one million words

find your voice. tell your story.

XIII: Growing up with Sabbath

Nothing shaped my early spiritual life quite like Sabbath. I was raised on holy rest, unflinching devotion to the seventh day God himself called sacred and blessed. You didn’t have to be Jewish to celebrate the seventh day. Sabbath was for everyone! We considered Sabbath as sacred as God himself. Honoring God meant honoring his special day.

Celebrating Sabbath required extra chores on Friday afternoons because our work needed to be complete by sundown. Darkness fell distinctly on Friday nights, like a curtain separating the mundane from the holy. The clock ticked slower those nights as we gathered around homemade bread, flickering candles. A prayer welcomed Sabbath like an old friend, like God himself.

After dinner we sat on couches, retold the stories of our week, sharing one thing we felt grateful for. Together we practiced one minute of silence, taking turns tracking the second hand on my father’s watch. I remember fighting my siblings over who got to hold the watch.

We sang old hymns and my father read bible stories while we colored. Later mother would emerge from the kitchen with a tray of ice cream sundaes or something equally appealing. We called these weekly treats Sabbath-Surprises, expected them to show up.

Church took up the next morning followed by having a dozen guests for lunch. People lingered at the table, chatted on couches, laid down for naps. No one hurried on Sabbath. At some point my father would suggest a walk. At least one person would groan. My father was famous for his “walks”, several hour excursions not truly for all fitness levels. But there would be tea and cake in the afternoon. At sundown we briefly gathered for family worship to close this sacred time.

This rhythm of holy rest repeated itself every single week. Sabbath took priority over anything the schedule had to offer. My parents refused official employment on Sabbath, we skipped school, declined sports and turned down any other invitation. Saying yes to sabbath required saying no to a hundred other things. Sabbath had to be fought for and defended. We protected and nurtured God’s sacred day. Sabbath had to be first because God came first.

Living radically different than our surrounding culture invited people to ask questions. While some people welcomed these unique opportunities to testify of their faith, they often made me cringe. I was afraid of the questions, the shame and embarrassment of feeling different. I felt sorry for God for being misunderstood. “Who is God and why is he making you follow his laws?” He wasn’t making us, I tried to explain to my friends. It was our choice. We loved him, that’s why we followed his commands.

Some teachers were not afraid to put me on the spot. Perhaps this was payback for breaking the attendance rules at school. “All of us are going on a field trip this saturday, except for Astrid,” my teacher announced sternly like I was in trouble. “Astrid, do you want to tell the class why you are not joining us tomorrow?” I squirmed in my seat. Why did she have to call me out when she already knew the answer! “I will be going to church with my family,” I finally mustered to say, relieved the words came out. A breathed shame filling this familiar silence. I felt like I could not win. If I put God first, others would be offended. Besides, Sabbath felt like bad PR for God because inevitably my friends concluded God was rigid and picky

My friends rarely mocked me. Rather my faith confused them and they never missed a beat asking the real questions: “Would you really rather sit in church then join our class field trip? Come on! Be honest! Sing lalalalala to a God in heaven who can’t even hear you….or come hiking with us? Why won’t God let you participate in the playoffs? Does he not like sports? I am sure he would understand if you missed one day at church! Besides, we need you on our team!”

It was fine for my friends to think this way but I was programmed differently. Worship meant putting God first and it didn’t matter what obstacles were in the way. God was number one. The gate was narrow. The end.

I grew up with Sabbath marking my soul with rest as well as conflict. At best Sabbath restored the weary, made space for hospitality and community, service and love. At worst Sabbath became a measuring stick for devotion to God.

And God is continually refining the way he is breathing life into my weary soul. Sabbath is shaping and re-shaping my soul in a conversation to be continued.


This is part XIII of “Behind the Wall & Under the Steeple”, a collection of personal essays and reflections of growing up Christian in former East Germany. Subscribe via email to my blog or bookmark this page. If you are receiving this post by email, any reply goes straight to my inbox.  Thanks for reading! 

3 Replies

  1. Tara

    You are bringing a dimension here that is rarely if ever pointed out. And you’ve done it in a thoughtful and meaningful way.

    This quote resonates with me: “I grew up with Sabbath marking my soul with rest as well as conflict. At best Sabbath restored the weary, made space for hospitality and community, service and love. At worst Sabbath became a measuring stick for devotion to God.”

    This is one of my favorite installments so far. 🙂

    1. Astrid Melton

      That’s my favorite part too :). No wonder we have good conversations! More to follow….

Leave a Reply