Why I Take a Sabbath

In my previous post I alluded to the importance of certain rhythms in my life to keep me sane and balanced: as a stay at home mom I have the daily rhythm of what happens logistically with my kids, ordered around naps and meals; I have a shopping and cleaning rhythm, ordered around meal planning and just keeping the house orderly; but most importantly I have my own, personal, spiritual rhythm, and this I order around rest. I have a daily “rest time,” and, each Saturday evening into Sunday evening, our family observes a Sabbath. For us, the Sabbath a time when we choose to rest from work, to delight in and show gratitude for what we have, and to give God the praise he is due.

In my experience people tend to have strong feelings about the Sabbath. A small group of people I know love them (that’s me and the hubs) and order the week around them; some people find it odd and antiquated and are completely perplexed as to why one would straightjacket oneself this way; some folks I’ve met even find the idea wrong and offensive.

Well, what I’m not going to do is singlehandedly give a defense of the Sabbath, as if I were equipped to do that, and as if the Sabbath needed it anyway. What I will do is tell you why the Sabbath has been such a source of joy, grace, and weirdly, even productivity, in my life and in the life of my family.

You see, I have these two big problems.

One, I’m hardly ever satisfied. Some people call it perfectionism. Now, I have always kind of hated when people called themselves perfectionists, because it sounded so much to me like they were saying they were perfect. Well, when I discovered the tendency towards perfectionism in myself, I realized that it is far from the truth because I know I am way far from that. Perfectionism is not about being perfect. It’s about being perfectly miserable because things are never perfect. It’s a lifestyle that kind of sucks actually and I don’t recommend it.

Take this example. Back in the day, I used to obsess over making bread. I used to bust my butt trying to make these loaves of unnecessary sandwich bread when I could have just bought them from the store. But no, I needed to be Laura Ingalls and make my own freaking bread all the time. Because simplicity, yes. But maybe also because I needed to prove to myself that I could live at this impossible standard. Well, you try making your own bread 100% percent of the time with little ones running around. I couldn’t do it. Now I throw the two-pack of bread into my cart at BJs and keep walking. My friend gave me a bread maker, and I still don’t make my bread all the time. It’s awesome when I do, but I had to release myself from the pressure of singlehandedly providing my family’s bread needs, which are many. Now homemade bread is like a treat, and I’m much more of a pleasure to be around in the afternoons.

Anyway, here is my second problem. Competitiveness. This is weird to say because nobody really wants to admit to being competitive (well, maybe women don’t). It’s just not what a nice girl says. But if we’re honest, a whole lot of us are pretty darn competitive. How do you know when you’re competitive? Well, I think it’s when you are perfectly okay with things not looking great on the inside, but you spend a whole lot of time making things look great on the outside. If someone’s going to take a peek inside my house, my life, my heart, my whatever, I am very much tempted to quickly patch things up so I at least look presentable. Or at least, more presentable than whoever else is being presented alongside me. I will exceed my own limits in order to look like I have it together according to the standards of the group.

Anybody out there like that?

The issue with how I was doing life was not in what I was doing. I mean, I was making bread, for Pete’s sake. I was committed to perfectly pleasant and even important work. The problem, as it usually is, was not external. The problem was in my heart.

Perfectionism is attempting to justify yourself (or prove yourself worthy) in your own eyes. Competitiveness is attempting to justify yourself (or be proved worthy) in the eyes of others. Perfectionism plays by the rules and works incessantly within them; competitiveness will work hard but take shortcuts if it means you can come out on top in the end. Perfectionism will lead to self-hatred and shame; competitiveness with lead to hostility and deceit. Perfectionism, at its ugliest, is never satisfied; competitiveness, at its ugliest, is only satisfied with being the best. Either way, it’s exhausting. Either way, it’s messed up.

But.

But in the midst of our striving – in our desperate attempts to prove our own worth and maybe finally secure our own happiness – God invites us to rest.

Rest, he says.

Because to him, we do not need to prove ourselves. To him, we can come just as we are.

But the work, we say. The work won’t do itself. The dustbunnies on the floor. The deadline in two days. If I don’t do it, no one else will.

