How can we settle down the busyness, the anxiety, the constant swarm of activities and practice God’s blessing of Sabbath rest? If we want to take seriously God’s words of life—knowing that these commands are made for us, that, as Jesus says in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath is made for people,” to help us and give us time for God to speak, for our hearts to be restored, for our souls to commune with their creator, for us to enjoy God’s gifts, we have to give Sabbath a try. And doing this will take some work.
To begin, we have to accept the gift of Sabbath. This is how God’s gifts work. God holds them out to us in open hands, but we have to accept them. We have to take them. If you are waiting for God to put an end to your busyness, that day won’t come. God has given the gift of Sabbath to you, but you have to live into it. This is true for your family as well.
Rabbi Heschel writes:
Preparation for a holy day is as important as the day itself.” So, if you’ve been convinced over the past season of your life that your busyness is out of hand, let’s talk about some concrete tips of preparation. Three tips to incorporating Sabbath into your routine—a day or half a day set aside for praying and playing. A day to cease from all work and all screens. A day to enjoy your family. A day to be instead of just doing and doing and doing.
Step one—prepare the schedule. Get out that family calendar and set aside time. Bump stuff off of your Sunday, if Sunday will be your Sabbath. Know that you will probably have to make time.
Then get those Sabbaths on the calendar and block them off. Schedule in worship, for this is the center of Sabbath rest. Schedule out the appointments, the sporting events, the running to and from. If you work Sundays (My church makes me work Sundays… I know, can you believe it?! So Fridays are my Sabbath.), find another day when you can have a Sabbath.
My rule at the last church I served, where I was a solo pastor, was that unless someone was actively dying and likely wouldn’t make it to the next morning, I kept my Sabbath. There are all sorts of mini-emergencies in ministry and in life, and these will intrude if you let them. You will have to fight for your Sabbath. Put it on the calendar. Put it on there every week, so when you go to schedule something you’ll say, “Hey, wait a second. I can’t run a thousand errands on Sunday. That’s our Sabbath.” This is more true the more people you have in your household.
Sabbath rest won’t come easily. One pastor I know has a congregation of nearly 3,000 people and has five children. Five. Yet he was convicted by this commandment. So he and his wife sat down and looked at their schedule together. And then they stood up and said, “It’s impossible.” And then they sat back down because they both take God’s commands very seriously. And here’s what they discovered. Every single person in their family—all seven of them, kids and adults, would have to give up something to have a family Sabbath. Not a whole 24-hours, but a whole afternoon together as a family to pray and to play. To give time. And they did it. There was some complaining at first. And then there was some serious joy. They got reacquainted as a family. They got to play with their Dad, who on that afternoon was not Important Busy Pastor Man, but instead just Dad and Husband and Child of God.
Prepare your schedule. You will have to make some hard choices.
Secondly, prepare the house. It’s hard to really rest on a Sabbath if you’ve left every household chore undone. Stay up a bit later and finish the kitchen. Take those boxes to the garage. If you hate cooking, cook the day before or figure out where you’ll order Sabbath take-out. I have friends who always use their slow cooker on Sabbath, and one of the signals in their house that it’s Sabbath is that the house smells delicious because dinner is already on its way.
Put away the screens. Put them away. Sabbath isn’t Law & Order marathon time. Hide the iPad. Stow the Kindle. Pledge with yourself that your phone will be just a phone during the Sabbath—not a web browser/Candy Crusher/Web MD surfer/news updater/Facebook stalker tool.
And then—and this is my best advice, because my house is NEVER as clean as I want it to be—and I’m not talking Martha Stewart clean, I’m talking the dirty laundry is still in a heap from last Thursday—find peace with a certain level of disarray. Find a few things that you need to get done to prepare for Sabbath but acknowledge that you have a family and a job and you can rest even with work undone. Because there will ALWAYS be work that’s undone. That’s one of the messages to us in God’s gift of Sabbath. The work is his.
Finally, prepare yourself and your family. The Jewish tradition holds that Sabbath is sundown to sundown, because the night before is intrinsically connected to the following day. Adele Calhoun writes about this preparation, this spiritual time the night before Sabbath of getting ready to rest with God:
When bedtime came, the family rested in God’s covenant protection. They woke on Sabbath morning to a world they didn’t make and a friendship with God they didn’t earn.
The night before your Sabbath, spend some time in prayer. Dedicate the following day or time of rest to Jesus. Ask God to speak to you. Remind yourself that the day will not be perfect, but that when you find yourself worrying or working, you will endeavor to lay down your burdens and rest in God. You may want to light a candle, or set out the family Bible, or to put all your screened devices in a bin to remind you not to wake up and check CNN.com.
And then—one practical tip for the Sabbath itself. You will likely feel anxious when you start this process. You might hope for a phone call or work email to give you a purpose—something to do. You will be drawn to your screens like a moth to a flame. This is normal. We are addicted to busyness, and it will take some time to get that adrenaline-fueled life out of our systems. Eugene Peterson writes about a “Sabbath-sickness” that settles in whenever we slow down. This is why we don’t do it. This is why the whole world doesn’t practice Sabbath. It’s scary. Feelings of sadness or depression or anxiety or fear will come out not because the Sabbath creates them, but because the intense activity and scheduling of everyday life keeps them quiet. Netflix and late-night work meetings keep them quiet. But when there is space, these feelings come out. Name them. Acknowledge them. And give them to God. You will have to press in and through to get to the other side, and God is faithful to help you.
Each Friday Sabbath that Daryl and Lincoln and I share has an hour or two when Daryl and I are totally Sabbath-sick. We are grouchy with each other and tired and we feel the burdens of the week come crashing down around our ears. But then, that passes, and we see Lincoln playing with his blocks and realize—this is our life! God in his great love has given us this day to be together. To listen to him and to the laughter of our toddler and to sit amongst the unfolded laundry and just remember that we are his and he is ours. What a gift.
Sabbath sickness rarely happens for kids. Kids love space in the schedule. Even if they say they’re bored, they press through the empty space more easily than we do. Let them draw you out. Find ways you all love to worship—CDs and dancing in the kitchen, a Veggie Tales special before bed, reading their favorite Bible story, praying for anything that’s on their minds. And then play. Go to the park without an end-time. Walk around and meet your neighbors. Bake cupcakes. Invite a friend over without spot-cleaning your house. Live into the abundant life that God wants to offer to you.
We are desperately in need of a sanctuary in time, and God offers this to us every single week. But God’s blessings can’t land in full hands—we have to work to keep this commandment. Calhoun writes:
Sabbath is God’s way of saying, ‘Stop. Notice your limits. Don’t burn out.’ It is a day he gives us to remember who and what work is for as well as what matters most. Sunday generously hands us hours to look into the eyes of those we love. We have time for loving and being loved. Rhythmically, the Sabbath reminds us that we belong to the worldwide family of God. We are citizens of another kingdom—a kingdom not ruled by the clock and the tyranny of the urgent. God’s Sabbath reality calls us to trust that the Creator can manage all that concerns us in the world as we settle into his rest.
Doesn’t this sound amazing? Don’t you want it for yourself?
Busy? Can’t stop? Follow God’s good and gracious command for Sabbath rest. If God can rest—so can you.