“If we do not regularly quit work for one day a week, we take ourselves far too seriously. The moral sweat pouring off our brows blinds our eyes to the action of God in and around us. God knows we need this and has given us a means in Sabbath—a day for praying and playing, simply enjoying what is and who he is.” – Eugene Peterson
Any discussion of how Sabbath might be practiced needs to be preceded by a discussion of why it should be practiced at all. For that, I would refer you to the previous post (here). But a practical discussion of Sabbath ought to also come with this caveat: Sabbath is not something we have to do, it is something good we are invited to do. That is to say, it is a gift rather than a burden. That does not mean it won’t take intentionality, or even sacrifice, to make it a reality. But if we approach Sabbath as a task to win points with God or feel like it’s yet another thing to fail at, we are missing the point altogether. The New Testament commentary on Sabbath betrays our tendency to become legalistic about the practice and we should always keep that danger in front of us so that we can avoid it. Again, it’s not something we have to do, it’s something we get to do, however imperfectly. Sabbath is an invitation by God to stop working and know that we’re still loved, while being refreshed in worship and delight.
Admittedly, making Sabbath a part of our lives will take a significant re-orientation in our thinking and no small amount of discipline. Most Americans follow a pattern of working non-stop until a vacation, or working non-stop until an unplanned crash, or working begrudgingly until they can self-medicate during a self-indulgent weekend. Many of us are caught in a culture of harried exhaustion that we wouldn’t know how to get out of even if we wanted to. But that is precisely where the practice of Sabbath comes in. It provides a disruption to our addiction to busyness and helps us find a more sane rhythm to life. (Again, a more thorough exploration of the why can be found in the previous post.) The regularity of weekly Sabbath rest provides consistent intervals at which we can re-charge and re-connect to the one who gives us life, God himself. This allows us to work purposefully through our week from a place of rest (as opposed to working begrudgingly for a break). Then, before we run ourselves into the ground, we return to Sabbath once again. Thus, practicing Sabbath is not just adding a new practice to our schedules, it’s re-orienting our schedules altogether.
Of course there are some who need to be challenged to work more than they need to be encouraged to rest. But I think re-capturing the practice of Sabbath can actually help the lazy find a proper relationship between work and rest as well. That’s because practicing Sabbath forces us to be intentional with our lives. It forces us to see that work and rest are both necessary, but neither can be the assumed state of being. We can’t survive if we are always resting; we need to provide for ourselves and others. But neither can we survive by always working; we’ll drive ourselves into the ground. In the clarity of the Sabbath rhythm, both work and rest are valued but put in their proper place. Sabbath isn’t an excuse to be lazy, it’s an invitation to be purposeful in rest. There’s a difference. Below we’ve articulated a few ways to approach it.
Schedule a literal 24 hour period once a week.
In ancient cultures this was usually a sundown to sundown period. So, for example, your Sabbath might be from 6pm on Saturday to 6pm on Sunday. You can pick any day of the week, just make it a single block of time. This is often the biggest hurdles for people because it seems impossible to re-claim and re-assign 1/7th of our time. But so often we approach spiritual disciplines with the attitude that we’ll fit them in once there’s nothing left to do, failing to be realistic that there will always be more to do – every day, and every week. If we are truly going to prioritize spiritual disciplines as necessary practices for our own health and growth, we need to plant them as immoveable objects (within reason) that the rest of life’s business must flow around. Doing this with a 24 hour period once a week will be difficult because many of us are used to having that time to accomplish more tasks. So it will require intentionality, planning, and boundaries to create a largely task-free day. It will require working hard during the other days of the week to get our responsibilities taken care of. It might require turning down invitations, or perhaps scaling back on activities so that the day doesn’t constantly fill up with events. And again, the goal is not to be legalistic or withdrawn. Use discernment on what events are important for you to participate in (particularly those that show love to people) and those that aren’t. The goal is simply to be purposeful in finding a sane rhythm to our lives. And if we don’t guard the time, it will be overrun. You have permission to schedule uninterrupted rest as a firm commitment on your calendar.
