Note: This commentary was delivered by PFM President Mark Earley.
Only a few hours of technological abstinence had passed, but already Mark felt twitchy. His laptop lay abandoned, but almost as badly as a nicotine addict wants a cigarette, he was itching to go online, make a phone-call, send a text-message, do something.
But then something odd happened.
With the uninterrupted time, Mark found himself better able to think, to reflect, and perhaps strangest of all, to experience a feeling of calm that had gone AWOL from his modern life. The New York Times columnist Mark Bittman is one of a whole host of people discovering what some are terming a "secular Sabbath."
Men and women who have not darkened the door of a synagogue or church for years are finding a need for a day of real rest-disconnecting from the almost omnipresent technological advances of Blackberries and wireless Internet.
Bittman is not the only one lamenting what America lost when the culture of Sabbath observance became a thing of the past. Judith Shulevitz in Slate Magazine waxes poetic about the loss also: "The texture of that day off is hard to conjure up now, because contemporary life offers little like it," she says. "For 24 hours, we stayed home and ate huge family dinners, went to church, or set off on afternoon drives . . ."
She goes on to admit, "We had fewer choices, but that lack of choice may have been more liberating than we realized, because having the option of working or shopping often brings with it the nagging sense that if you're not working [or shopping], you should be . . . "
It is not surprising-is it?-that the people of all walks of life are discovering a need for Sabbath rest once again. As it says in Exodus 23, God intended that man and even animals should be "refreshed" by keeping the Sabbath. Rest was woven into the fabric of creation. And what we find as we take time off from the rhythms of work is-as the old Hebrew saying goes-not that we keep the Sabbath, but that the Sabbath keeps us.
That is a reality Americans can understand. We are starved for rest as never before, getting an average of just six-and-a-half hours of sleep a night, a 25-percent drop since the early 1900s. To make up for it, we rev up on Red Bull, Starbucks, No-Doz, sodas-you name it. No wonder people are craving the physical and mental health benefits of a day of rest.
But here is the opportunity you and I have. We know that not only is the Sabbath meant for refreshment, but it is also a much deeper, grander sign of our need for spiritual rest. Back in Exodus 31, God called the Sabbath an "eternal sign." He created it-along with many other things-as a reminder of our need for Him.
So consider how you and your family might rediscover the Sabbath. And as our secular friends discover their need for rest-or suffer from lack of it-let us use it as an opportunity to talk about how the soul itself will be, as St. Augustine put it, restless until it finds its rest in God.