If you’ve ever heard someone talk about this glorious “day off” they take once a week, and think, HOW?!?!
How do you get everything else done? In what universe is that possible with kids? What do you even do all day?
Or maybe you think, WHY? Why would you want to be so strict about it? Why don’t you just rest when you feel like it?
A long time ago, some mentors of ours introduced us to the idea of a “Sabbath.” I know, it’s very Old Testament and strange-sounding. I grew up in the church and had no idea that was still a thing people did. But as they led us through it, it sounded kind of amazing. So we tried it.
First, we learned how to do it as newlyweds. Then we had newborns who turned into little ones, and now we’re getting into school-age kids. It changes with each passing phase, but I can’t speak highly enough about it.
Whenever I coach others on how to get started, the same questions always come up, so here’s the cheat sheet. You don’t have to read the whole thing. Just scroll through the questions for whichever ones stand out to you. Then maybe, I don’t know—give it a try!! Could an inspiring, refreshing day of refilling yourself really go that wrong?!
What is Sabbath?
It’s one of the ten commands God gave “His people” (the Israelites) when He was teaching them the kind of culture He wanted for them. It’s something God modeled Himself when He created the world. It’s taking one day out of seven completely off—no work.
One day free of obligation and duty. Where enjoyment and ease are the precedent. A day to be deeply refreshed. To pause the chaos and hustle of daily life to reconnect with God. To feel our souls, laugh, play, and be inspired. To remember that the world doesn’t depend on us, connect with people we love, and embrace that we’re loved human beings apart from anything we do or contribute to the world.
In a culture that is insanely burned out, it’s a desperately needed practice. I think that’s why God put such an emphasis on it. He knew we couldn’t thrive without it.
Why do you do it?
God told us to rest on the same list where He told us not to murder. Like, He said it before He even told us not to murder. People debate whether it’s still a command to take a Sabbath, and I think it’s a clear one that He never rescinded. But even if you believe it’s not a current command, I think God created it because He knows we need it. He wants to bless us with it. Sabbath says, enjoy yourself and Me and the life I’ve given you. So honestly, I feel like the better question is not: is this still required? I think the more pressing question is, why do we resist it so much?
Figuring out what it means to have a day without work is a legitimate question. The point is to let yourself off the hook for a window of time, from the things that culture tells us we have to uphold— so that our spirits, minds, and bodies can get a rest.
Rest for one person might be lying around in solitude, while rest for another is long-distance biking with friends. Cooking a fancy meal might be one man’s play and another woman’s torture. It’s all about identifying what will make you feel joy, and what parts of your daily life feel like perpetuated pressure and obligation. This isn’t the day to get things done from the to-do list, or to advance work projects. If you’re a chronic do-er, it can be a day of saying ‘no’ to things that usually feel like reasonable ‘musts.’ This is a day to create enough breathing room to do what might feel irresponsible, unnecessary, and unproductive.
Whatever your 9-5 job is, do whatever you can to turn that off for a day. We turn off our email the night before and put up an out-of-office, so we aren’t tempted to worry or wonder if anyone “needs” us. The more you can turn off technology, the better.
If parenting is one of your jobs, yeah, you still have to do that one, but later I’ll tell you some ways we’ve made parenting feel easier on Sabbath. If cooking is a burden to you, yeah, OK, you still have to eat, but even that doesn’t have to take on the same levels of responsibility that might usually feel burdensome. Eating out all day, 4x a month, for my family of 5 would be crazy expensive. Sometimes, we have a small budget for Sabbaths so that we can eat out a bit. We do something simple like Skyline or Chipotle for lunch or dinner and do light meals around the house for the other meals. More tips on food and kids below.
The important thing is to choose rest in every moment you can. If you absolutely have to take a work call, your whole day is not ruined. God is not mad at you. But the more we learn to say no to work once a week, something powerful happens. Whatever you can do to eliminate it, try it!
What if I like to clean? Am I allowed to clean if it’s fun for me?
You have no idea how often I get this question. I asked it too because cleaning is definitely therapeutic for me. But I realized, the time for stress cleaning is before Sabbath, not during.
If you like to clean, do it the day before, so it’s out of your mind. Whatever level of clean you need the house to be so you can fully rest, attempt it the day before. I say “attempt”, because it will never be perfect. We try to reset the house, get groceries, do laundry the day before, and it really helps. But it’s never finished. That’s actually a powerful mental training for me. It’s really spiritually healthy to say, “God, the work is not finished. I didn’t get to everything on my list, but I’m going to rest anyway.”
