Sabbath

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.

Posted by k2mulder in Spiritual Formation, 4 comments

Sabbath: A Foothold of Grace

The magnitude of our responsibilities and breadth of our busy-ness often leave us short of breath. I’ve heard recently that we make 35,000 decisions a day! (Thanks, Emily P. Freeman, for that astonishing tidbit!) I will not regale you with a list of how busy we all are, for you know your particulars. In scaling our mountains, we need footholds, niches in the immovable rock face, somewhere to pause, hot-faced and trembling for some deep oxygen before moving on. Our lives depend on it.

How better than to settle our lives on him on whom we depend? 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. First the spaces, then us to fit our niche. In our arrogance, we cling to the mandate to rule over creation in Genesis 1:26, forgetting that in order to fulfill this mandate, God and his order of the world precedes us. We are placed within that order, not over it. We easily usurp God when we think we can do it all, or have to do it all. When God first made us, he didn’t make us slaves to scurry at his bidding with no rights or place to call our own. He made us to walk with him, in his created order, ruling with blessing as we image him. He didn’t say, “Now, go impress me with what you can accomplish!” He said, paraphrasing Genesis 2:15-17 and 3:8, “Tend this space, feast, and walk with me in the garden.”

God foreknew what we specifically would need to flourish, and intentionally created that for us. This extends beyond our spatial domain, the earth and geography, and includes the temporal domain. There are limits on the length of our lives, the length of our days, and he established in the created order the rhythm of six days of work, one day of rest. You could say that it is even part of his essence, certainly important enough for him to model for us. “The Sabbath was created for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27, NIV) The Sabbath is gift, made to bless us, but not be controlled by us. We are not God’s gift to rule over the Sabbath. When Jesus spoke these words, he was teaching the legalistic leaders that they were not honoring God with their strident Sabbath. As they controlled every possible outcome with their regulations, they made the Sabbath a jail rather than a spacious, life-giving space. There are people and churches today that do the same. If this is your experience, hear the invitation of Jesus to enter a restful Sabbath, one that delights you as you rest in his goodness. (I would love to hear from you if this is your experience and help you enter the gift of Sabbath.)

But most of us (in Western Christianity today), have the opposite problem of not knowing and valuing God’s established rhythm of life. In that Mark 2 passage, the Pharisees are upset that Jesus’ disciples gleaned a bit of grain as they passed through some fields, hungry from their travels. We are not gleaning out of hunger, but getting up at 5 a.m. to mount our combines and thresh every inch of wheat before the sun goes down again. This goes for our ministry, even. In Matthew 9:35-38, Jesus is busy teaching, preaching, and healing. He talks to his disciples about the busy-ness of ministry. He doesn’t tell them to get moving and help him out, but to “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.” His message honors their limits, establishes a deeper dependence on God, and invites others into the collaboration of working with God and each other. Many hands make light work! The creation of his kingdom mirrors the creation of the universe: God is the originator, we have space and a job to do within it that is limited, and those very limits engender a proper dependence and collaboration which results in multiplication!

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.

Take comfort that in the exertion of your life, there are God-given footholds. The Sabbath is a temporal foothold where we rest our weight on God’s provision in deep trust. If you are not in the habit of taking Sabbaths, it can feel very scary indeed to push all the work to the other six days! But this is the first step in clearing our paths of gravel to find the solid rock underneath. The natural formations undergirding our lives are firm, we just aren’t used to walking on them. As we become more familiar with them, we find we are no longer trying to shape the rock, but we are able to work with it, trusting its support, and moving with greater ease.

This is just the beginning of a conversation, and I’d love to hear about your experiences with Sabbath, your questions, and to encourage each other not to make space for God, but honor the space he’s given us. What does that look like in your life? Leave your comments below!

If you’d like to go more in-depth, find examples of Sabbath, wrangle with the many questions that arise around it, I recommend these books:

Sabbath Keeping, by Lynne M. Baab

Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton (especially chapter 8 on Sabbath)

 

 

 

 

Posted by k2mulder in Humility, Spiritual Formation, 2 comments