This train of thought happens to me in the afternoons. After the kids are down for their naps, it is like prime time to Get Stuff Done. There’s a messy freaking house and I am raring to go. But I have had to choose the discipline of letting things go undone for a little while so that I can rest. I have started to treat this time in my day as sacrosanct, almost like a mini-Sabbath. Because if I don’t think about it with that level of seriousness, I might not do it. I used to say to myself “just a couple more things” but one thing leads to another and before you know it…. It’s thirty seconds into my rest time before the baby starts wailing again. So I’ve had to give myself a mini-Sabbath policy. Because it’s worth it.

After I take my own mommy rest time – I like to sit on my bed looking out the window, reading Scripture and journaling – I feel like a new person. And I’ve reminded myself to focus on what—or Who – is important for the rest of the day.

And our family follows this rhythm on a larger scale once a week, from Saturday evening into Sunday evening.

It is true that when we rest, things get left undone. We are not productive. We are not accomplishing things. And if we are honest, it scares the crap out of us. Some of us can’t sit still for longer than ninety seconds until we find something else that needs doing.

Well I find that when we make rest a discipline, there are a few things that happen.

One, we learn to plan in advance. When Sabbath is a non-negotiable part of your day, or week, you start to plan around it. We as a culture already do this with lots of things. That work meeting, that social event, even that football game. We carve out the time and prepare to be unavailable. Well, when we create a rhythm around the Sabbath, it’s incredibly freeing. We set aside work time and we go at it hard. Saturday becomes our day of preparation. We clean all the things. We make sure all the shopping is done. The deadlines are met. And then, once Saturday supper rolls around, we let it go. Which brings me to…

Two, we learn to let the little things go. This part. Is. Hard. On Sunday afternoon, when things are starting to pile up, it begins to drive me a little bit crazy. I’ll admit. I mean, it’s not like we live in total squalor: we do the dishes, we pick up the toys, we sweep the crumbs off the floor. But we don’t do any “extra” cleaning (no laundry, for example, or dusting random things, or scrubbing the bathroom…). Once, I turned to my husband and grumbled, “I can’t not clean this.” And he said, “Well, maybe that’s part of the point.” Touche. I’m pretty sure I actually can not wipe down all surfaces at this very moment. It’s gonna be ok. We learn what’s truly essential, and what truly is extra. And that’s pretty freeing. (And it is a good reminder to take care of those true essentials earlier in the week, so you can set yourself up well when the Sabbath rolls around.)

Three, we learn to entrust it all to God. This here is the real lesson. See, we want to believe that the world cannot go on without us. That if we don’t answer that work text or email right now, or have that one meeting, or reorganize that one shelf, that the whole operation will fall apart. Yes, there are true emergencies, but the deeper lesson is this: that we slowly learn to discern where our place is within God’s enormous universe. And, you know, it’s pretty limited. Because really, He’s got this. And when we joyfully live within the limits he has given us, he blesses our obedience. I know, obedience is so not a sexy word these days – but, as Andy has said to me, “maybe that’s part of the point.” Maybe listening to that higher authority is truly what’s countercultural, what’s radical.

Consistently we have discovered that the things that we stress about work out somehow – that God gives us that amazing thing called grace. No, it’s not magic: it’s God’s response to our faithfulness. And it’s real.

Four, we are revitalized to do the work he has given us to do. As people made in his image, we are called to do the things that he does. One of those, as we see in the very first chapter of the Bible, is to do work. He created. He ordered and arranged. He even assessed his work to make sure it was “good.” These are all honorable and important tasks. He’s given each of us work to do in this life, and we need to do it faithfully: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord… it is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24). So yeah, we do have to put our back into it. God does not want us to be slackers.

But what I find when I order my work around my rest – instead of the reverse — that not only do I have the physical energy to do it, but I have more mental clarity. The focus of my work becomes clear: it’s not to meet my own grueling standards, or to gain others’ approval and acclaim. It’s for His eyes. And if he calls me to do it, he will equip. And when the time comes, he gives me rest.

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