This sounds kinda boring…and/or I just don’t want to…
No shame if this is how you feel. Some of us are so addicted to fast-paced, constant productivity, that we have to rewire our brains a bit. Some of us have lost the capacity to fully relax or have fun without producing anything ‘useful.’ But it’s worth persevering to reclaim that skill. If you’re bored, figure out what’s bothering you. Maybe you don’t like to read as much as you thought, maybe you need something more active. Or maybe it’s one of the next three.
What if I don’t know how to have fun?
YES! Seriously, this is one of the most common problems but most people don’t admit it. If you’re not sure how to have real fun all day, you are not alone. So, here’s a suggestion:
Make a list of everything you can think of that you enjoy. Movies, running, boxing, naps, reading, hiking, being outside, concerts, drinks with friends, improv, dance, snorkeling, magic tricks, camping, eating well—whatever it is, name everything you can think of—big or small.
Then, break it down into categories:
- What can you realistically do on a Saturday? If travel is at the top of your list, you probably can’t do that every weekend, but what is it about travel? Can you go somewhere new every weekend? Experiment with new experiences around you? Disappear somewhere for a bit that feels off the grid? Eat at a cross-cultural restaurant?
- Which ones are free? It’s OK to have some things on the list that are expensive and splurge sometimes, but stretch yourself to get enough ideas that are also realistic. Come up with a big, diverse list so you have lots of options.
That sounds seriously stressful. I can’t stop working.
This was my biggest barrier. Maybe you have a really intense boss, or you work in people-helping where someone always needs you. Maybe you’re tight on cash, and it scares you to miss a chance to make a bit more. Pausing to rest is an act of faith. Some say it’s an act of resistance against the culture of striving and busyness we are so used to experiencing as our normal life.
Trying it for me was not fun at first. It was uncomfortable to say the least. Sometimes even scary. But as someone who follows Jesus, I felt like I had to give it a shot. I got to a point where I had to say, God, I think You want this for us, so I’m going to trust that if I rest, You will take care of me.
I’m not sure anything has ever freed me more. Too many of us carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. If you have a lot on your mind, there are skills we can learn to release that stress so we can fully enjoy the life God meant for us to experience. Here are a few we’ve picked up along the way.
First, what can you do before Sabbath to eliminate extra stress following you into the day off? Can you delegate more? Put up an out-of-office? Tell your staff in advance that you won’t be available? Re-arrange your calendar to be more strategic? Clear some time the day before to wrap up big projects? Say no to unnecessary projects?
Then, try journaling at the beginning of the day or the night before. Write a list of everything you want or feel like you need to accomplish. Write down everything that’s stressing you out. Then tell God, “I’m going to trust You with this.”
Taking a Sabbath can be a massive act of trust. It communicates to God, “Hey, I’m going to trust that if I follow Your lead here, You will take care of me. I’m going to trust that if I pause for 24 hours, my world won’t fall apart.”
There’s a story in the book of Daniel in the Bible where Daniel tells a king he doesn’t want to follow their cultural norms. He tells him, let me follow my God’s ways, and then compare me against your guys. See which turns out better results. This is how I feel about Sabbath. Really try it, and see if you don’t find yourself more content, peaceful, and productive than the average overworked, stressed-out American.
All right, I’ll get more honest. That sounds kinda lonely.
Love the honesty! It can be! If you live alone or you’re in a bad living situation, this is a real factor. I think God heals loneliness through two primary ways: Himself and His people.
One of my favorite names for God is “The God Who Sees Me” (found in Genesis 16:13). Sometimes, when we’re feeling lonely, we’re missing a connection with Him that He is dying to give us. Actually, He already died for that (cheesy church joke, sorry!)
Sabbath can be an amazing time to reconnect with God. A lot of mature believers spend much of their Sabbath simply being with God. You can journal (which just means write your thoughts, feelings, and questions down as a way of talking to God), read the Bible, or even just invite God into your day. Imagine God with you at the movies or when you wake up—and don’t find it weird. You’re not imagining it. He is actually with you. We just normally don’t pause to notice Him.
But even the most spiritual super-Christians still need other people! This can take some planning, but make plans to be with people who fill you up. Maybe set a recurring rhythm with friends, like going out for coffee every Saturday morning or having people over for dinner or drinks at night. Hiking with friends or doing anything else on your fun list with friends.
What if I don’t have any extra money to spend on this?
Fair! And not at all insurmountable. Sure, having money makes this easier; you don’t have to think as much. But there are so many great ways to spend your day that don’t cost anything. Or that cost very little. We’ve had seasons where we had a $5 Sabbath budget. What can you do for $5? Take a long walk to an ice cream shop and share two scoops. Ride bikes downtown and get some street food from a pop-up vendor. Or just buy cheap flowers or a coffee.
