It is Sunday evening and the weekend is almost over. That has gotten me to thinking about the importance that we all seem to attach to this weekly time off from work. Our culture appears to see weekends as the modern reward for making it to Friday, at least if you view the workweek as the modern gulag and something you have to be rescued from. That is not how weekends started, however. One of the innovations of Mosaic Law for the new nation of Israel was the creation of the Sabbath, which was the first weekly day of rest proscribed by any law in the ancient world. Up till then, everyone worked continuously, except for special festivals or individual manumission. A regular proscribed day of rest was a radical innovation, a 1/7 removal of productive labor from the demand of the taskmaster.
So, our modern weekend owes it genesis from the Judaic Sabbath and the idea that mankind in general, not just special or wealthy individuals, are required to rest from their labor, to give back time to God. Nowadays, God holds very little sway on the weekend, which instead is seen as an individual reward for working, a time of personal pleasure and leisure. It is true that we usually forget the reason for the season (take Christmas as an example) and the forgotten genesis of our period of rest seems no different from the other things we should remember.
I am not sure how weekends are viewed in the rest of the world, but here in the U.S. they are very important. Many people gear their whole lives around the weekend, considering most of the workweek to be what you sacrifice to get to the weekend. Some people who work a four day, 40 hour week (10 hour days), really see their three day weekends as weekly mini-vacations.
Our culture has all sorts of little sayings that remind us of the weekend’s significance, and one of the most important is TGIF, which used to mean “thank God it’s Friday” but has been secularized to “thank goodness it’s Friday” though I am I not sure who goodness is. I chuckle at the way secularists are forced into personifications that are essentially pagan or animistic in an effort to avoid God, primarily the Judeo-Christian God, but that is a discussion for another time.
Weekends are seen as our primary recovery time, chances for most of us to recapture some of what we feel we have lost in the strain and drain of the workaday world. I will admit to falling into this pattern from time to time, but I am fundamentally against it. One of the essentials of being self-employed, at least for me, is that work is as you do it and it can be done any time you have the time or inclination. While it is true that client deadlines can make demands, you are fully capable of taking off when needed and working late or early to get the job done. What this means in a practical sense is that I don’t really have weekends in the traditional sense. There are many a Saturday and Sunday I will have to work for 4-8 hours each day, though due my church commitments I seldom work a full day on Sunday. I am not unique, since in our service oriented society, many people have to work on Saturday and Sunday. While the rest of us are shopping or going to the ballpark or movies or library or museum, someone has to be at those places working so we can do our “weekend” stuff.
Since the weekend is such a given in our society, it is interesting to note how many weekend “have-nots” we seem to have. I wonder what percentage of the population they make up? Do they feel left out or second class because they don’t get traditional weekends? Who knows? One thing I do know, weekends or at least Sundays off, are a gift to all of us in the West from our Judeo-Christian heritage, which enforced the concept of a Sabbath rest. While it doesn’t mean the same that it used to, the idea of free time in which society doesn’t make any demands on me has stuck around and grown with every passing year. Did we gain anything of significance when we jettisoned the Sabbath for the secular idol of free time or have we lost something important? It is a difficult question to answer, since even most Christians have bought into the idea of free time and abandoned the idea of the Sabbath. However, it is an important question, which needs addressing.
Like you, I am self-employed and at the beck and call of my clients. That often means saturday and sunday work (so they can have something by monday). I’ve been trying to take a “Sabbath” more and more, to do things like visit with friends, or helping someone witha project, study, etc.. Doesn’t often happen though. It is refreshing though.
As a self-employed person, that is one of my biggest challenges, forcing myself to take a sabbath or regular time off. There is always something that needs to be done. It was the same for the farmers and shepherds of Israel. I grew up on a farm until fifth grade and there was ALWAYS work to do.