Rediscovering Models of Sabbath Keeping: Implications for Psychological Well-Being

By Diddams, Margaret; Surdyk, Lisa Klein et al. | Journal of Psychology and Theology, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Rediscovering Models of Sabbath Keeping: Implications for Psychological Well-Being


Diddams, Margaret, Surdyk, Lisa Klein, Daniels, Denise, Journal of Psychology and Theology


There is a growing interest in Sabbath keeping in America as a counterbalance to our culture's consumerism, exhaustion, and loss of segmentation between work and other life arenas. We describe three models of Sabbath keeping, their implications for well-being, their inherent challenges and a program of research to investigate the proposed relationships. The models are (a) Life Segmentation, in which people actively segment their lives to create respite; (b) Prescribed Meaning, in which people prescribe positive and religious meaning to life segmentation; and (c) Integrated Sabbath, in which Sabbath keeping is celebrated as an integrated belief system of daily rest, reflection and relationship development.

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    Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. (Exodus 20:7-9) (1)

The phrase "Sabbath keeping" may appear quaint and outdated, a throwback to a time captured in a Currier & Ives lithograph. Indeed, for many Christians today, Sundays are full of little league games, finding a parking spot at the mall and getting through the to-do list on home projects. In New York, Catholic leaders have bemoaned the fact that church attendance is regularly disregarded for youth Sunday soccer games (Rather, 1999).

The fundamental religious meaning of Sabbath is also a concern for Protestant denominations. A recent survey by the mainline protestant denomination Presbyterian Church USA reflected not only the loss of time set apart for Sabbath but also its spiritual dimension (n = 1,123; Guinn, 1999). Approximately 60% of the respondents reported spending less than five hours a week in activities that could be regarded as Sabbath keeping, and while a majority saw it as a time for personal rest and restoration (79%), a far smaller number focused on its religious aspects such as showing the Kingdom of God to the world (55%).

The purpose of this article is to explore three different models of Sabbath keeping, explicating their benefits for well-being as well as their challenges. We argue that while each model provides some benefits to psychological well-being, the third, "integrated Sabbath" offers the best outcomes and is most closely aligned with the multiple themes found in biblical references pertaining to the Sabbath.

MODELS OF SABBATH KEEPING

The Bible has many passages in the Old and New Testaments regarding the importance of keeping the Sabbath as part of God's law and covenant. While there are distinct themes associated with Sabbath keeping in both testaments, the Bible offers no single prescription for how to spend the Sabbath day. While Orthodox Judaism has developed a strong tradition around the practice of Sabbath keeping (Goldenberg, 1991), Christianity has always struggled with the exact meaning of "keeping the Sabbath" (Bacchiocchi, 1998; McCrossen, 2000). In addition, the pluralism of American society is reflected in the multifaceted ways that people tend to approach Sabbath keeping in their lives. With this in mind we do not define Sabbath keeping as merely a cessation from daily labor or activities, or a photo negative of our everyday lives. Instead, Sabbath keeping broadly defined consists of intentional periods of time set aside to restore equilibrium to the mind, spirit, and body where a person may use his or her religious belief system to reflect on life's personal and spiritual meaning.

This definition can be applied to three modern approaches to Sabbath keeping: (a) Life Segmentation, in which people actively segment their lives to create respite; (b) Prescribed Meaning, in which people prescribe positive and religious meaning to life segmentation; and (c) Integrated Sabbath, in which Sabbath keeping is celebrated as an integrated belief system of daily rest, reflection, and relationship development. It is important to note that these three models of Sabbath-keeping are not necessarily independent, but that they build on one another.

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