3 Surprising Things I’ve Gained from Observing a Weekly Sabbath Practice

In which I share:

  • a story:
    “Maybe it’s supposed to be something more?” The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them. “Maybe we have the concept of rest wrong?”
  • a realization: “We could see observing Sabbath wasn’t just good for us in the culture of busyness that permeates every aspect of our lives, but it was actually a gift wrapped up in a commandment.”
  • a question: What could you gain from having a weekly Sabbath practice?

I stopped mid-unwrapping the mini Reese and looked up at the small group leader. He had read the question off the sermon study guide and now was waiting for our answers. That uncomfortable quiet (okay, maybe just uncomfortable to me) that happens in group studies settled in the space as each person contemplated the question that doesn’t get asked often in our modern-day, US church. It took a few beats, but the answers, which were offered up with a question mark instead of a period, eventually came.

Then mine: “Maybe it’s supposed to be something more?” The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them. “Maybe we have the concept of rest wrong?”

“What do you mean?” asked another.

“I just wonder,” I explained, trying to put words to the sudden dance of thoughts in my mind (less like ballroom and more like full-blown mosh pit) so I could coherently add something of value to the conversation, “if we focus so much on the concept of grace that we’ve missed the concept of intentionality? It seems like to me, in both the creation of the Sabbath day and the instruction to keep it holy, there is more to it than just not working on that day.”

I immediately regretted putting it out there as blank stares met my statement, and I wondered if I had shown my cards of legalism, contextomy, and overthinking that sometimes sneak into my deck. I never want to be unbiblical in my reading of the scriptures, but I do process out-loud which means that sometimes I can say things that may or may not have validity.

Just as I thought we were going to move onto the next question on the guide, observations unfolded into a dialog about what qualifies as “rest” for the Sabbath, what was the difference between relaxing and resting, and where do worship, prayer, and scripture study fit into all that?

We were, as Dan B. Allender notes in his book Sabbath, caught up in the idea of naps and reading our Bible and missing the depth of what God offers us in taking a Sabbath. Allender further explains in his book that we often treat Sabbath like a vacation from work:

“To vacate is to empty — that is, to get rid of something. When we vacate or take a vacation, we are not merely taking time off from work; we are flushing away the cares of the world as we indulge in the diversions of our empty space… this is not Sabbath; it is a vacating our work in order to fill ourselves with pleasure.”

The small group leader, out of respect for the childcare workers, reminded us of the time and closed us in prayer. But, as I gathered my coat and purse, I noticed the look of contemplation on my husband’s face and knew that the conversation wasn’t over for us.

I grew up in a church that was made up mainly of individuals who came from very legalistic religious backgrounds, so there was a tendency to do away with anything that might even slightly resemble that. In their desire to emphasize grace, they let go of some of the practices that remind us of our need for that grace. It wasn’t until that moment in small group a few years ago, that I had even considered the possibility that the command to keep the Sabbath holy was something to observe this side of the cross. After that night with our small group, Steve and I began asking the question, “should we be practicing Sabbath?” and “what could that look like for our family?” I hope to dive into this conversation a little more in future blog posts and share some of the resources I’ve found helpful as we sought to answer these questions. But, for now, let me summarize a few of the things we concluded:

  • Our culture is counter-rest. We know it and feel it’s damaging affects.
  • The scriptures regarding the Sabbath talked about it in a much deeper spiritual sense than just simply not working. We want to connect to that.
  • Sabbath is woven into the very fabric of creation and time. We ignore a key piece of our design when we neglect Sabbath.
  • Just as our money and life do not belong to us, neither does our time. We can tithe our time through the practice of Sabbath.
  • Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, which means there’s something in the picture of Sabbath that points to the saving and restorative work of the cross. We remember that restorative work when we practice Sabbath.

Coming to the agreement that we needed to approach Sabbath with intentionality didn’t take long for Steve and me. We could see that Sabbath wasn’t just good for us in the culture of busyness that permeates every aspect of our lives, but it was actually a gift wrapped up in a commandment. Implementing a weekly Sabbath took some practice, but as week after week passed, the beauty in the practice emerged.

A Gift of Space in which to Process My Week

As a creative, an Enneagram 6w7, a highly sensitive person, and a host of other labels I won’t go into right now, I both take in a lot of information and feel a lot of things about life and the people around me—sometimes all at the same time in the same breath. Sabbath has given me a designated time to process that reality with my Creator.

Often, I don’t even realize all I’ve been clutching tight to my heart throughout the week until I’m sitting in my chair with my journal answering my Sabbath Reflection questions. This space is different from my daily prayer time, Bible study, or Sunday morning worship, mainly in the fact that there is no expectation to learn something new about God and apply it to my life. Just like work has it place in the week, there is a time to study the scriptures. Sabbath, I have come to learn, is the space in which we get to sit in the scriptures and let them wrap their blanket of rest over us.

I know I’m not the only one who can get trapped inside my head mulling over things. When left to my own thoughts, I can go down some deep rabbit holes and get lost. But, within this gift of a space to process my week with my creator, those thoughts untangle within the safe space of His love, peace, and truth.

A Gift of Regular Life-giving Rhythm

I know that no matter how crazy busy my week gets, Sabbath allows it to reset in a way that restores it closer to God’s intended design. After God created for six days, He rested. There are various takes on what exactly that phrase means and if His declaration to “keep it holy” continues to be a command for believers this side of the work of the cross, but I think it’s important to note that this was an act of God’s creation. Not only was the seventh day created with an imprint of rest, it was created to complete a God-sanctioned rhythm of life for us to thrive within. Each week, this 24-hour period reminds me both of my need for rest, reconnection, remembrance, reflecting, and rejoicing and intentionally gives me an opportunity to experience those very things.

A Gift of Context in which to Understand My Purpose and Belonging

Reflecting weekly on my life and conversing with God about it in prayer added a layer to my life that surprised me: I gained a different, and deeper, understanding of who I am, who God says I am, and what that means as far as my purpose in life and my sense of belonging. I didn’t start observing Sabbath as a way to learn more about my identity in Christ, but now as I look at it, it makes sense that as I actively reflected this one aspect of God’s image, I began to see myself the way He sees me. When I stop my own work and rest in His, I gain a new perspective.

This is just a glimpse into the gift that Sabbath has been for me and what, I believe, it can be for you. If you feel overwhelmed by life or are struggling with your sense of identity and purpose, can I leave you with this question: What could you gain from having a weekly Sabbath practice?

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