This was originally posted on my church’s blog. You can see the original post here.
Back in January, I read John Mark Comer’s “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.” That snowballed into book after book on Sabbath and rest through the next few months, and here we are today under a stay-at-home order. Needless to say, it’s almost as if God was preparing me for a time such as this. Before studying this topic, I was one who could never stop and at times scoffed at those who did. I, like many Americans, viewed the never-ending hustle and bustle as a badge of honor.
Now I’ve written three blog posts in a row examining my journey and the Biblical basis for us, as modern Christians, practicing a Sabbath. This post goes one step further as I dive into what the practice of Sabbath looks like.
As we settle into a rhythm of less movement and activity, what does taking a Sabbath truly mean? You can look at my previous posts to see my heart and where I feel the Bible outlines the reason for Christian Sabbath, but to paraphrase: Sabbath for a modern Christian is a break from the hurry and striving (work) of everyday life. It’s when we go from work to a pause that is meant to refresh our soul and give us the fuel for the next week. It is for us to enter into a spirit of rest that permeates the other 6 days and carries us from Sabbath to Sabbath.
So with that, here are the activities my wife and I have incorporated into our practice of Sabbath, as well as some ideas you can incorporate to yours.
The Jewish Sabbath tradition starts with preparation day (Friday during the day). Preparation day is a flurry of activity, where Jews get ready for their Sabbath, which starts 20 minutes before sundown on Friday and goes through sundown on Saturday. For our work and church routines, we felt it was best to have our Sabbath be sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday.
We start our Sabbath with the lighting of candles to be a physical reminder of what we’re entering into. Over the short few months we’ve been doing this practice, this simple act of lighting a candle initiates a deep change in our souls. As the candles are lit, you can feel a release of all tension and energy, an excitement of the work God will do in our hearts, and anticipation of our bodies being refreshed over the next 24 hours. We then repeat audibly “remember and observe,” as the Israelites were instructed to do in Exodus and Deuteronomy.
Another ritual of ours is to take a 24-hour break from all electronics, with a few exceptions for our phones. The first Sabbath we practiced I chose to leave my phone on the charger when I went to church. I didn’t have the anxiety I expected and sure enough, when I got home nothing bad had happened. And get this: the things that transpired while without my phone had either been resolved, were not urgent, or I had been notified another way.
While it is our intention to not turn on the TV, use our computers, or be on our phones, we’ve still carried our phones when we’re out. We’ve not been perfect and have sometimes watched shows or not put our phones away. But this rule has a way of rewiring your brain and creating a special time of rest that is otherwise unattainable.
FEAST AND FELLOWSHIP
Good food is something Baptists know a lot about. As are fellowships. Many Jewish traditions include fellowship and good food with those you’re closest to, as well as long conversations deep into the night. John Mark Comer’s family cooks up a cookie in a pan and puts ice cream on top and shares how their week went while enjoying this sugary treat. For all Pizookie lovers out there, that sounds like a great tradition, doesn’t it?! Whatever you choose, I’d encourage you to make it a ritual. We’ve gone back and forth on how this looks for us, but we always include a treat of some kind. One week it was a cookie in a mug, another week it was hot chocolate and sweets.
Good Christian fellowship is balm to the soul and something that absolutely creates rest for our souls. So sometimes our Sabbath includes game nights with friends or family dinners, though that time looks a little different during the shelter-in-place mandate.
Sabbath is meant as a renewal and necessary to renewal is sleep. We have attempted to start our bedtime routine a few hours early. Sometimes that means quietly reading in bed, but other times that means going to bed and sleeping for 12 hours.
We’ve also embraced naps. I know, it’s crazy. I’ve always been anti-nap but hearing that napping was a regular part of the Jewish Sabbath I had to give it a try. While I don’t nap every Sabbath, there is something about the rhythm and extra recovery that comes from a good nap.
This played into our decision to make our Sabbath start on Saturday sundown so that worship and church community could play a central part in our Sabbath ritual.
Worship can be in your home singing songs or with your church family. I’d encourage you to do both. There is something powerful about community that can lift your spirit, but the intimacy of worshiping alone is unattainable when with others.
PRAY AND JOURNAL
Prayer is an intimate conversation between you and God. I’d argue that there is no Sabbath without some prayer and reflection. Pray for your family, friends, community, and church. Pray through your prayer list, or pray through scripture. You can establish your own rhythm, but prayer should be an essential practice for any Christian Sabbath.
Many times it’s helpful to journal your prayer or just journal your thoughts and feelings. I used to scoff at the idea of journaling, but have found that it helps me process things that are otherwise left nagging at my heart and mind. Journaling also allows you to look for trends in your thought patterns and feelings and correct or pray about those when you see them.
There is something about silence is that is so special. Eugene Peterson was famous for his Sabbath ritual. On their Sabbath, he and his wife would go on a hike. They’d pray before setting off then not talk on the two- to three-hour leisurely walk. When they got to the end, they’d prepare lunch and share all they’d seen over that time. Something about not offering feedback or feeling any obligation to share creates a peace that is otherwise hard to come by. This is something that takes practice because at first, it is extremely hard. But if you can work at it, it’s something that will create a restful spirit.
I’ve done this by going into the wilderness and just walking or fishing. You can create your own pattern of silence. Start small, with five or ten minutes, and then gradually work your way up to longer periods.
Last does certainly not mean least in this case. There is nothing against physical activity in my book. Remember that the goal is rest and a break. So once you’ve had sufficient rest, I’d say physical activity creates fun that leads to rest of your soul and mind. I’d hoped to be able to integrate some golf into my Sabbath ritual, though this stay-at-home order has put a damper on that. A hike, some light gardening, even a work out can fit into a Sabbath ritual. The goal is to do something that is rewarding. If you hate yard work, gardening wouldn’t fit. If you hate the gym, that wouldn’t fit either. But if those are things that bring you joy, absolutely go for it. It’s about doing things that are a reset for you, whatever that may be.
If you’ve not practiced Sabbath before, now is the perfect time to try it out. With fewer distractions and more time, we’ve never had a better environment for getting rest. I’d encourage you to commit to four weeks of intentional Sabbath. Week one will feel weird and may make you not want to go back. Week two will feel a bit more normal, but your rhythm won’t be quite right. In weeks three and four you can finally refine and come to understand what a true Sabbath will look like for you.
Each of us will have different interpretations of what a Sabbath is, and that’s okay. But each of us needs to attempt a Sabbath, because without it we’re not allowing the break in our mind and body that God during creation and Jesus during his ministry needed themselves. Starting your own Sabbath ritual is as simple as creating a few guidelines and then to identify that you’re taking it.
What can you lose from trying?