The Word Among Us

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First Things First

Rediscovering the Sabbath.

By: Mark and Melanie Hart

First Things First: Rediscovering the Sabbath.  by Mark and Melanie Hart

Genesis 2:24—That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.

Genesis 2:3—God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation.

“That’s completely illogical. It just doesn’t make any sense,” I said to my wife in bewilderment. “Why would I go with you to the craft store and the mall when we have so many projects to do here at the house? It makes more sense for you to run errands and for me to knock out this list. And then we can meet up in a few hours for dinner.” I said all of this in a confident tone, sure that my wife would feel the same way. Of course, had I been paying attention, the look on her face would have signaled that my strategic approach to our Saturday—though certainly efficient and valid—was sorely lacking from a sacramental standpoint.

We were newly married and trying to put together our first home. Merging our unique tastes and design sensibilities (that’s a fancy way of saying Melanie had style, and Mark still had a coffee table from Goodwill) proved fun but challenging. More challenging, however, was my mindset—namely, that completing tasks in the most economical and efficient way is how a husband shows love to his wife. That’s how I was raised, and it was hard to break away from that approach.

Melanie, on the other hand, was raised in the South and immersed in a family culture in which time with loved ones was understood as nonnegotiable. “Visiting” with someone—even while running errands together—showed not only love but respect.

In short, I was raised in the firmly-held belief that caring about your spouse (and, eventually, your children) was about providing. Melanie was raised to believe that caring about your spouse meant caring for them—being present to them. It became quite clear early in our marriage that we viewed our time and how to best use it as a married couple quite differently.

(And for those who may be wondering—yes, I escorted my wife to both the mall and craft store that day. I’m efficient, but I’m not an idiot.)

First Things First

Early in Scripture, the Sabbath was established as a day of rest. The first such reference occurs right at the beginning: after the six days of creation, God “rested on the seventh day” (Genesis 2:2). When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, he gave humanity the nonnegotiable command to also rest on the seventh day, the Sabbath, as he himself did at the time of creation (see Exodus 20:8-11). This command reflects the important principle of time management and prioritization. And God’s priorities reflect a very different type of time management than what I aimed for with my wife.

It’s all about putting God (and others) first. He commands us to rest on the Sabbath and to refrain from doing any work, not because he needs this, but because we do. As a Catholic (or Catholic couple) reading this in today’s culture, it’s easy to reduce this command merely to attending Mass on Sunday and doing whatever we want with the rest of the day. And while attending weekly Mass is obligatory and praiseworthy, full adherence to God’s command for sabbath rest goes much deeper.

What does your Sunday look like? Is it a full day to physically rest? Is it a day of spiritual intimacy with God and spiritual and emotional intimacy between you and your spouse (or with your family, if you have children)? Is it a day to recalibrate your soul to God and prepare for the week of work ahead, or has it become a catchall day filled with laundry, cleaning, shopping, football, kids’ activities, yard work, paying bills, and the like? Have you ever stopped to consider what your Monday would look like if you seriously followed God’s command to keep the Sabbath holy by resting and entering into deeper communion with him?

Now, you might be saying to yourself, “What does this have to do with marriage?”

Within marriage, the Sabbath acts, among other things, as a reminder to the married couple of their covenant with God. He desires time with them not only individually but as a couple. In the words of the late, great Blessed Fulton Sheen, “It takes three to be married.” We can think of the sabbath rest in Genesis as a reminder not only of the great work God had undertaken in creation but also as a time set aside as a sort of honeymoon for Adam and Eve. In other words, a constant and consistent reminder to enter into intimate communion with God and with one another. When we not only see but also honor God’s presence in our spouses and allow ourselves to be present to them, we are fulfilling one aspect of God’s command.

When Melanie asked me to accompany her to the stores, it wasn’t because she wanted me to carry the bags (although I’m sure that was a perk). It was because she wanted time with me. Our time was more important to her than my knocking out my honey-do list a few hours sooner. I came to understand that entering into communion with her was a way of honoring God and our Sacrament of Marriage. In this way, my appreciation for my wife took on a more “divine” perspective.

It’s not that God is opposed to work but, rather, that before work—before anything else, he is asking us to be present to his presence. We meet up with this same perspective in the New Testament when Jesus encourages Martha to reconsider her work-oriented attitude and understand that her sister, Mary, has gotten it right. Mary has set aside the work in order to sit at the feet of Jesus (see Luke 10:38-42). In a similar way, God is asking us to set aside the Sabbath to sit with him.

Rethinking Our Priorities

How much time do you make for your spouse? There will always be something else to do. To be sure, building a home, family, and future—whether you’re in your first year or your forty-first year of marriage—is a challenge. In some ways, marriage is like a merge lane on a highway: there has to be a lot of give-and-take from all parties if there’s going to be any forward movement. That said, the marriage merge lane is a lot easier when husband and wife are on the same page when it comes to time spent. If rest and presence are important enough to God that he oriented all of time and every week to the Sabbath, what might that mean for his hopes for us when it comes to time with our spouses?

Would God measure a successful married relationship by how efficiently we get things done, by how perfect the house looks, or by how much “me” time we get? Or does he measure a successful marriage by how we structure and order our days, months, and years around him and one another?

Before we can get more out of our marriages and unleash the fullness of the sacramental graces contained therein, we must be honest with ourselves. Have other gifts—like work, projects, or our own children—slowly and subtly crept into our lives in a way that leaves little or no real time for our spouses? It is eerily possible—especially in tired, stressed, or busy seasons—to be physically in the same room but to be emotionally distant from one another. While time together cannot cure or heal every wound, it can go a long way in helping to maintain a holy and healthy marriage.

This is selection from Getting More Out of Marriage by Mark and Melanie Hart (The Word Among Us Press, 2019), available from www.wau.org/books.

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