how sabbath is making me a better human

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Sabbath-keeping. It is one of the hardest things in the world for me to do.

See, my go-to posture is busy. It is most comfortable to me to fill days completely with work and priorities and cleaning and housekeeping and baking and making lists of people I should send mail to.

But over the past year and a half of marriage, and moreso recently, I’ve had to deal with God’s ask for us to Sabbath.

For those unfamiliar with what Sabbath is, here is a great resource page by Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. In my own simple definition, it is a 24-hour, God-mandated period for both rest and enjoyment.

It is only recently that Jesus’ words to some confused people in Mark are starting to make sense for me too. He had to clarify for their rule-keeping tendencies that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

What I’m learning is that the Sabbath is not something I keep because it’s good for me, or the optimal way to operate as a human being. Rather, Sabbath is the gift of a taste of the kingdom peace we were intended for.

I cannot speak to how to Sabbath with a family yet, but I do have some words for people who I’ve shared seasons with: being a student, being single, and being married.

If you are a student, Sabbath is a day not to study. Sabbath is a day to trust that God is taking care of you and that you will not do better on a test if you spend the day immersed in papers. Sabbath is a day for you to find joy. Do you like coffee? Do you like reading? Do you like hiking? Enjoy those things on this day.

If you are single, Sabbath is a special day to do things that bring you pleasure. You may do enjoyable things all the time, but I’d encourage you to mark this day as a special day to do the things that are deeply you. Sabbath is also a day to be disconnected – turning off your phone completely for the day may be a good start. You may say that connection is part of joy for you, and believe me it is for me too, but I think that there are too many distractions that pull at us when we are connected, and the temptation to say “on” is just too strong. You will be more fully present to the things you are enjoying if you don’t have the chance of a message or a text next to you.

If you are married, Sabbath is a day to take off together. Sabbath may involve you doing some separate things, but for the most part, you should do something you like to do together – and getting out of the house, or outdoors is a huge benefit (often being around the house can be a pull to do house things).

A word for introverts (i.e., my crew): Sabbath may mean saying NO to being with people, and this is okay – and word for extroverts: Sabbath may mean SURROUNDING yourself with people to the best of your ability, and this is okay!

Something else I didn’t understand about the Sabbath is that it takes real work. As in, you need to prepare for it. For one, there’s no way that you can just turn off for a day – you will need a clean pair of underwear if you go out so a load of laundry may need to be run before the day (and for me, the kitchen being clean is just a must). Additionally, you need to plan things to do for your enjoyment. Simply waiting until the day of (at least in my case) tends to be disastrous (i.e., we end up spending a lot of time deciding what to do only to break down into frustration at 10:45am with half the day gone).

This is what Sabbath looks like for M and I today: choosing one day of the week to completely “turn off” and also to “enjoy” something together for a 24-hour period. It is a bit different for us as people who are involved in church – as in, for some people it might make sense to take your day off on Sunday. For us, however, the day that often works is a Wednesday or Thursday. This is a day where I will not return your emails or Facebook messages. My phone is [hopefully] turned completely off. And M and I are out somewhere, exploring a new place or hunkered down at a coffee shop with books. For me, because I am an introvert, Sabbath usually means that I will not see people (even family!). Some things that I find enjoyable are drinking coffee, eating good food, reading, watching TV in the morning, and writing. So Sabbath might involve all of those things.

A reminder to the workaholics: Sabbath is not meant to be your only time to rest. As in, you’re not meant to save all your rest until this day when you finally go all-out and rest enough for the rest of the week. What I said above about how it helps us bear the image of God is that it hopefully makes us less frantic for the rest of the week. In order to keep Sabbath, my schedule has to change. I actually have to say no to things because I know that I will not be able to fit them into the six days of time that I have to work. Sabbath has become the marker for me of whether I can do something or not. I am not a machine with replaceable batteries but a human being who glorifies God the most when she is fully herself.

A word to those who aren’t working or who are parenting or self-employed or doing unusual things with their time: Sabbath is not something you earn. You don’t put in enough hours to get to have a day designated for your rest and enjoyment. I constantly feel that I don’t “put in enough time” to deserve a Sabbath day but you are meant to keep Sabbath regardless of what the rest of the days of the week look like for you, whether that’s wiping a baby’s bum, looking for new leads, or browsing Craigslist. The Sabbath is a day to trust that God is taking care of you and that you need to bear his image well.

A final Sabbath misconception is that Sabbath is for Bible-reading and worship music. It is decisively not. Let’s look back to the account of creation where we find God doing the very thing that gets called Sabbath: he ceases work on the seventh day and he enjoys. This is God, Sabbathing. He is not praising or Bible-reading or doing worship-things. He is fully himself, fully resting, fully enjoying.

Sabbath is re-orienting my whole life because I need to make time for it – a whole 24 hours! It’s not easy. But I hope that in doing it, I bear the image of God in a greater way, anticipating when all shall be well in his kingdom.

What about you? Do you have questions about Sabbath? Do you practice it? Leave me a comment because I’d LOVE to hear from you!

5 thoughts on “how sabbath is making me a better human

  1. This is good! So good. I’d love to read some thoughts on what sabbath looks like with young children, if you ever come across it, Beth!

  2. Great post Bethany. I liked the attention to God’s pleasure or rest from work rather then just busy with something spiritual (though most things are Spiritual). Even though I believe sabbath’s intent includes formation or spiritual renewal of some kind, what you highlighted is often neglected.

    1. Thanks so much for reading, David and for sharing your perspective. What do you mean by spiritual formation/renewal activities, and what does that look like for you as a pastor, or how you pastor people into taking Sabbath?

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