensen, PhD. Dr. Christensen, a life-long Sabbath-keeper, is a professor at Harvard Business School.
I came to understand the potential damage of “just this once” in my own life when I was in England, playing on my university’s varsity basketball team. It was a fantastic experience; I became close friends with everyone on the team. We killed ourselves all season, and our hard work paid off-we made it all the way to the finals of the big tournament. But then I learned that the championship game was scheduled to be played on a Sunday. This was a problem. At age sixteen, I had made a personal commitment to God that I would never play ball on Sunday because it is our Sabbath.
So I went to the coach before the tournament finals and explained my situation. He was incredulous. “I don’t know what you believe,” he said to me, “but I believe that God will understand.” Every one of the guys on the team came to me and said, “You’ve got to play. Can’t you break the rule, just this one time?”
It was a difficult decision to make. The team would suffer without me. The guys on the team were my best friends. We’d been dreaming about this all year. I’m a deeply religious man, so I went away to pray about what I should do. As I knelt to pray, I got a very clear feeling that I needed to keep my commitment. So I told the coach that I wasn’t able to play in the championship game.
In so many ways, that was a small decision—involving one of several thousand Sundays in my life. In theory, surely I could have crossed over the line just that one time and then not done it again. But looking back on it, I realize that resisting the temptation of “in this one extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s okay” has proved to be one of the most important decisions of my life. Why? Because life is just one unending stream of extenuating circumstances. Had I crossed the line that one time, I would have done it over and over and over in the years that followed.
And it turned out that my teammates didn’t need me. They won the game anyway.
If you give in to “just this once,” based on a marginal-cost analysis, you’ll regret where you end up. That’s the lesson I learned: it’s easier to hold to your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold to them 98 percent of the time. The boundary—your personal moral line—is powerful because you don’t cross it; if you have justified doing it once, there’s nothing to stop you doing it again.
Decide what you stand for. And then stand for it all the time.
Reprint courtesy of Harper Collins.