Learning to Sabbath

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Last week we were watching the movie Christopher Robin; and while the beloved characters brought back lots of childhood nostalgia, it was tragic to see Christopher Robin robbed of wonder, purpose, and meaningful connections as he became a prisoner to his work. The tragedy was magnified because most of us struggle with the same trap as we head into our adult lives.   Work and busyness give us the illusion that we are masters of our own time. Our daily rhythms, schedules, and habits deceive us into believing we are in control of our lives.

Work is a good thing, both created by God and practiced by Him; and yet many of us remain convinced that if we stop working, our lives will fall apart.

Over the past several months, we found the Holy Spirit showing us how we had been deceived by these illusions in our own lives. Feeling convicted to trust in God’s sovereignty, we committed ourselves to practicing a 24-hour Sabbath once a week for the past semester. While we have found that we spend our Sabbath in different ways, we’ve both found fresh ways of being with God (and with each other in our community) through ceasing to be present in the moments before us.  Here are a few snapshots of how our Sabbath practices have been formative:

Ginger’s Experience

In this past season of life I have been a full-time student finishing up my undergraduate degree. I have always been someone who has sought to achieve in my academic career, so not doing any schoolwork for 24 hours every week required a lot of surrender.

As the semester got started and the homework load was fairly light, resting from homework for 24 hours was pretty simple…but I would later come to realize it was simple because I still felt in control. Once the amount of upcoming assignments started piling up and other responsibilities required more of my time, the temptation to do work on my designated Sabbath grew, too. At the height of the semester I remember saying, “I don’t understand. This is the most faithful I have ever been to surrendering an entire day to God, and yet, this is the most tired I have ever felt.”

As I reflect on that statement, I have realized just how little I had surrendered to God before this semester. I had never allowed the practice of Sabbath to interrupt my life enough that I felt out of control, but I’m learning that it’s in that space where genuine trust in God is formed.

So far I have spoken to what practicing the Sabbath has required I surrender, but that is only half of the conversation. While observing the Sabbath meant stopping from homework, it also meant learning what practices actually brought me rest in the presence of God. In addition to prayer and reading Scripture, one of my favorite practices has been spending time reading outside of my assigned schoolwork. I also found that I feel rested by cleaning and organizing my space for the upcoming week. This has taught me that practicing Sabbath is not only about letting something go, but also about receiving something from God, and (in the process) finding wholeness in practices that bring me closer to Him.

Isaac’s Experience

I graduated from college in the spring of 2019 and after a busy summer, I was entering into a season that was very open. I didn’t have a job yet. I didn’t have school work. My main responsibility was learning how to pay bills in a new house along with my housemate. But considering that bill payments are only a few days each month, I had a lot of time on my hands. When I saw this open season coming up on the horizon, I immediately did what I had trained myself to do up to this point in my life; I began thinking of how I could fill that time up to be as busy as possible. I asked, “What am I going to do?” And though it was a worthwhile question, I felt God move me toward savoring rest instead of escaping it. Almost every season in my life is full of commitments; but in that season, I heard God remind me that sometimes, pause is a gift.

I felt God inviting me to use this time to create rhythms that teach me to rest. While reflecting on this, I immediately thought of God’s command to the Israelites to Sabbath. Now this wasn’t a new concept to me, and I have tried to take a Sabbath day from time to time, but this was a season to challenge myself to create cycles of rest. It was a time to learn what rest was and to actually practice it without a lot of outside pressure.

After getting a job with a schedule that shifted weekly, I was left trying to make a day each week to be my Sabbath day. Despite having much more time than I had ever had before, I still found this to be difficult. And for me, finding a day where I intentionally rest, ironically, felt like work. And in my efforts I began to learn something. Creating a space to rest is a type of work. It is a type of kingdom work. It is a type of surrender and trust. To take a sabbath is to remind us that our personal-worlds (as well as the actual world around us) are heading somewhere. We are heading toward a new restored, Eden-like creation. And in the rest of Eden, there was work, the work of tending the world with God.

So no matter if I am in a busy season, or a seemingly open season, creating time to stop is hard. I like to always be moving, and my busyness can be a distraction to focus on the bigger work that God is doing. However, stopping and pausing from a normal routine has helped me to focus on the coming of God’s kingdom. And even though creating a Sabbath-like day is difficult, doing so is so rewarding. Even if I don’t have the most restful day in the world on a Sabbath, I am reorienting my focus on a real rest that will come and has started to come in the person of Jesus.

Our prayer is that as you engage in the practice of sabbath you find it to be an enriching gift to your life and relationship with God. We want to leave you with a quote from Rabbi Matitiahu Tsevat who captures the essence of Sabbath by saying, “Every seventh day the Israelite renounces his autonomy and affirms…God’s dominion over time and thus over himself. Keeping the Sabbath is acceptance of the kingdom and sovereignty of God.”

If you’re up for it, here are a few questions to consider as you imagine your own Sabbath practice:

  • What are spaces in your life where you feel most rested? Most depleted?
  • If a full 24-hour Sabbath feels too big a leap right away, how might you start setting aside specific time to rest? (Remember: some restful time with God is better than no time–so even if you carve out a “Sablet” instead of a Sabbath, you’ll likely find it refreshing).
  • What (in your thinking) is the difference between a Sabbath and a “day off”?

 

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