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Sabbath: Drag or Delight?

Alli Patterson

12 mins

As a culture, we are hurting emotionally, relationally, and spiritually right now, and there’s an ancient practice I think we desperately need to get through the rest of 2020. It might even help us heal a little.

Americans are living with a constant undercurrent of anxiety, overwhelmed and uncertain, afraid of what this year means for our lives. The screeching halt of our lives has also revealed a way we’ve been living that’s contributed to our deep pain. Somewhere deep down inside, we have been acting like if we Just. Don’t. Stop. Moving everything will be fine. Forced into restrictions and cancellations of nearly everything, the holes are showing; the ones in our hearts we’ve plugged with our frenetic pace of life.

The pain we’re in has left a lot of people wondering where God is. He’s here. And He wants to meet us exactly where we are this year.

He yearns for our attention through a primal practice called Sabbath. Unfortunately, we live in a time and place where the word “Sabbath” comes off sounding more like a religious punishment. We don’t exactly embrace the idea of rhythmic periods of rest. Instead, we’re available all the time, connected by social media, working, and on-the-go 24/7. But this ancient practice might just help us make beauty from some of the ugliness that 2020 has revealed.

Our family has felt the need to reach for a new level of peace both internally and externally, and it’s led us back to experiment with a much more purposeful Sabbath in our life. Want to join us?

Sabbath didn’t originate as a religious plan: it’s the foundational rhythm of human life. Created on the sixth day, humanity’s first experience with God was a day of rest on the seventh (Genesis 1:26 - 2:3). With this order of creation, God set into motion a life-rhythm He still offers to us today. Coming out of rest, we can face our work alive and empowered from a place of connection and peace with God. This is the ancient rhythm called Sabbath.

It is various periods of time that can occur daily, weekly, and seasonally in our lives where we cease regular work activity to reconnect and just be with God Himself. John 15:5, 8 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing… This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” God prescribes rhythms of rest as a roadmap to thriving.

Because 2020 is happening to us all, my family decided it was exactly the right moment to hit the reset button and renew a commitment to practice a real Sabbath. Pandemic anxiety, fear, overwhelming political uncertainty, etc. is enough to send anyone over the edge this year. So we are going back to try and stay connected to God.

We aren’t keeping religious rules: we’re trying to hold onto our very lives. So we’ve developed a Sabbath experiment. We say “experiment” because it seems less overwhelming and more freeing to just try some new ways of life in our home. Experiments aren’t perfect. We can mess up, start over, and change things.

Our weekly Sabbath experiment is from 4pm Saturday to 4pm Sunday with three simple elements we came up with using the wisdom recorded in the Bible and applied to our modern life. These might be just right. Or they might be off. Like I said, it’s an experiment. Here’s how our Sabbath experiment has been shaped for the past few weeks:

All through the Bible, we see the intimacy of a shared meal. The first evening of our Sabbath, we make a delicious meal together from real food that we’ve thought about ahead of time (grilled chicken and salmon? Make your own pizza? BLTs on bread from a favorite bakery?). Last week we made Chicken Cashew and ate with chopsticks. I do a lot of cooking during the week, so it feels like a drag to me on Sabbath: my husband finds it creative and interesting. So my job is to drink wine and set the dinner atmosphere (music, candles, fun drinks, chopsticks, mealtime discussions or questions about God or life, etc.), occasionally chopping things. He does more of what I think of as the “work” of cooking. The kids are always in charge of dessert. They tell us by Friday, and we get the ingredients—no questions asked. Their first idea was to make a sheet-pan cookie and dump a carton of ice cream on top. Feel free to steal that one.

Sabbath is about connecting with God. We desperately need to keep connected to others who love Jesus—especially right now, when we all feel more isolated. So the next morning, we’ve gathered together somehow with others who love Jesus. Because churches have been closed for regular services lately (thanks again 2020), we’ve done any of the following: streamed service online and prayed over FaceTime with friends, gone to outdoor worship at The Cove and gathered with one other family for breakfast and discussion on the book of Acts. We are strengthened through worshipping Jesus and being in community with other people who love Him. “Fellowship” might be kind of a churchy word, but it has the connotation of a Church-family, not just anyone you might know. Real rest comes from a continual abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, which is grown and encouraged when we’re around others who are part of the Church. We can’t just isolate in our PJs for the (whole) day!

