Sabbath: How Do I Actually DO It?

SELF | Caleb Mathis | 12 mins

Are you tired? Me-freakin’-too.

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Problem is, I’ve known about the antidote for years—an ancient secret to living a more meaningful, rhythmic, and sustainable life. But, for most of my thirty-five years, I’ve left it on the table. That changed when COVID hit. With the world turned upside down, I finally found time for the cure to my overworked, underplayed, majorly stressed out life. If you’re rundown and exhausted, overwhelmed, and stretched thin, this ancient cure is for you too. It’s called Sabbath, and it will change your life—if you let it.

Remember the excitement of a snow day? Getting up early to check the TV scroll. Your school is listed! You jump back in bed and sleep as late as you want. When you wake up, an entire day waits for you, a blank canvas to craft a masterpiece on. That’s Sabbath—a holy snow day. And God gives you 52 of them a year.

At its core, the Sabbath is one day, each week, set aside for rest, connection with God, and spending time with your closest relationships. It’s a mirroring of what God did first. After creating the world, the Bible says that God rested from his labors and made that day holy (Genesis 2:2-3). But it wasn’t just a suggestion for God’s people. It was a command (Exodus 20:8-11). Every seven days, they rested and worshipped, a weekly reminder that God was supreme, and they were finite.

The Bible also describes God as both a good father and a good king. One way you recognize a good father are the good gifts He gives his children. Likewise, a good king is known by the good decrees he issues. Most days, I struggle to see God as both a good father and a good king simultaneously. But not on Sabbath. My good Father has given me a gift of a 24-hour period without the grind of endless productivity. And my good King, knowing my tendency to work anyway, issues it as a command. The Father and the King are working in tandem—and I get the benefit.

The biggest roadblock to Sabbath, for me, wasn’t mental but practical. How do I actually do it?

I learned by being a thief. I read about it. I copied my wife. I talked to people who were practicing it well. And I assimilated it all into my own little stew. Sabbath gives me life. It leaves me hungry for the weekend and more productive during the workweek. The only thing I’m mad about is having waited so long to begin.

If the idea of a full 24 hours spent away from email, chores, and honey-do lists gives you heart palpitations, I’d suggest a little thievery. I’ll even introduce you to some people who’d be happy for you to steal from them. Below are mini-interviews with people, from different stages of life, on what Sabbath actually looks like for them. Get a big plate and pile it high, people. This is gonna be a buffet for your soul.

One last thought before we dive in—we live in a culture that invites us to constantly compare ourselves to others. Don’t do that. The people below are examples of what a Sabbath could look like. They aren’t your measuring stick. Find ways to rest, connect with God, and spend time with others that work for you. My hope is you’ll get some new ideas below. But don’t try to be Jared or Janie, or Kelley. Be you. Cool? Cool.

Jared - Single, College Student In Nursing School

Why do you practice Sabbath?
It started by me trying to read the Bible more consistently. I noticed that God didn’t merely suggest Sabbath—he commanded it. It finally clicked for me that it was that important to Him. At the same time, I realized my rhythms of life weren’t healthy at all. I was a college athlete, enrolled in difficult classes, and I was burning out. I kind of hated school, and I don’t want to spend college like that. It was time to find a rhythm that honored God, and left me feeling filled up, not drained all the time.

What does your Sabbath look like?
Well, this is what happened last week. I slept in. I woke up slow and actually made time for breakfast. I went to a worship service with some friends and then went to lunch. We didn’t rush at all. We ate and just enjoyed the company and conversation. When I got home, I spent some time alone with God reading Scripture and journaling. If you’re new to the Bible or journaling, that might sound like a drag. But as I’ve found my rhythm, it’s actually become a really energizing time for me. After that, since it was a nice day, I took a long walk before dinner. That night, I hung out with some friends before going to bed at a good hour.

What does Sabbath do for you?
It makes Sunday a no stress day, focused on resting and recharging. One thing I’ve recently noticed is that Sunday night isn’t spent dreading the next day or week anymore. After a full day of rest, I’m actually ready for Monday. I’ve literally never felt like that before, ever.

Best advice you’d give to someone wanting to try Sabbath?
If a full day sounds intimidating, start with a half-day. That’s how I started—out of necessity because of nursing school obligations. But I’ve kept with it and worked up to a full day now. Work with whatever time you have and go from there.

Janie - Married, fulltime mother of three

Why do you practice Sabbath?
Although I’ve been trying to follow Jesus for many years, my family and I only recently began practicing it. As a wife and mom of three (all five years old and under), plus the stress of the year, I could feel myself wearing thin. I needed a break, so I wouldn’t break. God established Sabbath, so as challenging as it was going to be, I figured it would be good for us.

I also practice it for my kids. I want them to value rest and to grow up understanding we can’t just go-go-go all the time, but need time to recharge with God and each other.

What does your Sabbath look like?
The biggest thing for us (and hardest to start) was choosing to put our phones away. We put them in our bedside tables on Saturday night and try to leave them untouched until Monday morning. This forces us to interact with God, each other, and our kids, instead of Facebook or Instagram.

We try to sleep in (hard with toddlers) and then have brunch together. The kids might even help prepare it. We always watch service online (or attend when possible) and talk about what we learned or experienced. Connecting with God is the biggest priority of the day (which might sound weird, but without focusing on Him, even a lot of fun stuff doesn’t satisfy us the same way).

After that, we might go on a hike, play some board games, read books, or take a nap. We end the day with dinner together, and we do something we call The Thankful Jar. Everyone in our family says one thing they are thankful for; we write it down on a piece of paper and put it into a jar. On New Year’s Day, we empty the jar and read through all the ways God has been good to us in the past year.

