A few weeks ago I was talking to a pal after Mass, grousing a bit about how busy I'd been and how much work I had to finish to meet a Tuesday deadline. I was a little surprised when she wished me luck with my afternoon writing. I said, "I'm not touching that manuscript today. It's Sunday."
There are all kinds of ways I could say that sentence, so let me clarify: no smugness, no sanctimony, only relief. I am so grateful that the Church tells me to avoid unnecessary work on Sundays. I forget exactly when I decided that I would try to follow that teaching-- I'd say it was more than ten years ago, fewer than fifteen. I was pretty sure it would be a burdensome fiasco. I had no idea that I would come to guard that day of rest zealously.
It would be easy for a legalistic person (like, ahem, me) to get stuck on following the right rules for a Sunday. I have a pretty simple test: do I want to do a particular task? Does it feel like work or does it feel like rest? I spend big chunks of my life making myself stay on top of things that aren't especially fun in the moment. Sundays are different. I couldn't knit on the Sabbath if I were Jewish, I don't think, but today I worked my way almost to the top of a purple cabled sock for my pal Amanda. I couldn't garden either, I don't think, but today I put in 40 petunia plants in pale yellow and velvety deep purple.
When I was in grad school the first time, I thought I had to work on Sundays. The thing is, I usually frittered away my Saturdays, all the while thinking uneasily about the work I ought to be doing. These days I know I have to be efficient on Saturday. There's no chance I would have finished grading that batch of assignments yesterday (because let me tell you, I was pretty sick of them by the time I reached #34) if I could have put them off for today. It's also unlikely, though, that I would have managed today's dandelion-vanquishing or its eight-mile bike ride with Pete and Stella if I had been in procrastination mode yesterday.
There are occasional days when it seems more sensible to let work sneak in on Sunday. I wrote about one of them a few years ago; tonight I am wondering if I should check for backlogged emails from stressed out students getting ready for tomorrow's final. (I tell them at the beginning of the semester and then again before finals week: I will answer your emails promptly Monday through Saturday, but I don't check my work email on Sunday. It will not surprise me if that detail has slipped the minds of the more panicked members of my classes.) I'm not going to, though; I'm going to pick up the puzzles that Stella left lying around, and finish the French press cozy I've been wanting to finish for months, and go bed.
The Church gets a bad rap for having too many rules. I used to think the "no unnecessary work" thing was oppressive. What a lovely surprise to see how much freedom it offers instead.