Sabbath for Academics

Courage & Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential by Gordon Smith (InterVarsity Press, Revised and Expanded, 2011).

In March 2009, Gordon Smith was the main speaker for InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministries’ staff meetings. The theme of the gathering was spiritual formation. Note: Emerging Scholars may recognize his name because we recommend his book Courage & Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential as part of our core bibliography.

Gordon Smith was speaking of spiritual disciplines. He described Sabbath rest as one of the most important, not only for its benefit, but also because, well, observing the Sabbath is a command from God (Exodus 20:8). I asked him about students and faculty who are involved with InterVarsity and the Emerging Scholars Network: their lives are consumed with busy-ness, the universities and colleagues urge them to do more and more, and the cultures of their institutions and disciplines ignore the idea of Sabbath: how should we counsel them about the Sabbath?

His response was interesting. He related a story of speaking to a group of medical professionals, who directly challenged his teaching on Sabbath because of the intense demands of their schedule. He was prepared, though: he pulled out a copy of the latest Time magazine, which featured a cover story about the epidemic of sleep deprivation among doctors. Paradoxically, Smith based his argument for Sabbath to them on increased productivity: when the body is better rested, your memory works better, your health improves, and your waking hours are more productive overall. Smith challenged the room to compare their productivity to his own, and asked them to judge for themselves whether taking a Sabbath rest interfered with his work.

Smith admitted that it was only a starting point – the real reasons for taking Sabbath are not based on getting more done – but said that, if a person was starting from a point of caring only about productivity, well, you had to start somewhere. Elsewhere in his talk, Smith noted that, in seasons of life or during particular weeks, you may have to make Tuesdays, or Thursdays, or some other day of the week your Sabbath day. He currently takes Saturdays as Sabbath, and he told us that all of his friends and colleagues know not to expect a response to their emails between Friday dusk and Saturday dusk.

Do you make Sabbath part of your weekly spiritual practices? If you are a minister with a busy Sunday, do you take Sabbath on another day of the week? Has it been easy or difficult, and how have you seen in impact your work?

Update: 7/10/2014, 5:29 pm. 7/4/2017, 10:11 am.

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Micheal Hickerson

The former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company. He writes about work, vocation, and finding meaning in what you do at No Small Actors.

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One Comment

    JTG commented on March 22, 2009 Reply

    I think the pragmatic argument is a good one (we explain other commandments the same way). I have found that by setting long periods of time as free from work, I find that I do not waste the other times I’m at work. I take off the weekends–I find that it’s hard not to think about work during church unless I stop on Saturday, too. I also try not to work at home during weekday evenings. There’s a lot of guilt in academia if you’re not working all the time. That’s bunk.

    In grad school, I began to understand the pragmatic benefits of the sabbath. I would make sure to take off Sunday morning. Looking back, I could have taken more off.

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