Don’t try to be productive, but do engage in activities that bring you joy and delight.
This can be a bit of a fine line because some of us take so much pleasure in crossing things off of our to-do lists. But because many of us are undisciplined throughout the week and/or addicted to busyness, we will be tempted to see open space on our calendar as opportunity to catch up. Fight the urge. If you put your hands to anything, put your hands to things that are fun, restful, or stimulating. That doesn’t mean you can’t produce anything, but shift your motives from trying to accomplish something to doing a thing because you delight in it. For example, I enjoy cooking. It is relaxing to me. In one sense, spending a lot of time in the kitchen could be interpreted as work, I’m certainly producing something. But on the Sabbath I’m not in production mode. I experiment with new recipes. I take my time and go slow, preparing more elaborate meals than we have any other day. I am in no rush. I am simply enjoying to process. And there is an added benefit that it facilitates un-rushed meals around the table for my family as well. But part of the main idea of Sabbath is that we’re more than machines for production and consumption. If you don’t accomplish anything on Sabbath, you’re doing it right.
Let your body rest.
Of course physical activity might be the thing that brings you joy and delight. If that’s the case, go to the gym or for a hike. But again, consider that we are not created to be constantly on. We need rest. We need to stop once and a while. What if you had a day where your shoulders didn’t tighten from stress? What if you had a day where you didn’t take a shot of caffeine mid-afternoon and just took a nap instead? What if you had a day where the pace was slow and you could breath easier and laugh and linger with people? Turn off for 24 hours.
Be intentional in worship and prayer.
As our bodies find rest and our spirits come alive with delight, our souls ought to be re-oriented to God as well. In fact it’s not really Sabbath in the biblical sense if we are not actively making time for prayer, study, and/or worship. Of course all of our Sabbath activities ought to be done in view of God, giving him thanks and praise. But we should also make space to actively pursue connection with him. The unhurried pace of Sabbath is the perfect time to sit with God’s word, read a book that draws us into closer communion with him, go for a prayer walk, sing worship songs with our kids, etc. All of this connects the goodness of our rest to the source of it, the God who loves us.
Be communal. Help others find rest.
Many people get re-charged by alone time so there may be temptation to go into isolation. That’s not entirely a bad thing within reason. But even the most introverted among us need to realize that spiritual disciplines like Sabbath have a horizontal dimension to them that impacts our relationships with one another. What’s more, we’ll find that in order to actually find consistent Sabbath rest, we’ll need to lean on one another to help facilitate it. Very few of us have lives where we can just disconnect entirely for 24 hours. Parents of young children, for example, might need to take turns with responsibilities in order to give each other personal time. Friends can take each other’s kids for an hour or two so that someone can enjoy a quiet house for a while. Neighbors can be invited over to enter in to the un-hurried joy of fellowship around a table or on the patio. There is even a societal impact wherein choosing to rest we reduce the demands for others to work. Consider if everyone refused to start Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving Day; there would be no need for others to work that day. That shows us that our personal practices always, always effect our neighbors. So as you seek rest, help others find it and invite them in to yours. Yes, it might require you to do a little work to bless them. That’s reality. So be it. Love generously in un-rushed ways.
Don’t worry if it’s not “perfect”.
There will undoubtedly be weeks where our attempts at Sabbath end up feeling like huge failures. For whatever reason, they may end up being the most stressful and exhausting day of our week. And given the fact that trying to establish new patterns in life is always difficult, we need to allow ourselves some time to fumble toward figuring it out. Again, the goal is not to be the best at Sabbath. If we start measuring the efficiency of our rest, constantly strategizing how to maximize the 24 hours, and feel guilty for having wasted time … we’re doing it wrong. Just stop. Stop and know that even as you fumble through it, even as you don’t produce anything, even as you are not as disciplined as you wanted to be, you are loved by God. Just rest.