When the kids go to bed, me and my husband try to do a non-binging activity—reading, talking, doing a puzzle, etc. And we make it a point to go to bed earlier than usual.

Especially with young kids, it’s hard for Sabbath to feel much different than any other day—there are still meals to prepare, messes to clean up, discipline to be enforced. To help set the day apart from the rest of the week, I try not to do any unnecessary work. As a mom, I’m constantly thinking ahead, but on Sabbath, I try to be exactly where I am—in the moment, and not working on next week’s activities, meals, or homeschool plans.

What does Sabbath do for you/your family?
It brings a sense of togetherness—we’ve spent the day connecting with God and each other, and it really brings us together. It’s a deep breath, a sigh of relief, a sense of calm.

It’s been a crazy and out of control year, but choosing Sabbath was something I could control. I can choose to rest and be present. It’s a day that doesn’t feel like work at all, but rather a joy.

For the kids, it helps them get ready for the new week. It’s helping them develop rhythms to life, and it allows us to be more flexible, to embrace the seasons, and it gives them some guardrails to avoid feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or pressured.

Best advice you’d give to someone wanting to try Sabbath?
Give yourself lots of grace. With kids, things happen. Someone is going to have a potty accident. The cat’s going to throw up on the carpet. You’ll probably have to do a round of dishes. It’s OK. Try for progress, not perfection. Maybe just put your phone away for the day, or don’t do any unnecessary chores and work up from there.

Kelley - Single, Empty-Nester

Why do you practice Sabbath?
A few years ago, I was introduced to the concept of working from rest instead of resting from work. It seems a small change, but it’s huge. I learned about the Jewish roots of our faith and how Sabbath was their seventh day of the week, so they started the new week from a place of rest. It blew my mind and upended my world. At the time, I was the queen of performance junkies—do, do, do, all the time! Sabbath has been a gift that gets me off the performance treadmill that was killing me.

What does your Sabbath look like?
I like practicing the traditional Sabbath, which is Friday at sunset until Saturday at sunset. Friday night, I’m doing something fun. I don’t schedule heavy work meetings or stressful events on Fridays.

When I wake up on Saturday, I stay in bed until at least noon. I spend that time reading Scripture, praying, listening for God. He puts people on my heart, and I pray for them. I journal a lot, whatever I feel God is saying to me. I spend that time dwelling on it all, with no need to rush to anything else. (That’s not prescriptive for you. It just works for me).

The rest of the day I spend as a treat—find a way to make it special. Maybe that means I get a pumpkin spice latte, or go for a walk, or get something small at TJ Maxx. Really anything that I wouldn’t normally do or buy, to help make the day special.

At sunset, I make sure I’m with friends. During COVID, it’s been outdoor dining and social distancing. But it’s important for me, as someone who lives alone, to spend some of the day with other people that I love.

What does Sabbath do for you?
It’s become the entire rhythm of my life now, and it brings such a deep sense of peace. When Friday comes, I’m excited for Sabbath to begin—I know a sweet time is coming, so I can push through the week that lies before it. Interestingly, this also makes me more effective during the workweek. Because I know I’ll be taking a break, I’m able to give it my all when I am working. But mostly, for me, it’s my greatest time of connecting with God. I expect to spend time with Him, and I believe He equally looks forward to spending it with me. The things He says and reveals to me when I’m solely focused on him are amazing. It’s worth the entire price of admission.

Best advice you’d give to someone wanting to try Sabbath?
For me, the biggest thing was to think about the rest of my week differently. Most people I know put off chores, or cleaning, or bills until the weekend. But clumping your to-do list to one day is the antithesis of Sabbath. I’m thinking about it all week. What chores can I get done today so that I am ready for Sabbath on Friday night? What meetings do I need to have on Wednesday or Thursday, so I don’t have to deal with that on Friday? And I protect Saturday morning at all costs—no appointments or anything. That time is reserved exclusively for me and God.

Lots to choose from in this buffet. Got your plate full? Now it’s time to dig in. Pick something, maybe just one thing, from the interviews above, and try it on for size. Jared, Janie, and Kelley are all normal people, just like you. But they’ve stumbled into an extraordinary and life-giving rhythm that has given them peace, rest, and purpose. I don’t know about you, but I could definitely use some heaping helpings of all three right now.


Written by

Caleb Mathis

Dad of three, husband of one, pastor at Crossroads, and at the moment would rather be reading Tolkien, watching British TV, or in a pub with a pint of Guinness.

Published on Oct 19, 2020
Process, journal or discuss the themes of this article - here's a few questions to get the ball rolling...

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  1. What stands out to you most about this article? Why that? (Note any emotion, reaction, or specific line that got your attention. Whatever it is, it might be the beginning of God talking to you. Lean into it.)

  2. What’s your biggest barrier to experiencing a weekly Sabbath? Imagine a friend just told you that was their barrier. What ideas could you offer that might make it possible?

  3. Usually there is a deeper root beneath our resistance to stop. We might think it’s practical (work is too busy, it’s impossible to rest with kids, etc), but there’s actually a control issue underneath. We don’t think the world can operate without us, or we don’t believe God will show up to fill in the gaps if we stop. Or sometimes the issue is that we don’t know how to rest. Consider what might be behind the first reason you came up with, and now brainstorm that too.

  4. A schedule change like this usually needs some accountability. Forward this article to a friend, tell them your plan, and ask them to help hold you to it.

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