Our Road to Rest: The Gifts of Sabbath Practice

The last-minute rushing of tidying the house, the spreading of the tablecloth, the child running inside with fresh-picked flowers, the clatter of dishes as the table is set, the aroma of delicious food making its way to the table, the candles set, the extra lights turned down, the seating around the table, the hush of our voices, our hearts, our souls… and we give thanks for another Sabbath.

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In January of 2020, as I sat down to put some goals on paper for our upcoming year, I wrote that I wanted to “develop a Sabbath routine and incorporate daily rest.” In the past years of living and working overseas, we had learned that the line between work and rest, between ministry and family life, was a blurry one. The constant access our phones and devices gave others to us meant that it was even more difficult to distance ourselves from our weekly responsibilities for short times. We had already been convinced of the necessity of stricter boundaries for technology in our life, but what about boundaries around work?

Even though we believe work is good and we enjoy the work we do, we also acknowledge our need – physical, spiritual, emotional – for rest. “The Sabbath is a gift we do not know how to receive,” AJ Swaboda writes in Subversive Sabbath. “In a world of doing, going, and producing, we have no use for a gift that invites us to stop. But that is the original gift: a gift of rest.” And so when we, along with the rest of the world, were forced to stop in 2020, we saw it as an opportunity to build into our lives Sabbath practice. Following in the footsteps of many before us, we have learned to slow on the Sabbath, to follow God’s example for rest and accept it as a gift. The life-giving gifts of Sabbath practice for our family have been plentiful; here a few:

We rest through reorienting to our Creator. “Sabbath is an orientation,” Swaboda writes, “an all-encompassing turning toward the Creator God that changes everything about our lives. Sabbath is that kind of complete reorientation of our lives toward the hope and redemption of Christ’s work.” This reorientation away from the many distractions of this world, good and negative, from the priority of work, from the endless entertainment, from the hum of technology, and toward the foundational truths about who we are and what God is doing in this world has been powerful for our hearts. The pulls of the world are many, the pulls of our hearts can be misleading; in Sabbath rest, we sit at the feet of Jesus, reveling in his love for us and our adoption into his family. We are reminded that brokenness, death, and sorrow will not have the last word; that one day, all will be made new. Our hearts need this kind of regular reorientation in the midst of our busy, dark, and difficult world.

We rest in imaging after our Creator, rather than the world. Our current world values efficiency and work above nearly all else; this is far from the life Jesus modeled for us. Marva Dawn writes, “In an age desperately searching for meaning, Sabbath keeping offers a new hope. In contrast to the technological society, in which the sole criterion of value is the measurement of efficiency, those who keep the Sabbath find their criteria in the character of God, in whose image they celebrate life.” When we honestly look at our lives, at our schedules and weeks, can we say we are reflecting our Creator, or more so, the world in which we live? To practice Sabbath is to be counter-cultural; it is living life according to God’s way. To rest on Sabbath is to be reminded that we are not the sum of our work; first and foremost, we are beloved by God, created in his image. As image-bearers, we recall that he is the first who rested, that he who truly did not need rest gave us the gift of his example.

We rest in the restoration of time. Bonnie Saul Wilkes writes, “It may surprise you that to find time, you must sacrifice or spend it in new ways. New Testament teaching consists of many of Jesus’ ironic ideas: to find life you must die; to receive you must give; and to bless those who curse you. Jesus said these choices would usher in the kingdom of God. That is His principality of light reigning in a dark and fallen world.” Time may often feel like the enemy we are fighting; instead, it is our poor usage of time which negatively impacts our lives. Prioritizing Sabbath for our family has been a reminder that time is not all about utility, but that it is a gift for us to enjoy. On Sabbath, we slow down. We leave behind the mental clutter of the week, set aside the to-do list and daily chores. Instead of those, we revel in the beauty of our world, of our relationships, of God. It takes time to revel, to delight, to rest. And gratefully, God gives it to us.

Like the rest of the world, we are rebuilding our sense of “normal” in these ongoing pandemical times. As the schedule builds and the world rushes back in at us, the routine we are clinging to is that of Sabbath, for our good and his glory. It is a joy and delight to rest, and we are embracing it.

What Sabbath practices have given you life and rest lately?

Recommended resources (there are many, but here are a few to get you started):

+ Keeping the Sabbath Wholly – Marva J. Dawn

+ Sabbath: A Gift of Time – Bonnie Saul Wilkes

+ Subversive Sabbath – A. J. Swaboda

+ The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry – John Mark Comer

Photo by Dezaldy Irfan on Unsplash

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1 Comment

  1. Bonita December 1, 2021

    I agree that Sabbath is sooo important. I learned the hard way through burn out. I love having a day in my schedule that is not packed full, in fact the only thing I normally schedule on my sabbath is church (not every week) and dinners with my husband (every other week).

    It’s lovely to have that openness in my schedule to do whatever I feel or need. Often I go to a park and read or a cafe.

    What do you do?

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