Sabbath sometimes can feel like an unattainable ideal built for a more agrarian people thousands of years ago. As is often the case, I rarely see God’s purpose for me until he is jumping up in down in front of me. In this specific case it took four different forces converging in my life before I started to realize the vital importance of Sabbath time for me (and everyone). When I reflect on these four forces it always surprises me that they are connected to the four methods in Luke 10:27 in which we are called upon to love God: Heart, Soul, Strength and Mind. I will review these four forces in the order they showed up in my life, and how they pointed me to the importance of the Sabbath:
SOUL: GOD CARES ABOUT YOUR JOY
I had a home church in San Diego that did lots of research on the Sabbath. I was struck by how many testimonies there were from people who claimed they knew God existed through partaking in the good things of life. By taking a walk and watching a sunset, having the good wine (or beer), listening to powerful music, etc. Many of the joys in life cannot be experienced unless you make time to do so. This is more than just experiencing pleasure; it is mindfully giving thanks to God for caring about our joy. When you take time for Sabbath regularly you become inoculated from destructive desires: when you have a nice meal your desire to eat fades, when you take a nice walk and experience the beauty of the world, your heart is satisfied. When you take Sabbath with those you love your desire for companionship elsewhere fades. Spending time in Sabbath allows you to be spiritually satisfied. By making it a routine, you always have something to look forward, to thus satisfying desires. Experiencing joy and rest regularly nourishes your needs.
MIND: SELF CARE MATTERS
My wife is a psychologist, and one of her responsibilities during her PhD studies was to administer mindfulness classes to study participants. Mindfulness is a bit of a buzzword these days, but it is very simply the practice of intentionally being mentally present in the moment. There are several studies out there that suggest that mindfulness has many positive aspects for mental health. Sabbath can be an opportunity to practice mindfulness, because one possible side effect of Sabbath is worrying about all the work or chores that will need to be done while you rest and take pleasure in things. This defeats the purpose of Sabbath. When you are not mindfully being present in the joys, people, and rest that Sabbath prescribes you will not fully experience contentment. Rest and joyful experience are killed in the cauldron of burden and duty. Finding ways to rid yourself of distractions and preoccupations through mindfulness is vitally important to sabbath.
STRENGTH: PHYSICAL RAMIFICATIONS OF MISSING SABBATH
American corporate culture often values work to the point of an early grave. When I worked for a corporation, I was admonished when I only worked 40 hours in a week. I worked weekends and evenings in addition to the normal workday, which lead to several health consequences. The stress and lack of sleep had me in the hospital several times. This was a wake-up call to focus on my health and resting. When I took time to take care of myself and prioritized rest, I found that my work life was more productive, and my health improved. When you prioritize or glamorize working hard all the time, rather than a healthy work/life balance, no one benefits. Hard work is still a value, but you are incapable of working well if you don’t prioritize taking care of yourself through sabbath rest.
HEART: RELATIONSHIPS STRENGTHEN
Taking sabbath as a family means building bonds between each other. It is very easy with intense work schedules, and life commitments to go through your day feeling like you are living with strangers. Intentional time with each other eating and relaxing undistracted allows you to invest emotionally in each other’s lives. Emotional investments strengthen familial bonds and lessens the negative impact of busy schedules on your relationships.
There are two take away points I would like to you to consider: practical tips for executing the sabbath, and ways to be a “sabbath maker.”
Practical Tips: My family is traditionally terrible at making time for sabbath. This is mostly because we use our discretionary time filling our schedules with additional endeavors (my wife and I have been in school or work training for the entirety of our marriage). However, we hope soon to start using our time making skills for sabbath time. I also confer these tips from a humble heart, I write this just as much as a reminder for me as it is a help for you. When we are at our absolute best, we do these occasionally and whenever we do, we find the investment as well spent.
Do Chores During the Week: We frequently use Saturdays, which could be for sabbath, to catch up on chores. When we need Saturdays undistracted for study, we typically spread chores out during the week. We use Tuesday for cleaning bathrooms and Friday for cleaning floors and dusting. My wife and I are good at taking turns going grocery shopping in the evenings while little one sleeps.
Meal Prep Time: In order to make Saturdays undistracted we will often use Sunday evenings for meal prep. We make lunches, and generally a huge pot of overnight oatmeal. The investment is worth it when you have breakfast and lunches ready to go throughout the week.
Don’t Confuse Self-Soothing, Self-Care, and Sabbath: Self-Soothing is taking time to stare at your phone, binge watch a television show, indulging in too much dessert etc. Self-Care is exercising, diet, going to the doctor, taking care of your finances, and meditation. Sabbath is resting, enjoying good things, and focusing on the relationships that matter in your life. All three have there place, but starting with good sabbath rest is the key to making sure you have the energy and relational security to pursue self-care. Self-soothing should be treated like dessert, in moderation and as a low priority.
Taking Mini Sabbaths: There are many realities in family life that can prevent true “dawn to dusk” rest. Doing things like: Having daily technology free meals, having a family game night, taking a family walk, and spending quality time with friends, are good ways to take mini Sabbaths. Any situation where you engage in a fun restful activity that allows you time to talk with and invest in each other and where you are not working can be a healthy respite from daily life.
Sabbath Making: It is hard enough to make time for yourself to partake in sabbath, but we also know people who have a particular burden or difficulty making time for the sabbath: single parents, people with loved ones in poor health, people with particularly demanding jobs, people with newborns, etc.
While sabbath is ideally a full day of rest and doing nothing productive, it can also be creating spaces for others to find rest:
Hosting a Dinner or Game Night: While it does put some burden on the host, it can be a blessing to just invite people over for food and games. This is a particular blessing to people with the sort of burdens that would keep them from creating a full day of rest, but providing them rest from meal planning and clean up would create a time of sabbath for them.
Bringing Meals: Meal ministry is something very familiar for most Christians, sometimes providing meals and/or restaurant gift cards for people allow them an evening, if not a full day, of rest.
Fight Pride: Sometimes making time for sabbath means asking for help. Our culture has created a dangerous prideful milieu where asking for help is thought of as a shameful action. Yet in scripture we are expected to bare each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).
There are lots of helpful metaphors for the importance of sabbath rest. However, the best evidence is right in front of us: we are tired, busy, and burdened in life. We need a break from the cycle of work in order to thrive and flourish. God did not rest on the 7th day because he needed to rest, he rested to model for us our own need to rest. Being a good worker, productive, and useful are all good things, but like most good things in this world we tend to abuse it through excess. Let us take time for rest and company so that we can live closer to the lives God meant for us, lives of joy.