Often, we don’t spend anything at all. Take a walk or a hike or go for a long drive. Read a book or take naps or have friends over. Look up your city’s “stuff to do” list and find free options that are always changing. Find a new park or part of town you’ve never explored and just walk around. Learn something new on YouTube or pick up an instrument you haven’t played in a while or be creative. Do some art or cooking or whatever helps you disconnect from your normal life and tap back into something that makes you smile.
What if I have kids?! I mean, kids and rest are a completely impossible combination.
We had three kids in 3.5 years, so I feel this in my bones. It does seem true, but there are ways it can work! Everyone’s situation is so very different, but here are some principles that might help. Sure, you can’t get rid of your kids for a full day each week; but you CAN let yourself say ‘pass’ to the obligation of bath time, healthy rounded meals, and the constant hustle and bustle.
If you have two parents at home, you can try to divide and conquer (one person watches kids while the other rests, then switch.) We try to think of ways for each of us to get “alone rest” and for some portion of the day to be “family play.” Notice I did not say rest there. Ha! “Rest” with young kids does feel impossible some days, but having a really fun day that’s distinctly different and more restorative than any other day of the week with your kids is not impossible.
We give each other three hours alone every Saturday, and we have about three hours together as a family doing something we are all at least partially excited about. We try to find things we like doing. Andy will often take our kids on a “Daddy Date” where he pulls them in a trailer while he rides his bicycle around downtown, and then they all get a donut. He gets a workout, they get a new environment, I get to be home alone for three hours. Then I watch the kids in a way that’s easier for me (usually the lunchtime/naptime window of the day) while he gets three hours to be alone.
This could also be a day you invite grandparents to watch kids or get a babysitter. If money or not having enough sitters is an issue, ask a friend or take turns doing playdates with another family in the same boat so you both get free babysitting. Or let a younger kid in the neighborhood get babysitting practice by coming over while the kids are napping so they’re really just monitor-watching.
Whatever sounds like a good plan for you, remember it’s a process. Week by week, we’re always learning how to train our kids more so rest becomes more realistic. When they’re super tiny, we’re asking, how can we maximize naptimes better? As they get bigger, we think, how can we train them to be more independent, not constantly be so loud, and find things we all genuinely like to do together?
We also regularly think, how can we make our life more peaceful so this isn’t such an impossible feat? We’re really big on consistent schedules, the kids having “quiet time” every day where they play independently. We prioritize not having too much stuff so that we can predictably rest when the kids are sleeping because we’re not constantly picking up toys. The little things can really go a long way.
Most of all, go easy on yourself. We always end the day with “family movie night.” We make pizza, and we watch a kid movie (that we also like) on the couch all together. The kids love it, and we don’t have to cook or clean more than 10 minutes. There’s definitely no easy button for raising kids, but Sabbath is a series of little choices. Every week you try (and even fail) is a chance to learn how to adjust it for a better one next week.
Am I allowed to ‘clean as I go’?
When it comes to cleaning the house throughout the day (like when you use a dish), I don’t know the perfect answer, but I can tell you where we landed. We try to be minimalist about stuff that creates a mess, but we love cooking. It’s part of our Sabbath that makes the day feel special, so we have dirty dishes. We don’t take “no work on Sabbath” to mean we can’t put something in the dishwasher. If my kids spill cereal on the floor, I don’t leave it there all day because I feel like God will be mad if I clean something. I get a broom and sweep it up. But when I’m on the floor and notice I also need to mop under the table, I don’t grab a mop. That can wait for another day.
What about food?
This one goes back to the ‘what feels like a burdensome obligation and what feels like a break?’ If cooking stresses you out— Sabbath is your day to order takeout, or let the kids eat lots of cereal so you can rest. If cooking is FUN for you—definitely go for it. We love making big meals, so we plan something we’re excited to make (and if we’re really organized, a fun drink or dessert too.) Try to amplify the parts that feel enjoyable to you and minimize what feels like obligation.
Here are some other inexpensive ways to get creative with food during Sabbath. You can do a charcuterie board—no cooking required. Something easy or fun like fondue, grilling out, or homemade pizzas. You can potluck with friends, so no one is cooking that much. Or make a plan in advance for a crockpot meal or even do some meal prep if you’re super organized. Just don’t let the rule of ‘no work’ overwhelm you so much that you feel like if you do have to cook a meal, you’re not even doing Sabbath at all. So many people give up on the idea altogether because they can’t do it perfectly. I don’t think God is concerned with our perfection. I think He’s interested in our trust where we’ve been white-knuckling. I think He wants to gift us with life-giving ease where we’ve felt stressed and burned out. Talk to Him about what works for you and receive the gift of Sabbath He wants to give you.
What if I don’t have a consistent day off?
This is a legitimate struggle. If it’s possible to adjust your work schedules, do it! That’s easier for sure. But if not, it’s not a deal breaker. If you travel or don’t have a regular work schedule and it has to shift week-to-week, it’s totally OK. Remember it doesn’t have to be 7am-7am. It could be 5pm on Friday to 5pm on Saturday, or 3pm on Saturday to 3pm on Sunday. If it has to move around from week to week, great!
