Last fall I led a mini-retreat on spiritual practices. As I enthusiastically described my morning routine of waking at 5:30, writing in my daily journal, sharing coffee and devotional time with Jim, and walking for an hour with God, one of the participants quietly asked me, “What time do you have to be at work? I have to be at my desk, ready to go by 7:30.” Oh… My part-time hours generally began at 10:00- and even those were flexible. I was offering my suggestions for spiritual practices from a different place and more open season of life.
In recent weeks I have been contemplating the practice of Sabbath-keeping. It began when my son Kevin, overwhelmed with writing papers, doing research, interviewing volunteers, working long days, and winding up his internship for his PhD, was also told to “take time for self-care.” My daughters, both mothers of little ones, have been comparing what few hours of sleep they have been able to have. They work full time, spend their evening hours tending their homes and families, and finally fall asleep for a few hours before beginning again. Scheduling time for self-care or Sabbath rest becomes an additional burden in these busy seasons of their lives. When they look over their schedules, nearly every hour is filled with necessary and worthwhile tasks.
If we were to look up “reasons for Sabbath” on the internet, we would find quite a number! We would learn that Sabbath is commanded of us, the third of the Ten Commandments. Sabbath is to be a day of rest. Sabbath is a time to honor and worship God. Sabbath is a recognition that God is in control. Sabbath is a time to be grateful. Sabbath is a time to slow and be present to those around us. Sabbath is a time to replenish our souls.
But Sabbath doing doesn’t necessarily foster Sabbath keeping. I have attended worship services in which I struggled to keep awake, or was distracted with worry, or even wrote grocery lists instead of worshiping God. Sometimes my morning walks with God have been fruitful and deep; other times God feels quite far away. Then there have been times when my fully scheduled day inspired gratitude, fostered a peaceful and restful spirit, and opened my sense of the presence of God more than my prayers in a quiet sanctuary.
Today I want to offer encouragement for my loved ones and any others whose lives are very full. (All of the examples that follow have happened to family members in recent weeks.) When you are working long hours to provide for your family, when you are scrambling to finish three research papers before the end of the term, when your only transportation home is a bus that comes after regular work hours, when you work on your day off so that you can enjoy the weekend with your family but your children bring home hours of homework, when your Sunday morning involves leading worship instead of resting in worship, when you rise early to get ahead on your correspondence and find your email server is down, when you collapse to sleep for a few hours and your baby awakens five times, when the foster agency asks if you can take a youngster for an emergency overnight stay, when your already full day is peppered with unexpected interruptions…
Remember that what you are doing is needful, purposeful, and good. What you are doing is important for this time, for this season of your life. What you are doing is of great value. What you are doing is essential for you and those you love. What you are doing through your careers is greatly helping other people. Recognize that if what you are doing isn’t any of these, you would have already abandoned them.
Take heart. We can KEEP Sabbath in our souls when we can’t DO Sabbath. We can carry the perspectives and the purposes of Sabbath within us as we tackle our busy days. We can attend our careers, commitments, families, friends, and daily living with a spirit of appreciation and gratitude to God. We can know that what we do has value, gives us our purpose, and helps others. We can tackle our busy days with a non-anxious, restful countenance. Most of all, we can do all these things in servant love for one another. And when we feel overwhelmed, we can rely on God for our strength and peace.
One day soon, may we each find the space and time to fully embrace self-care and Sabbath practices. Until then, may we not regard Sabbath-keeping as one more task to do, but instead carry that inner Sabbath presence as our faithful way to be.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13 NRSV)