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Is There Science Behind the Sabbath?

Is There Science Behind the Sabbath?

For close to a decade, Tiffany Shlain, a hard-charging technology leader in New York City, has kept the same practice, Religion News Service (RNS) reports. Even though she founded a major online award program, the Webby Awards, and runs a film studio, Shlain and her family disconnect their digital devices every Friday evening, remaining disconnected until sunset on Saturday, for the Sabbath noted in Exodus 20:8.

“As our society becomes more oversaturated with technology, I feel like it’s the thing we need right now,” Shlain told the news service, later adding that if even non-believers adopt this practice, “it will bring meaning and value to your life in unbelievable ways.”

The recent RNS report bore the headline, “The science of Sabbath: How people are rediscovering rest—and claiming its benefits.” The story noted the experience of J. Dana Trent, a Baptist, whose doctor said she had to take time off of work or risk her health. Trent did so, writing the 2017 book For Sabbath’s Sake: Embracing Your Need for Rest, Worship, and Community about her experience.

Not Merely Anecdotes
But the journalistic account contained more than anecdotes. The article cited a 2014 study co-authored by Loma Linda University professor Jerry Lee, which found a link between Sabbathkeeping and overall health. Lee said research found that “refraining from secular activities on Sabbath was associated with better mental health and better physical health.”

Lee said that it would be “useful” to have more science-based research on Sabbathkeeping; he’s now studying the levels of stress hormones in the body before and after Sabbath observance. While noting a lot of books recently about Sabbathkeeping, Lee said these were more “anecdotal” accounts.

In other cultures where a Sabbath observance may truly be a foreign concept, the problems of overwork sometimes make an entire nation stop and think. Such was the case in 2017 when it was disclosed that the death of 31-year-old journalist Miwa Sado was due to her working 159 hours of overtime in a single month. Although she’d passed away in 2013, it took Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK, four years to acknowledge the cause and apologize to her family.

Sado’s death is perhaps one of the more extreme examples of what overwork can do to a body. In 2003, Monique van der Hulst of the Department of Work and Organizational Psychology at the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands reviewed 27 different medical studies and found results “showed that long work hours are associated with adverse health as measured by several indicators,” including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and disability retirement.

Even if the studies do not reference a 24-hour Sabbath directly, the evidence is indisputable: Massive amounts of overwork will damage your health, sometimes beyond repair.

Protecting Vulnerable Workers
Interestingly, Prof. Sigve Tonstad, who also teaches at Loma Linda University, noted the inherent benefits of Sabbathkeeping for those generally least able to “demand” time off. Speaking with a Deseret News reporter in 2014, he said, “There are some people who have to work 24/7 because they belong to the economically underprivileged, and there is a significant correlation between economics and health. The unhealthiest in terms of diabetes are the poor. They are also to some extent the population that is least in control of their work hours.”

“From a biblical point of view, the Sabbath rest is in some ways defined for the people and even for [animals] that have the least control of their life situation,” Tonstad added. “Now, God intervenes on behalf of slaves, and offers them the privilege of rest. There’s no more Pharaoh; now God is intervening. Employers are under (a biblical) obligation to let workers rest.”

Of course, in a secular world, such an “obligation” may not seem obvious to employers, which is why so many workers have to seek legal help to protect their rights. 

But if you’re fortunate enough to have a job where this is less of an issue, it’s in your best interest to take advantage of the time off granted by your employer, including the Sabbath. And disconnecting from technology, becoming “untethered” for a day, is a positive step that can pay dividends for the other six days of the week, as people such as Tiffany Shlain can attest. 

One of the things Shlain reported is that her family life is better and happier during their “Tech Sabbath.” But here’s an open secret: If your family keeps the Sabbath together, and is engaged in family-related activities, don’t be surprised if things improve in your family too. When Jesus said, in Mark 2:27, that “the Sabbath was made for man,” He wanted people to know the day of rest was for their benefit. 

Want to know more about family activities and the Sabbath? Our article Sabbath—A Family Day is a great place to start.

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