Win Your Sundays Back: How to Live the Sabbath in College

The 11th Hour

It’s 11:55 p.m. You literally have only five precious minutes left before you have to submit your sixth assignment of “Hell Week” by midnight. You rub your bleary eyes and drain the rest of your now-melted and very watered-down iced coffee while scanning your essay to ensure it’s 100% in MLA format. You inhale deeply and sigh heavily.

What day is it again?

Oh yes—Sunday.

The one day every week when everyone in college finally studies.

I know what you’re thinking—could it get any worse? And then you remember that haven’t even started your presentation for tomorrow’s 8 a.m.

In a moment of quarter-life crisis between hitting “submit” at 11:59 and opening up Google slides, you think to yourself: How did this happen? Is pulling all-nighters supposed to be my “new-normal”? Does college go on like this forever?

Well, personally, I don’t think so—or at least, I don’t think it has to.

And neither does God.

But I’ve been there. I get it.

As a recovering workaholic who used to treat Sundays as the best day for “getting things done,” I know what it’s like. And it doesn’t help that at most of our universities, most stuff is due Sunday at midnight, and most of our classmates claim that Sunday is the “only free day they have” to work on group projects.

A Female Student on Her Phone Sitting Wearing a Mercy Shirt

What if I told you it doesn’t have to be this way—would you believe me? Is that knowledge worth the next four minutes to read the rest of this blog post? You might find that you win your Sundays back—and maybe even your life.

Why Sunday Is Not Your Average Day

The word Sunday, which had originally been used to honor the Roman god of the sun, was officially reclaimed and revamped by the true Son, who rose from the dead “on the first day of the week”—that is, on Sunday (Jn 20:1). That’s right—Sunday is the day that we get to celebrate the reality-shattering fact that Jesus, the perfect God-man, came down from heaven, took on human flesh as a vulnerable infant, was betrayed, cruelly tortured, murdered, and then rose from the dead—all for you. Sit with that for a moment. Let that truth penetrate your heart.

Yeah, Jesus died for me, too, and for the rest of the human race—but let’s personalize it, because we have a personal God. He did it for you. His Resurrection from the dead, which allows you to spend all eternity with Him forever in heaven, is for you. Honoring the Sabbath fundamentally means celebrating the amazing reality that Jesus conquered sin and death—so that you might have life eternal! That’s why the Church asks that we go to Mass on Sunday, refrain from doing unnecessary work, enter into communion with family and friends, and engage in meaningful activities that lift our minds and hearts to God (i.e., holy leisure). It’s because all of these endeavors—worship, community, leisure—raise our gaze from that which is temporal to what which is everlasting. Sabbath elevates our souls God, who is the fulfillment of all our desire and the meaning of our entire existence.

Mass Being Celebrated by a Capuchin at Summer Projects

Jesus’ rising on the first day also points to the first creation, when God rested from all His labor on the seventh day and made it holy (cf. Gn 2:2-3). Essentially, Jesus fulfilled and elevated the Jewish sabbath, which was the third of God’s Ten Commandments to the Israelites: “Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy (Ex 20:8). So, Sunday is basically His day. Not the school’s day, or your employer’s day, or the NFL’s day—it is the Lord’s Day. Let’s treat it that way.

And another thing: living Sunday well is not just a nice recommendation from self-care experts or an opinion you might consider in order to lower your stress and improve your mental health (although those are of course good things). It’s a commandment from the mouth of the almighty Star-Blower of the universe. We would do well to heed it! But even beyond that, God is a loving Father who desires our ultimate good. We can trust that, in following His commands (specifically this one), we’ll experience true happiness, authentic wellness, and the fullness of life that we’re made for and that we long for.

Win Your Sundays Back

I know what you’re thinking: James, I’m so fired up! I’m all about embracing a good Sabbath. But I’m still in college and need to study, and most of my peers and professors still expect everything to be done by Sunday at midnight. What do I do? Great question.

This blog post is by no means exhaustive, but I won’t leave you high-and-dry. The main point is the gut-check from earlier: What is the disposition of your heart toward the Sabbath? Do you sincerely believe that if you make God and your relationship with Him a priority on Sundays, that you won’t be able to do “all the [other] things”? I risked it, and I can tell you—it’s hard, but it’s worth it. By taking the risk to fully embrace the gift of the Sabbath, you’ll be more prepared to tackle the week ahead with all of its responsibilities.

Missionary and Students Camping at Summer Projects

One thing you might try is to manage your time in such a way where you don’t have to get it all done on Sunday. Although probably not popular on your campus, Friday nights and Saturday mornings are excellent opportunities for crushing the academic game (as an employed grad student also working an internship, I’m speaking from personal experience). If you think you “don’t have the time,” just realize every human has the same amount of time—168 hours in any given week—and that’s a lot of time.

As a parting shot, here’s a Church-approved list of holy leisure activities to get you started for next Sunday:

  • Spend some extra time in prayer, silence and meditation
  • Encounter God in His Creation (you may even organize a hike with your friends!)
  • Do a pilgrimage, visit a shrine, or go to a holy site
  • Spend quality time with loved ones, really encountering each other
  • Give yourself adequate rest (e.g., have a nap) and pursue in life-giving self-care (not binge-watching screens)
  • Help others by performing good works (serve the poor, care for the sick, visit the elderly, etc.)
  • Engage in meaningful artistic pursuits (e.g., read quality literature, play an instrument, create art, etc.)

Happy Sabbath-ing!

James Van Matre
James Van Matre
James takes point on staff mentorship for the FOCUS Formation Department. He's currently pursuing a Master's in Clinical Mental Health Counseling in Texas. James is passionate about helping people thrive and become who they truly are. You can learn more about his work here.

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