Sabbath is My Kryptonite

Post Author: MaryAnn McKibben Dana

This month’s Moms in Ministry article is an excerpt from the third book in the Young Clergy Women Project’s imprint with Chalice Press.  More information about this partnership can be found here. MaryAnn brought so much joy to the project as our conference leader at our 2012 conference in Chicago.  Please visit our website regularly to learn more about YCW books and the plans for the 2013 YCW conference.

Sometimes, the so-called mommy wars are waged over breast- feeding versus bottle, or crib versus family bed. Sometimes, they begin over baked goods.

It all starts in a very silly way. I post an offhand comment on Facebook gushing about the glory that is Trader Joe’s pumpkin bread mix. It has provided spicy goodness, fresh from the oven, on many a sabbath day this winter (not to mention random Tuesdays and Fridays). You only need an egg and some oil, as opposed to canned pumpkin and a bevy of spices I don’t always have on hand.

A friend responds dismissively, asking why someone would need a mix in order to make pumpkin bread, which after all is so easy. I feel an angry flash of Who asked you? followed by the briefest tremor of shame—if I really loved my family, I’d make them something homemade. Then I decide not to take the bait. To each her own, right? I celebrate pumpkin bread in all its forms. Later though, I feel unsettled. Our kitchen feeds five people several times a day. What’s wrong with using a mix when the result is just as good?

“I don’t know,” I tell Robert later. “It’s so stupid, but it hit a nerve. I mean, I agree with her. I do value the handmade and home- made. We live in such a cut-corners society. But the thing is . . . it’s kinda fun to find a good shortcut.”

“Maximum impact, minimum effort,” he nods, sharing his father’s famous approach to cooking. Both Robert and my father-in- law are whizzes in the kitchen.

“Exactly! Do I have to be judged for my approach to breakfast food? Come on.”

“Hey, it’s pumpkin bread. Don’t overthink it.”

While I’m glad he doesn’t share my angst, I know that the issue of domestic chores runs down gender lines. There are entire indus- tries devoted to helping people save time and offload household tasks. At the same time, there’s still a view of motherhood that values the loving hands at home. Working mothers in particular can feel caught between the necessity of delegating certain domestic chores and a feeling of guilt because they “should” do those things.

Sabbath is not making this conflict easier; it’s complicating it. On the one hand, it’s robbing me of an entire day of labor each week, which makes the time-savers feel necessary. On the other hand, the unhurried nature of Sabbath makes me want to slow down for the rest of the week and not cut corners. It’s a curious irony: Sabbath reminds me that I don’t have to be Supermom, but it heightens my desire to try.

I feel this tension as I consider what it means to be a “host,” to provide gracious space not only for guests who might enter our home but also our own family. The biblical practice is hospitality, a word that’s almost as old-fashioned and foreign to our ears as Sabbath. Yet hospitality is a deep and vital spiritual practice in the Jewish and Christian faiths and in other traditions. Scripture is rife with examples of people welcoming friends and travelers alike into their homes and lives. We are called to greet strangers as friends and to share abundantly with them, and Jesus offers harsh words for people who fail to show adequate hospitality.

In recent decades, the picture has been complicated by Martha Stewart’s magazine and other resources that equate hospitality with handmade place cards and expensive flatware. These magazines miss the point of hospitality. I’ve sat at immaculate dinner tables and felt like an unwelcome afterthought, and I’ve been served wine in a plastic cup and felt like a treasured guest. A spirit of hospitality cannot be faked.

Still, there’s no denying that, all things being equal, a spirit of hospitality comes through when someone has taken the time to prepare for the presence of another—and not in a slapdash way.

Much of my life feels slapdash. I love finding ways to save time—a new route to the church, a quicker way to put away the groceries. (If I were a superhero, efficiency would be my power. Sad but true.) Sabbath has forced me to face the shadow side. Why am I trying to save all this time? For what purpose do I hurry? So that I can do more and more stuff? To feel useful and efficient?

Sabbath-keeping makes the idea of saving time feel ridiculous . . . like we’re trying to cheat at a game, but the joke’s on us: this game’s rules are unbendable.

Maybe Sabbath is my kryptonite.

MaryAnn McKibben Dana is a Presbyterian pastor who lives in suburban Washington DC with her husband and three children. Her first book, Sabbath in the Suburbs, will be released next month by Chalice Press. Pre-order your copy here.

Image by: Chalice Press
Used with permission
2 replies
  1. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    I sometimes lament to my husband that I don’t have the gift of hospitality, and he gently reminds me some truth along the lines above, that immaculate dinner tables do not a good host make. And as far as I’m concerned, anything that comes out of the oven *is* homemade, whether all you had to do was add oil and an egg or clean out the pumpkin yourself, and even if it comes out of the bakery section from a store, who is to judge? But that’s me, the one without the gift of hospitality, speaking. I can’t wait to read the book!


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