During a workshop I recently attended on the topic of Sabbath, the speaker advised the participants that—in order to overcome the typical scheduling challenges associated with setting aside a full day without work or chores—we should instead find small, manageable chunks of time throughout the week for mini-Sabbath moments. Listening to this, I was surprised to feel my body flare with anger. “A full day of rest is God’s gift to us!” I was tempted to shout out at him. “I want it to be a discipline, not a self-care strategy that we employ in convenient chunks!”
I admit that I am a wee bit intense about the Sabbath. I am a new Christian, a still-recent convert. I was baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal church five years ago when I was in my mid-thirties. Since then, I have been surprised—flummoxed actually—to learn that many Christians don’t have a dedicated Sabbath practice. I was naïve about this; I assumed that most Christians observe the Sabbath. So I felt cranky during the workshop because the pastor’s advice felt like another example of how the Sabbath is treated as something optional that we can work into our pick-and-choose lives (or not) in ways that are convenient to us.
The speaker concluded by reminding us that the Sabbath is one of God’s greatest gifts and that we are meant to delight in its richness. At the word ‘delight,’ my stomach unclenched and my muscles loosened. I agreed with this statement, and it struck me in that moment as fairly ridiculous that I was feeling so cranky about something that God intends to be a source of delight. Sheepishly, I felt my anger subside as quickly as it had flared up.
Since then, I have been reflecting on why I felt so angry that day. I think it stems from my deep longing and hunger for the church to model a different way of life – a radically alternative value system and way of being in the world. A Christian friend recently told me that she doesn’t feel at-risk of becoming a workaholic and this is part of why she doesn’t feel particularly drawn to a Sabbath practice. I envy my friend because I am definitely at risk of workaholism most of the time. And I find the modern workplace is frequently complicit in this. I am fortunate to work with amazing people—they are brilliant, dedicated, diligent, kind—and many of them seem overworked, often bordering on being burned out. Many colleagues respond to emails at 11 pm on weeknights and 10 am on weekends. They often work through vacations and on paid holidays. The implicit assumption is that as a productive, responsible, high-achieving employee, I will do the same. As a result, I often do.
And I find that I am increasingly exhausted. I want to be productive and competent. I want to be valuable and valued. I also want boundaries and balance. I yearn for rest, solitude, rejuvenation, and space to let my tired mind wander freely. And I’ve found that this is what Sabbath provides. I love Sabbath rest so much that I’ve started taking a Sabbath retreat each month in addition to my regular weekly practice.
So, what was the source of my crankiness that day during the Sabbath workshop? In my quest for rest, I desperately want role models and community, support and accountability.
A few summers ago, during Vacation Bible Camp at my church, I was frazzled after a long day and didn’t feel like I had much to give to the kids that evening. I told the Director of Religious Education, “I’m so sorry. I’m just not at my best.” She instantly replied, “That’s totally okay. At church, you don’t have to be.” I felt a crazy, heart-breaking disbelief when she said this with such automatic reassurance. You mean church is not about performing and always being (or seeming) competent, I wanted to ask. It’s about something else?
This “something else” that church offers is what I’ve fallen in love with and what I long to have more of in my life. And this is why I felt that small flame of anger during the Sabbath workshop. I don’t want to take God’s gift and break it down in convenient chunks. I want the big, beautiful challenge that comes with the discipline of setting aside a full 24-hours for rest. I am endlessly grateful for the gifts that come from that discipline—including the letting go of compulsivity and the reminder that I am not God and the world will not stop if I do. Only in God will I find true peace. And that truth—which I often experience most vividly during moments of Sabbath rest—is my greatest delight.
[This is the second of a three-part series on Sabbath time. The first post is here and the third will publish tomorrow. -Ed.]
How do you practice Sabbath time?