Never on a Sunday?

Tim Levell, an editor in radio news, has some ideas on how to cope with Sunday working.

They say that a whole generation of people have ended up feeling inadequate about themselves, purely because Margaret Thatcher famously once said that she could survive on just five hours’ sleep a night. Why am I such a wimp for wanting seven, we wonder? And don’t even begin to contemplate a lie-in taking it to eight hours. What would Norman Tebbit say?!

I sometimes wonder if Christians feel the same about working on a Sunday, not least because of Eric Liddell’s famous refusal to run on a Sunday in the Olympics, immortalised in another icon of the 1980s, Chariots of Fire. And the Bible is pretty clear. The fourth commandment says we should observe the Sabbath and keep it holy.

But for many of us working in the media, the need to work on a Sunday is something that we probably have to wrestle with at some time in our career. Most broadcast and print news operations run 24/7, and it’s almost impossible to imagine any employer operating a rota which allows special dispensations for certain employees on a Sunday. If we believe that it’s important that Christians work in the media – and we do – then we need to find ways to work within this system, rather than trying to opt out of it.

To cope with this, I have found over the years that there are two or three practical steps to take which minimise or offset the impact of having to work on a Sunday.

The first is – where possible – to squeeze in a church service before heading in to work. This works particularly well if I’m working a shift with a start around lunchtime or later. I find that this ensures my priorities are set right and reminds me that Sunday is still a special day, before I get going into work.

But oddly, and I don’t know if I’m alone here, I have always found it very hard indeed to go to church after a Sunday shift.

Years ago, I worked a regular Sunday 9am to 5pm shift, and always tried to go to the 7pm evening service. But for some reason, I was so “in the zone” having been in work, covering that day’s stories in a pumped-up newsroom, that I felt disengaged and even disaffected as I sat in church.

I couldn’t switch off and settle into the peace of the service. It actually ended up becoming so counter-productive that I realised I’d have to stop going on a Sunday evening.

All of which has meant that, over the years, I’ve found it all the more important to introduce some replacement “coping mechanisms”.

One is to make sure that I am part of, and prioritise, a midweek small group. A home group, a lifegroup – whatever your church calls it. For a couple of years in particular, this became my true spiritual oasis, and ensured that I had regular contact with Christian friends and supporters. Quite often, the midweek group would also talk about what was said in church the preceding Sunday. By attending it regularly, I was able to stay in touch with what was happening each week,and what the church leadership were saying about the direction and approach of the church.

Another “coping mechanism” is to set up a regular (ideally weekly) prayer partnership with one or two close friends. The prayer triplets I have been in over the past ten years have actually been probably the most important element of my spiritual life: encouraging, challenging and restoring me on a weekly basis.

The final practical step that I have adopted – and which I have seen in practice from some good American friends – is to identify and observe an alternative “Sabbath”, on those weeks where I end up having to work the Sunday. After all, God designed the Sabbath partly to change our routine: in order that we don’t do what we normally do, and to enable us to have time for God. There’s a broader principle in there about the rhythm of our lives, not just about Sundays per se.

On those weeks when I have to work a Sunday, my rota normally gives me some time off in the preceding or subsequent week. From that, I try identify one day as a “surrogate Sabbath”, and try not to make it like any other day off. Do something different. Slow the pace right down. Breathe deeply. And reconnect with God.

No one can pretend that working on a Sunday is something that many people relish, Christians or not Christians. But losing a Sunday doesn’t have to mean losing touch with God.

Paul Arnold
paul@themedianet.org