Growing up in rural North Carolina, Sunday was synonymous with worship.
First Baptist Church was our weekly hot spot, a place where my mother stood outside the towering brick structure smoothing my eyebrows and giving me a once over to make certain my slip wasn’t showing.
Unless a nasty cold or fever presented itself Saturday night, a Trent never missed church. Sabbath activities were the hub from which life radiated.
My mother learned such sacred habits from her mother, a staunch Baptist who wouldn’t let her children play cards, go to the movies, or dance on the side porch on Sundays. In the country, Sabbaths were God’s day; the stores were closed, wives made lunches at home, and children exhausted their patience waiting for something interesting to happen.
In preparation, my grandmother made supper fixings the night before, placed a hen in the oven prior Sunday School, and ensured that her post-church dining room table was a feast when she, her five children, and husband returned to the farm house. Occasional friends were invited, but mostly—it was family time.
After lunch, my grandmother cherished the only time of nothingness she had all week: she read the newspaper, setting the tone for the remains of the day, which she called “every man for himself.” This meant no supper would be cooked, and the children, bellies full from a good Southern lunch, would fend for themselves.
This tradition was congruent in my paternal family. My WWII era Grandmother Lewman never made a Sunday night meal either. I like to think it was the first wave of feminism crying, “Just like God, we ladies need a night off, too.”
Some Sundays, my mother and her siblings were loaded into station wagon to visit nearby relatives, including my great-grandmother who also set a lunch fit for royalty on her table, which she covered with a bed sheet all afternoon so the children to snack when they arrived.
By evening, family activities were complete and my mother and aunt were escorted to “Training Union” at church, sealing the Sunday rule that no one made plans for the evening unless it involved family or God.
With some modern adaptations in place, my adolescence mirrored my mother’s, and Sundays were a strict day of lunch and rest bookended by church services, with the frequent addition of a trip to nearby Martinsville to see my grandmother, far from her former farmer’s wife self, body and mind ailing with Alzheimer’s disease.
These were in the sacred days before Internet and cell phones, back when you gave God thanks for the stillness of a mid-afternoon.
Today, my adult responsibilities are as hefty as my inhibitions, and Sundays come with a pressure to produce: to catch up or get ahead on projects. Hours spent in worships sometimes feels more like an obligation than a spiritual fill-up. If I want to make Sabbath happen, I have to steal it—sometimes from myself.
Society norms, gender norms, culture, and technology have affected the Sabbath shift we’ve seen in the past 60 years. The very advances we’ve come to cherish as conveniences have hindered us from the basics. Perhaps, those quiet country Sundays—minus the repressive gender roles and cholesterol-ridden three-meats-and-plenty-of-sides—were a good idea. Maybe we should get back to them.
But, we’d probably have to steal them.
And though it feels odd breaking one commandment to fulfill another, a petty larceny seems ethical in this case, as we would say no to our projects, our email, and our pressures. We would “steal” back the very time that we steal from ourselves: precious time for worship, rest, and reflection.
I’ve asked fellow writers to explore this notion with me with the series “Stealing Back Sabbath.”
Tomorrow, we’ll start our series with a post from Kate Rademacher, a recent convert to Christianity whose expectations of Sabbath were different from her initial experiences.
I hope you’ll read each of these pieces, engage with the writers, post comments, and ask questions about your own Sabbath.
Religious or not, rest is a necessary part of life, and each of us has to decide how that looks for us.