Last year while on our road trip through the Great Lakes http://jonbrendagill.blogspot.com/2007/07/there-and-back-again-bellys-tale.html Jon and I were walking along and happened to glance down into a Newspaper stand. But instead of newspapers, there was a book on the Ten Commandments. Jon picked it up and over the next few weeks read through it. After finishing he revealed that he had been convicted of not being faithful to follow the Fourth Commandment: that is observing the Sabbath and keeping it Holy. He had done his best to take one day a week (usually a different day each week) to "not work" that is, not to make any money from labor. But as the demands of marriage, school, rent, bills, and preparing for a child were suddenly burdening him to increase his hours at Ruby Tuesday (where he has been serving and bartending for 5 years), the Sabbath slowly became a once-a-month, if at all, luxury. He knew that this book had been left for him to remind him of the Sabbath, and how he needed to incorporate this commandment into his life and his family's life, now more than ever. Not only that, but he knew that God was asking him to observe the Sabbath on the seventh day, Saturday.
Now that may not seem like a big deal, but consider Jon's line of work. Bartender & Server at a restaurant. Saturdays are the money-makers. At MINIMUM, this would mean giving up $4800 this year ($400/month). So to give that up was asking a lot and it was a large step of faith for our family. We decided to give it a year and see what happened. Here it is, one year later, and we have so much to share about our Sabbath Experiment.
At first everything seemed pretty fair. The fall and early winter came and went without fanfare. Jon wasn't coming home with superfluous tips (which we were kind of expecting...come on God!) but we were making rent, paying the bills on time...all in all we always had enough. And life was good. Then things started getting lean. After Christmas and the New Year people decided to stop eating out, so the take home pay was less. Jon was also getting poor shifts that didn't make any money. But it never even entered our thoughts that maybe Jon should pick up a shift on Saturday. Even when the bills started to pile up, we prayed through it, and we could eke by week by week (mostly by eating peanut butter sandwiches). Thanks to a bountiful tax return, God provided for us the cushion we needed to get through the spring. $9,000 is pretty bountiful in my book! Provision #1.
Around that time, it became apparent that we needed to upgrade to a larger apartment. In a few months we would legally have "too many residents" for a one-bedroom apartment. A larger apartment means larger rent. As we unpacked our boxes into our wonderful new home, all I could do was shake my head. I lay awake nights praying, "Lord, I hope you know what you're doing. We could barely afford our old place. We need you now more than ever." Also around this time, all of our friends decided they needed to get married! For six Saturdays in a row we attended weddings and stood with our friends as they united in Holy Matrimony. But what should have been times of rejoicing was actually causing stress to our family. Jon went straight from Mid-terms just before Palm Sunday through spring break doing research for his Senior thesis, through Finals, working at the restaurant around 30 hours a week, with no Sabbaths to rest. As we plowed through the spring, we began to realize that "observing the Sabbath" didn't just mean not working for pay on a certain day. I'm not saying we shouldn't have attended our friends' weddings. But we should certainly have been wiser with the time we had to rest. Jon's health took a terrible dive. He suffered unexplained pharyngitis, endured a chronic cold for 2 months, lethargy and soreness plagued him, and he developed a large lump on his neck that no amount of massage could dissipate. Our marriage was weakened as he didn't have the energy for anything, even when he had a window of free time. Looking back, we can clearly see the ugly fruit of living a life-style that overlooks a day of rest. Yet, by the grace of God, we survived. At the end of the six-week wedding marathon Jon also finished his final paper. When he clicked "print" and bound those 25 pages together, he knew this phase was over, and that we needed to change.
Exodus 31:14-15 says, "'Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death.'" Since Christ has freed us from the penalty of disobeying the law (as we understand in the New Testament), we don't need to fear a bolt of lightning from heaven if we don't observe the Sabbath. However, the spirit of the law still lives. We were designed to ONLY work 6 days and then to take a day of rest to become refreshed. Look at what happened to us when we stopped observing the Sabbath! May it be a reminder to us as we "make every effort to enter His rest." (Hebrews 4:11)
Okay, on to the good stuff! Summer time gave us a new opportunity to start over afresh in our Sabbath experiment. Days after graduating (when we started observing the Sabbath again) Jon's illnesses disappeared along with the lump on his neck. Coincidence?!?! We are still learning what things are good and restful and which things are stressful and laborious for Saturdays. But as our experiment was nearing its conclusion, God had a few surprises left for us!!
Provision #2: Favor with our landlords. I got a call out of the blue early in August; it was from our landlady. She asked if I would like to take on the position of caretaker for our half of the building (vacuuming, sweeping, general grounds-keeping) in exchange for a rent-credit of $350/month. Extra duties such as helping to clean the turn-over apartments, shoveling snow, and raking leaves would be paid an extra $10.75/hour. Was it a coincidence that she thought of me? Jon and I are joint-caretakers (so he can shovel in the event that I become "unable" to do so...). This means we are now paying less for our two-bedroom than we were for our one-bedroom!
Provision #3: Favor with the University of Minnesota. Jon is returning to the U this fall, this time as a grad student. We had hoped that he might get a Teaching Assistantship, which would likely decrease the amount of tuition we'd have to pay. But it was becoming apparent that the opportunities were not available to first-years. Then one happy day in mid-August, Jon got an email from one of his former professors saying that the class enrollment for a particular class was much larger than expected. And even though it wasn't big enough for the University to automatically assign a TA, they opted to let the professor assign one anyway! And who is the first person he thought of? Was it a coincidence that he thought of Jon? The job will automatically wipe off 50% of his tuition for this fall and will also decrease his health insurance premium by 50%. On top of that, it will ALSO pay $17.50/hour for the work he'll do correcting papers and showing up for that class. Even though he won't be doing about 10 hours of work a week, they will still pay him as if he were. That amounts to about $3500 over the course of this next semester.
After soaking all this in, we did the calculations. We decided Jon "lost" $4800 this year by giving up Saturdays to observe the Sabbath. The blessings of God's provision for this year (and the year to come) totals near $20,000 so far. That's five times the amount we sacrificed when we took the step of faith a year ago. Jon even calculated that he actually earned $390 each Sabbath that we observed.
Hebrews 4 tells us that the promise of entering His rest still stands. The penalty of disobedience is gone, but the blessing of observance is still there. We have been richly, richly blessed, and now we give Him glory. I hope we can always look back on this year that tested our faith whenever times are lean and say, "I will yet praise Him, because He cares for us." I hope you are all encouraged by this testimony, and will remember us when you follow the steps of faith God is asking of you.