The goal is just to trust God with 24 hours of your week and receive what He wants for us—a day of peace, fun, connection to Him and others, a break for our minds, and a rewiring of how we live apart from the constant hustle that’s wearing so many of us down.
Sounds like a lot of work. It doesn’t really feel worth it.
Yes, it feels like work at first to figure out a new tradition. But it’s much more work to keep grinding in a life that leaves no room for enjoyment & relief.
There are ways to lighten the work. Now our life revolves around Sabbath, and the whole rest of the week is lighter because of it. Create rhythms to support it. The day before our Sabbath, we clean, do laundry, run the dishwasher, get groceries, etc. That way, the house isn’t a mess. We aren’t tempted to clean, and we can more easily enter into rest and stay there.
What if I like to do one thing and my spouse/roommates don’t?
It’s a process to learn what gives you life—individually and together. My husband and I are opposites in every way. So we mix it up. We spend the morning staying cozy and moving slowly. Then we go out somewhere in the afternoon or evening so we don’t go stir crazy.
Find at least a handful of things you love to do as a couple/friends/family, and rotate through them. Find at least a handful of things you like to do as individuals and make time for each other to do those on their own too. We like to map out what would give us both life the day before, and then we make a quick plan for how to fit those into a day. John Mark Comer calls it “pleasure stacking.” Be strategic about making it as great as you can.
If one roommate likes to read a book quietly while the other wants to have a dance party, maybe you schedule who is home when, in advance. If kids make it hard, leverage nap time. Or have one take the kids for a donut date while the other grabs coffee with a friend or goes for a run. This will take time, but it’s worth every bit of experimenting and adjusting that it takes.
I tried, but it didn’t work.
Same! This isn’t a quick fix for joy or rest. This is a practice that takes time to master, but it’s worth it. Whatever didn’t work, that was valuable learning—a clue that will help make next time even better.
I tried, but I just fell asleep and vegged all day.
Also normal! Most of us are more exhausted than we realize. It’s not unusual if your first few weeks (or months) are just you crashing. That might be what your body needs if you’ve been pushing yourself really hard. But start taking baby steps out of just completely crashing and into refreshing rest.
Make that list we referenced earlier of all your favorite things, then reverse engineer a great day. What would you have to do to get to do those things and enjoy them? Then, little by little, start trying it!
I tried, but I crammed so much in— I was tired at the end.
Also normal, and a great learning! Next week, just try a little less. If you picked all active stuff, what would be something slower or more peaceful you could try?
I tried, but it felt forced.
Great insight. What do you think is behind that?
Do you feel obligated? How could you experience it as a gift, not a rule?
Do you struggle to know what’s really fun for you? Do some experimenting or tag along with some more fun friends (no offense) to see how people who play comes easier for, spend their days off.
Dig into whatever is driving that emotion and see what might be the source.
Am I supposed to bring God into it?
Great question. Thanks for asking— YES! Now, depending on how long you’ve been following God, this might look different, but here’s a scale you can consider.
C.S. Lewis said, “Gratitude is the completion of joy.” When we don’t give thanks for the good stuff in our lives, we miss part of the delight. At the very least, thank God that He wants you to have fun. He has given you the chance to enjoy something!
A lot of people who have been following Jesus longer spend large portions of their day focusing on Him. The more you know Him, the more being with Him (in a way that inspires you, not that you feel obligated to do) is the most refreshing thing you can do. Maybe it’s journaling or reading a book about God or listening to podcasts while you go for a run or praying or listening to worship music. However you connect with God, bring it into your day!
I’ve been doing this a while, and I like it. How do I level up? How do I create rhythms, tradition, and more excitement around it?
Personally, I think this is where it really gets fun. The more we fall into a rhythm with Sabbath and have mini traditions around it, it begins to feel more sacred. These can be small!
We always cook a big breakfast, light a candle, and play a certain song to kick off the day. We experimented with fancy tablecloths, but our kids are way too young for that. So we spread out big rolls of kid craft paper as our “table cloth” and let the kids draw during meals for the day. It’s special and only for Sabbath. We let our kids drink out of fancy cups. Maybe there’s a special drink or dessert you only buy on your Sabbath. In the summer, we have different rhythms than the winter, but having something predictable that distinguishes your day from all the others can make a huge difference.
Not only does Sabbath powerfully reset your life and lighten your stress, but you will all be more refreshed for your week. Working from a place of rest is way better than crashing from your overcrowded workweek into vegging on the weekend. It won’t refresh you after a week or even the first month, but systemically, it’s powerful. You can do this!