I’ve continued time at the beach the past two weeks (I’m now in Montreat but that’s a story for another post). The beach is my happy place for a lot of reasons but a big one is that there, I feel free from any sort of schedule. I sleep when I’m tired and eat when I’m hungry. Things as simple as eating and sleeping are often predetermined in my real life. There’s breakfast, lunch, dinner, and coffee meetings, and ice cream hang-outs. With that, and the extremely odd hours of youth ministry, it usually means eating and sleeping rarely happen when I’m actually hungry or tired (does it for any of us?). It happens when work demands. This is not to say I don’t enjoy all of those strange hours and sharing meals, stories, and support at table with youth and colleagues. I love it! However, my body and my spirit enjoy a chance to do life on a schedule that is a little more natural as well.
With my own schedule reigning, I finished a few books on my summer reading list, most of which have to do with practicing Sabbath. I’ve begun thinking seriously about how to incorporate Sabbath practices in my weekly life when I return from Sabbatical. The authors of the books I’ve read are all in agreement with Jesus that Sabbath isn’t supposed to be legalistic (read: full of rules complete with a list of things I must or can’t do on Sabbath). In each book I read there was reference to Jesus’ words in Mark 2 as he responded to the Pharisees questioning about work on the Sabbath: “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath”. While I do appreciate Jesus making Sabbath a bit more grey than the clear-cut world the Pharisees desired, I happen to really LIKE rules. I find comfort in structure. But the truth is I could follow every Old Testament law about Sabbath-keeping and still may not feel closer to God or gain the peaceful rest of Sabbath. Conversely, if I don’t follow any rules about Sabbath-keeping, I know that I my old habits will creep in and I won’t implement any of the lessons I’ve learned on this Sabbatical about the need for weekly Sabbath.
So how do I sort it all out? How do I keep Sabbath when Sunday is a work day? How can I be fully available to my congregation, yet still take a break one day a week as God commands? How do I make myself Sabbath when I’d often rather be DOing? In the words of author Marva Dawn (who’s name I just have to read with the most southern of drawls) how do I “cease, rest, embrace and feast”? In Marva Dawn’s book “Keeping the Sabbath Wholly”, (now I’m thinking her first name should be the double name, Marva Dawn, as in ‘Marva Dawn Simmons was the obvious choice for homecoming queen after displaying such class and composure at the debutante ball’…unfortunately, I don’t think she’s Southern in the least) she offers that to fully live into a weekly Sabbath, the pattern commanded by God no less, we should cease (from work, productivity, accomplishment, anxiety, worry, and trying to be God); rest (spiritually, physically, emotionally, intellectually); embrace (intentionality, community, time, and our calling); and feast (on the eternal, through music, beauty, and affection). Brilliant! Yes! I love it! No doubt that this is what I should do. But how?
In many ways I’m living the quintessential American dream of blurring that line between work and play. I love what I do so much that it rarely feels like work. In youth ministry, I get to play a lot! But the flip side of that coin means that I am so busy loving my work that I often forget to stop. I rarely fully engage in ceasing and resting (which is certainly more than sleeping in or having a lazy day). As a result, I don’t make time to embrace and feast. Which means it doesn’t take long for exhaustion to set in and my creativity to crumble.
In an effort to create a Sabbath structure for myself (while also forgiving myself if I don’t get it perfect every week) I’ve come up with a few things to strive for when my Sabbatical is over…guidelines…ideals. Well, ok, they’re rules. But if it helps me engage in Sabbath more fully, I’m hoping Jesus will let me slide on a somewhat legalistic viewpoint, at least while I adjust to being more intentional about a Sabbath day each week. Since Sunday is a work day for me, Friday is usually my day off. Monday’s rank a close second since many youth events and retreats occupy traditional weekends. No matter the day of the week (see, that part’s not legalistic), I hope these guidelines will help me live into God’s commandment to Sabbath.
CEASING: No work email from 4:30pm Thursday until 10am Saturday. (assuming, Friday is Sabbath). Being away from email during my Sabbatical has been life changing and life giving. I had no idea email had become such a source of worry for me, but the second I removed it from my iPhone for my Sabbatical months, I felt a weight lift that I didn’t even know I was carrying. Email has become a constant in my world and it’s all my fault. I checked my church email non-stop. It was the last thing I did before bed and the first thing I did upon waking. My church email is my running to-do list often serving to remind me of all that I didn’t get done and all that weighs heavy on my list for a group of people and a call that I care about deeply. However, when I really think about it, most of my email never required an immediate response. But I was compelled (by my own ways) to reply and reply quickly. I’m sure a good therapist could pinpoint issues of control, the need for accomplishment, and trying to be God. But Marva Dawn’s (really, can you say her name without a Southern drawl?) book on Sabbath hit the nail on the head (for a much lower price!). These are exactly the things from which God demands we cease. Stopping email for a time each week will go a long way toward the “ceasing” that directly lends itself to Sabbath. Letting my email be for a day means that I will stop the worry that comes when a Type A such as myself sees things undone.
Don’t work! Don’t do all the things of my daily life that feel like work. No cleaning. No planning for Sunday night Youth group. No pumping gas (that definitely feels like work for me.) No meetings during my meals. None of that! Plus some real physical rest. A nap during the day. A good night’s sleep on Thursday. I’m often guilty of taking work home just to “do while I’m sitting around.” But in doing so I’m not giving my brain the rest it needs along with my body. Resting physically, mentally, and emotionally for me will mean removing the busyness-whike-sitting that gives me the false sense of rest that I’ve been substituting for the real thing.
EMBRACING: Connect with my out-of-town friends.
I am so grateful for the amazing friendships in my life. I’m not embarrassed to say that I’m lucky know some pretty amazing people. However, my actions over the past few years don’t exactly show how glad I am to have these folks in my life. I have a running mental list of about 20 people I “keep meaning to call”. I keep up with major life events through social media or texting (which have value, no doubt) but I’ve become lazy in my long distance friendships. My only excuse: work. Setting aside intentional time for Sabbath rest means gaining the emotional energy that maintaining relationships over time and distance requires. Stepping away from work means freeing up time and space (in my heart and mind) for the other important commitments in my life. With a day to focus on my own relationship with God and the people in my life, I am free to make those phone calls and write the letters that I’ve had rattling around in my head for years.
Stopping the work and the email and getting enough rest means having time and energy to pour into the feast of gifts that God has put in my life. It means eating with friends and feasting not only on the food before but also on the love between us. It means going for a walk to feast on the beauty of nature, instead of just walking the dog. It means taking time to take it all in rather than just letting it all pass you by.
In making time for Sabbath, one thing leads to another. Ceasing and resting gives way to embracing and feasting. Ceasing the emailing and the working for one day is just the start. I’m sure as I continue to seek Sabbath, I will find new ways to live into this commandment from God. What small ways will you begin to live into the Sabbath structure God has created for you? From what do you need to cease in order to rest? What new and wonderful things will you begin to embrace and feast upon? How will you live a life oriented to keeping Sabbath a holy day?