A few years ago, at the annual Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) Summit in Nashville, I was introduced to Ruth Haley Barton. Because of my work schedule during the conference, I was only able to pick a few sessions to attend. Scrolling through the CAFO syllabus Barton’s session drew my attention: How is it with your soul? During that time, I was in the middle of some really painful and difficult family circumstances and I knew my soul was not well. I sat in her session with tears pouring down my face the entire time. I knew what she was sharing held keys to navigating life wholeheartedly, yet I didn’t know where to begin. I bought her book, Sacred Rhythms, retreated to the prayer room alone, and quietly asked God to help restore my soul.
As a working mom to a large family, including some special needs situations, someone is always wanting something from me. Year after year after year of running 24/7 to meet every goal and desire was extracting a huge cost from my soul. I was so frayed at the ends I didn’t even know how to sleep well or practice any level of self-care. I did read Barton’s book and tried a few ways to introduce some aspects of these new practices into my very busy and overwhelmed life. But I literally panicked at the thought of sitting still in solitude and reflection. My soul was years behind where my body was currently functioning.
Hearing my prayers, and yet seeing I didn’t know how to facilitate changes on my own, God mercifully intervened. He moved me into a new job which allowed me to work from home and brought some needed relief to my schedule. Through this adjustment I was able to begin a daily devotional and prayer routine that was actually sustainable long term in my life. I was also given the chance to travel and have time away from home and family, which came with built-in solitude experiences. I started taking walks with my puppy without playing an e-book or listening to music. Slowly, and maybe for the first time ever, I began to see margins appear in my life.
This past February I was at the home offices for my employer, Operation Blessing, in Virginia Beach for a weeklong training. Every day I was there I had the opportunity to attend the noon chapel for employees. Can you believe that every single chapel that week was from a different guest speaker who were all coincidently speaking about sabbath-keeping? I felt like each day the message was directed to me personally. I knew God was inviting me to take another step forward in this new way of living He was leading me, but was I willing to keep sabbath and take an entire day off in my nonstop world?
Let me tell you that I was still traveling every other week at this time. I was also in the hardest grad school course I’ve ever taken, which on top of my full-time job was taking a solid 20-hours of each week. Additionally, and impossibly, we were also preparing to move again. I needed both days of my weekend to tend to home and hearth, as they say, as well as accomplish schoolwork + a move! How in the world could I possible take 24 hours off each weekend and simply not be productive?
Ultimately, I said yes to sabbath simply because I felt God was inviting me. In the end, none of my excuses mattered. How could I say no? So that February weekend, without any kind of formula for what or how I should sabbath, I just took a day off and rested. It felt odd to stop doing anything productive if I wasn’t sick. The idea of not engaging in normal life to produce, purchase or be entertained felt abnormal. But that is entirely the point of sabbath! It’s trusting God that everything in our lives will be sustained and cared for without our help. The lack of striving for our needs and resting in His goodness is precisely the solution for our weary and frayed souls.
Nothing magical changed in my life after that first sabbath. It’s laughable when I think back on that day now, as if just because I obeyed once everything in my life would be instantly fixed. I mean, I’ve always attended church, but in our modern culture that seems to be largely the extend of what sabbath means. But “keeping the Lord’s day holy” is much, much more than going to church. In his book, Subversive Sabbath, A.J. Swaboda writes, “Sabbath recognizes “our time” was never our time in the first place.” I’ve come to realize that just like I give a tithe of my money to God, sabbath gives a tithe of our time to God. And you know what? The same way God blesses us our finances through giving seems to be the same way he blesses our time through sabbath-keeping. This is a mind-blowing revelation!
I’ve now been keeping sabbath for 7 months and the practice has transformed my life in so many ways. For starters, I breath deeper, I rest easier, and my time to accomplish all of my to-dos seems to be stretched each week. I’m not legalistic about what I do or how I sabbath, but I do hold these lines:
1) I take extra time to worship, pray and read my bible. This also includes church with my family.
2) I take 24 hours off of ALL work and production tasks each week. For me this means no email, cleaning, studying, or planning for the future.
3) I don’t engage in any commerce-based activities, such as shopping or paying bills.
I literally enjoy God’s creation, my family, and the gifts he’s given to me. It’s almost like a mini vacation every weekend. I float in my pool and reject all feelings of guilt for being “lazy”; I walk the beach with my husband; we go to church and worship; we cook a family meal and eat together; we play games (yes cards!) or work a puzzle or color. Sabbath helps me get through the pressures of each week because I know there is a full day of doing nothing at the other end. It’s a reward that God wants to us enjoy - deeply!
God has been quietly working in the background of my “busy” life since that CAFO session and my subsequent prayer for help back in 2017. I’m still learning and studying and figuring out more about this beautiful gift of sabbath given to us by the Creator. He is helping to heal me from the disease of productivity. Someday I hope to get to 24-hours without my cell phone, but with 3 kids living away from home I don’t feel free to take this step yet. My husband and children don’t sabbath like me, but they are all leaning into the practice more and more every weekend. The pace of our family is slowing down and it’s making us all healthier, more loving people. As lifelong Christians it’s sad to say, sabbath-keeping is a spiritual discipline that is new for us, but we are finally finding our way.
In case you are interested in learning more about sabbath-keeping, here’s a few books I’ve discovered that are excellent and I highly recommend:
1. The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry - John Mark Comer
2. Subversive Sabbath - A.J. Swoboda
3. Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You - John Ortberg
4. Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest and Delight - Wayne Muller
5. Sacred Rhythms - Ruth Haley Barton
6. Habits for our Holiness - Philip Nation
Do you keep sabbath regularly? If so, what are your practices? If you have any sabbath-keeping favorite books or resources, please drop the info in the comments below.