Spiritual Formation

How do I practice Sabbath?

Last week, I wrote about Sabbath, how “God created us, and he created the spaces for us to inhabit. The creation account in Genesis 1 is of God establishing boundaries and shaping spaces so that all life can flourish in each their given niche…When we acknowledge and value the space and limits he’s given us, we “make space” for God. We can no better create space than we can create the universe. But we can inhabit our space humbly and wisely, thus not abusing the precious life God has given us but welcoming and cherishing it enough to take care of it.” (Click here to read last week’s post.)

This week, I want to give you my example of Sabbath so that you can start to imagine your own.

My governing idea when deciding on what belongs in a Sabbath and what doesn’t is Eugene Peterson’s “pray and play.”1

If it is something that connects me to God or something that delights me, it’s in. If it’s something that is work: job, housework, or buying things, it’s out. Some things are not so straightforward, like volunteering at church or gardening or writing. These are things that are, in some seasons, a joy, but in others, burdensome work. I need to recognize what season I am in to make that call. One thing that makes the cut every time—naps!

If you live with others, family or friends, it is more complicated. I have a husband and three kids whose ideas of praying and playing are different from mine at times. For example, for my extroverted son, play means games with other people. Often we will play a family game, but if my introverted daughter needs time to draw by herself, we don’t force her to play the game. Start with talking about what you each find worshipful and enjoyable. Observe, and have patience as you sort it out.

We designate Sunday as Sabbath, but that might not work for you, especially if you work or volunteer heavily at church. I encourage you to pick a day in the week that fits with your weekly rhythms and aim to be consistent in it. Our bodies and souls respond to rhythms, so it will be easier to stick with and be a richer experience. Many choose to follow a Jewish practice of Sabbath from sundown to sundown, others stick to the calendar day.

If Sabbath is a new practice for you, keep it simple at the beginning: pick a day, then one or two things you want to keep out of the day and one or two things you want to keep in.

To show you how my Sabbaths have evolved with the different seasons in my life, I give you three outlines of mine:

  1. As a college student years ago, I lived with roommates, some of whom observed Sabbath and some who didn’t. We basically went our own ways, but the two of us who consistently observed it would sometimes eat together after church. I went to church in the morning, hung out with friends, went for walks or bike rides, and did NOT do schoolwork, paid work, or practice (I was a music major). If exams were looming, I was sorely tempted to study, but found that sticking to it really helped my brain recover from the strain. During those times, I’d allow myself to study for a few hours after dinner if I had the energy.
  2. As a stay-at-home mom with young kids, since my work was primarily in the house, I would plan and make our food the day before or get something extremely easy to make on Sunday. I would not do any cleaning or laundry (beyond diapers, of course). We would go to church, and after naps we’d often go to a park, play in the snow, or play games. I would read if at all possible.
  3. As a mom, a student, and with a job, I still don’t clean on Sundays. Sometimes I make a good meal because now I don’t spend as much time doing that daily, and I enjoy it. We don’t shop, and we still play games or go outside together. Because I am in seminary, I don’t read much on Sundays. If I do feel like reading, it is always a novel. Instead I paint a picture, listen to music, or talk with others. I don’t do my paid work.
    • A practice we’ve added at my husband’s request, is a Jewish one of ending the Sabbath with something sweet. We don’t usually have dessert, so having a dessert is a reminder that God gave us this delightful gift of Sabbath.
    • After dinner, in place of our usual family devotions, we do an extended one while we sit or lay comfortably in the living room. It is from Jared Boyd’s book Imaginative Prayer which is written to help kids (and adults) engage imaginatively with God.
    • To end the day, Don and I will have a glass of wine.

As you can see, my Sabbaths have evolved, and continue to do so. There are times when they become watered down and activities creep in. When God calls my attention to that, I apologize, and gently but firmly turn myself back to these practices. I don’t beat myself up for it.

Next to daily silence and solitude (for a minimum of ten minutes), this practice of Sabbath has been a primary and foundational way for me, and generations of others, to make space for God—or shall I say, inhabit space with God!

I encourage you to take some time to consider: In this season of your life,

  • What do you consider work?
  • What do you find helps you connect with God?
  • What rests and delights you?
  • What day of the week would work for you to take a Sabbath?
  • What’s one or two things you could do this week to start or deepen a practice of Sabbath?

As always, I love to hear from you: questions, comments, ideas and thoughts are always welcome. If you enjoy my posts, please follow me on Instagram where I share shorter reflections a few times a week—I call them sips, to help us all find God in our every day.

 

1Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, by Eugene Peterson, Eerdmans, 1989.

4 thoughts on “How do I practice Sabbath?

  1. So, so good- like last week. And I’m glad that you emphasized that our lives are full of different seasons. If you had asked me 15 years ago to run 5 miles on Sunday afternoon, it would have been not only work but dreaded!! Now, it is pure pleasure and time with God. Cooking fancy meals with 3 kids at home would have been work, but now with an empty nest is also very pleasurable and relaxing. I’m passing on this blog to several friends and family members. Thank you so much. PS I have great memories of us spending time together on Sunday afternoons when everyone was studying. : ) Love ya! Rebecca

    1. Thank you, Rebecca! Yes, Sunday afternoons were wonderful, I’m so glad we “Sabbath-ed” together! It is so life-giving and soul-satisfying to realize the gift of Sabbath is not a rigid, harsh rule, but a flexible expression of love that takes into account our different seasons. Thanks for sharing! Love you!

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