“Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath”
As a third-generation Adventist, I was raised practicing the Sabbath. As a child, I enjoyed dressing up, going to church, and our special Sabbath lunches, but dreaded the boredom that filled the long hours till sunset. In College, I enjoyed the fellowship and exploration of the gorgeous mountains and neighborhoods just outside of Southern Adventist University with friends. Yet the increasing intensity of university life made Sabbath seem like a luxury, a waste of valuable time that could have been spent studying, reading, or writing one of the dozens of essays required by my classes. Even when guilt compelled me to take the Sabbath, my anxiety polluted the space that was meant to be dedicated to rest and communion with God.
Chased by anxiety-induced perfectionism, Sabbath felt like yet another aspect of Christianity that I was “doing wrong”. This fear of flunking my Christianity was never caused by any ideology represented in my home or in the church I was raised in, but grew from a lack of a personal relationship with God. This lack of a personal relationship was due in large part to my clinical anxiety. It was my observation of the reverential excitement within the set structure of church liturgy that I longed for, yet seemed out of reach. There were people who were eager for the Sabbath, wept during the song service and hung on every word of the sermon, while I watched in confusion, shame, and guilt that I was not also swept into the blessings of corporate worship. A large majority of my Christianity was spent believing the Holy Spirit skipped over me when it came to the pentecost of Sabbath worship.
When 2020 hit, many tried to maintain church practice by adapting services to online live streaming. This experience led to numerous churches stepping up to the challenge by creating platforms that did their best to uphold the church experience through virtual services that could be experienced live or revisited again and again. For most, It was a wonderful opportunity that led to a needed evolution in church outreach. For me, 2020 led to my breaking point. I found it challenging to sit in my home and listen to the recorded services. The already thin connection I had with corporate worship was beginning to crack, breaking further under the decades-long anxiety that I had pushed onto my faith. I had pushed past lukewarm into numbness. The constant fear of failure when it came to my faith became too heavy to bear. I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong. I went through the rituals. I prayed the prayers. I sat in church. No matter how much I surrendered, no matter how hard I tried, I never seemed to “do it right” to promise the connection and joyous relief others felt. The frustration and suffocating guilt led to a crossroads: I could either give in to the numbness, or I could deconstruct my beliefs and ask God to reveal and remove the misconceptions that were preventing me from truly believing. By God’s grace, I went with the latter.
This reconstruction led me to the Sabbath. Over and over again, I found myself in observation of this holy day and its significance. The deeper my study, the more entranced I was by its power and all it revealed about God and His character. I was starting to fully understand the Sabbath for the first time in my life. I fell in love with the Sabbath in a way that gave space for the refreshment and reverence it deserved. This newfound appreciation for this day of rest led to many revelations about the gospel, the character of the Godhead, and the intimacy of the Genesis story, yet it also led to a revelation about myself. In my immersion in the Sabbath, I discovered that I was not blessed by corporate worship. The patterns of a traditional service did not always allow space for me to fully experience worshipful connectivity with God. The services that did bless me reflected the informal intimacy of the early church: small discussions, rich prayer, a simple hymn and a brief sermon that is rich in its simplicity. Yet the Sabbaths I cherished the most, were those that took place outside of a building.
In remembering the Sabbaths that blessed me to my core, I found that they were spent with a single or small group of friends, driving around Lookout Mountain, walking through trails, cooking a meal in a hilariously small dorm kitchen that would be brought down to the lobby to be shared by friends, or best of all, spent alone. The traditional structure of church caused me to go into autopilot, going through the motions of a ritual that did not suit me. There is value, blessing, and celebration in traditional church structures, yet I learned that one form of worship cannot be given as the only standard for Sabbath. If my studies have taught me anything, it's that God did not create us to all abide by one “Standardized Sabbath” but ask how best to worship Him.
God walks with us through every season of our faith. Because of this intimacy with our needs, we can trust He will provide exactly what we need when we need it. In this season, the LORD has shown that my Sabbaths are best spent in solitary communion with Him. My next season may see me reintroduce worship within community. If so, I can rest in the truth that the LORD will provide all I need. Yet by God’s grace and the loving support of family, I have learned that my inability to connect with corporate worship did not make me a failure. It merely meant I had to rely on God to define what I needed to build intimacy with Him. God knew that Sabbath had to be the first stone laid in the reconstruction of my faith, to unravel the misconceptions that had been preventing me from living in complete dependence on Him. Now I can say, with reverence and pure joy, “Happy Sabbath”.