Not a hard concept here. But we are so used to being on-the-move it is sometimes hard to remember what I actually enjoy doing. Instead of working the to-do list (which makes me feel productive) or driving people places (which kills a lot of my free time but also makes me feel like a good mom), I am trying to ask myself, “what would be delightful for me? What would energize, refresh, and recreate me from the inside out?” Jesus said that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28). Sabbath should not feel like a list of dos and don’ts to satisfy God’s version of rest. It should delight you in fun ways that end up refreshing who God made you to be. When you remember what you enjoy, get over the hurdles to actually DO it. Sabbath might take a little prep. Last week I annoyed myself (hate it when I do that) because I didn’t think ahead to borrow a good book to read. So take your bike to get the tune-up. Get some new fishing gear. Go buy the ingredients. It’s worth it.

After a few weeks of our 3 F’s (and many different past attempts to observe Sabbath), here’s what you should expect if you join in with our experiment:

  1. Expect a lot of different emotions. The first hour of Sabbath feels like a huge relief to me; permission to stop thinking about the work I need to get done Monday, the laundry in the dryer I haven’t folded, the schedule for my family next week, the people I need to email back. The last hour sometimes starts to make me mad because I’m just over it. Expect all the emotions - especially guilt or irritation over feeling unproductive or lazy or bored. I have to remember that I have permission. Not just permission: Sabbath is commanded by God as a way to show that we are NOT slaves to productivity. God said nearly exactly that when he commanded it to ancient Israel; “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day” (Deut 5:15). But my mind and emotions have been trained to need the hit of adrenaline and significance I feel from productivity (or the dopamine I get from a like on social media). Sabbath is necessary to break all that apart and remind me that it is God who finds me significant. So read, throw a ball, make the photo book no one else cares about. You’re not a slave.

  2. Expect to exert discipline. Don’t expect your mind and emotions to immediately line up behind this full-stop of work and weekly activity. You’ve gotta train in the practice of Sabbath, and that takes some discipline. The accusing thoughts (“you’re wasting time”) and internal resistance (“you didn’t finish the thing at work Friday; no day off until you do”) want to pull you the other direction. You’ll need discipline because Sabbath-like rest is the antithesis of our cultural tide. You have spent a lifetime training in American productivity and busy-ness. It’s going to take a minute for you to accept a completely different rhythm. In Romans (12:1-2), the apostle Paul writes that you should “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” What you do with your body will end up transforming your mind. As you practice and experiment with Sabbath, your mind will slowly become convinced of its goodness and wisdom. You can’t wait to be mentally and emotionally convinced: just put your body into rest, and your mind will eventually become convinced that God was right after all.

  3. Expect fear to come against you. Fear will tell you not to commit to a Sabbath of any kind because of “what you’re going to miss out on.” Sabbath is a move of radical trust in God to keep things afloat while you check out. And He’s ready to do it. He can. Maybe you’re freaked not to do those few hours of email you always squeeze in because it’ll put you behind on Monday morning. My teenager immediately resisted, afraid he was going to miss out on time with friends. He said he didn’t always find us fun (probably true) and that “people” do “fun things” on Saturday nights (also probably true). We said this in response: a. “Deep breath” (OK, that was for me).
    b. “Both God and your parents are FOR you. Sabbath will not become a rule-based drag in our home, but it will have boundaries for your good. Boundaries are needed because God knows better how to put life together than we do. Sabbath is a gift, and we are trying to figure out how we can all enjoy it.” c. “Let’s deal with reality, not what-ifs. Do you have an opportunity on Saturday this week with all these fun people? No? OK then. Let’s keep moving forward in our experiment and evaluate what’s actually in front of us – not all the things that may or may not ever happen.” d. “We are experimenting. Experiments get fine-tuned. At the end of 4 weeks, we will take any and all of your feedback and may develop some principles for evaluating individual fun that pops up.”

It may be fine for my son to hang with some friends for a bit. Maybe we will have a principle that says “after the feast” or “you can’t miss the fellowship.” We’re still working that out, but I do know that Sabbath is not just “family day.” Of course, families rest better when adopting this rhythm and practicing it together as a unit, but Sabbath is not the same thing as spending “family time.” It’s unreasonable to expect that all six people in my immediate household find exactly the same things restful and refreshing, so we are experimenting our way into some principles for how we make allowances for experiencing rest as both individuals and as a family.

Want to join in with our experiment? Take a couple of weeks and adopt the three Fs. Or just try eight hours and one of them. Start somewhere and just experiment. We’ve still got questions to answer about the role and limits of technology, plans that pop up with friends, etc. But we are trying to recover the ancient foundation of human life. We don’t want to let the hurry of America, the fear of 2020, or the thoughtless activity of modern life steal away from us our very soul. So we’re gonna keep trying. Join us.

Alli Patterson
Meet the author

Alli Patterson

Passionate learner and teacher, wife and mother of 4. Alli’s work brings the Bible to life, to help you find and follow Jesus. She offers truth, vulnerability, courage, and hope in every single endeavor.

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