Maggie Becker, a second-year medical student at Indiana University, shares how God helped her develop a genuine love for the Lord's Day.
My earliest memories of the word “Sabbath” are not exactly positive. As a little girl, my parents required me to read only Christian books on Sundays, and I recall several forays into the “Elsie Dinsmore” series as well as many books by G.A. Henty in my efforts to find interesting Christian fiction. Despite my somewhat reluctant attitude, I thought I was keeping the Sabbath well enough and that legalistic attitude persisted into my later childhood when I thought my Sabbath-keeping was founded upon not playing sports or shopping or eating out on Sundays. Unfortunately, legalism does not bind the heart into true devotion and so at the first real temptation to abandon the fourth commandment, I did.
It came upon me so subtly that, looking back, I am very impressed by my own deceitfulness. As I began my studies at Indiana University, my coursework became more intense and I found myself just “looking over my planner” each Sunday evening after I got back to my dorm. Looking over my planner soon became planning out my week which then became a quick review of my presentation for Monday morning class or a run through of some flashcards before bed. As the pressure to perform well, maintain my GPA, and shoot for something bigger after undergrad grew, so did my enthusiasm for keeping the Sabbath wane. I would work on things earlier and earlier in the day and had begun to think of it as a time to catch up on whatever had slipped through the cracks earlier in the week.
The Lord was merciful in allowing me to prosper despite my disrespect for His weekly gift to me. I was accepted to IU’s medical school and began the next phase of my studies in 2018. There is really no comparison between medical school and undergrad. I’ll just say I felt hopelessly behind, incompetent, and way out of my comfort zone every single day of my first semester in the program. Thankfully the Lord had placed two important people in my life to witness to me at this point - my now husband, Aaron (who is a year ahead of me in school) and Dr. Archer (an elder in the Bloomington congregation). They both encouraged me very strongly to give the fourth commandment a new priority in my life as I entered my first year.
Initially I was tempted to abandon the whole endeavor, especially as it became clear medical students were supposed to revel in proving they can put in the most hours studying every week. I felt like a bit of an outsider, especially on Mondays when I could tell they had done the extra preparation for anatomy lab or watched the extra video that gave them the answers in small groups. But that feeling dissipated within a month. I love the story of Daniel and his friends who refuse to eat the king’s fancy meals and still thrive by the grace of God. Because I think in some small way I got to experience the same thing in my first semester of medical school. On Mondays I became the only one of my classmates to have caught up on sleep over the weekend. Throughout the week I was the classmate who was not totally consumed by cynicism. I was known as the “class mom” and one friend said I was the one of us who “actually has a life outside of studying.” People respected me for not working on Sundays and started to find their own ways to put boundaries on their schedules. And on top of all of that, my grades did not seem to suffer from the weekly day of rest.
Since then, I have been trying to weed out the remnants of legalism left in how I see the Sabbath. While I want to spend the day in worship, I also am working on not setting goals for things to do during my Sundays (even if they are things that are spiritually beneficial). It’s not a day to earn back God’s favor after missing a week of personal devotions, although that’s a mentality I have to fight against. It’s also not a day to prove how much C.S. Lewis I can read in an afternoon, although I have made that mistake before, too. It is a day for me to rejoice in the rest from my labors. It is a day to trust the Lord to prosper me in my calling and to ask His Spirit to guide me in meditations on His goodness in my life. Sabbath keeping is not easy. I still fail every week to maintain a heart of gratitude and to mentally, truly rest in the Lord. I don’t give enough of the day to remembering all His benefits (Psalm 103). But what I have found is that Sabbath keeping becomes exponentially easier the more diligent I am in my work during the week.
Please consider: how are you using your week? Do you spend your time in such a way that an entire day of resting seems like a precious gift? Or does Sunday afternoon feel like an evening of any other day of the week (or all day Saturday for that matter)? The current pandemic and all of the public health measures accompanying it will make this certainly harder for us all. But there is plenty to do if we can be creative enough to seek it out. God calls us to be good stewards of our bodies – we can take time to exercise more or learn to cook healthier foods. He has given us houses to use for our own provision and for ministry to others – we can find ways to improve those and fix what has been broken. He has given us a wealth of Christian literature as well as new discoveries in every field of academia – we can grow our minds in the knowledge of Him and His creation by reading more. He has given us families, both physical and spiritual – we can encourage them by spending more time together, by writing letters or making phone calls to those we can’t be with in person. He has given us a wealth of technology to use to stay connected – we can call the elderly ones in our lives and ask if there’s any way we can help them navigate this technology or offer to help our congregations host prayer meetings and Bible studies online. I could go on and on about everything we could fill our days with right now. My prayer is that as you are reading this, you are feeling your own sense of conviction about where to pour your extra time and energy right now.
I would like to finish with these words from Isaiah 58. They have been most certainly true in my life, although it took me longer than I could have wished to take hold of them for myself. They promise that if we set aside what we find pleasurable on the Sabbath, paradoxically we will be filled with the greatest delight imaginable:
“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the Lord honorable,
And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words,
Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
The mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
(Isaiah 58:13-14, NKJV)