Sabbath? In the 21st Century? Does that mean being fed grapes while wearing a toga and enlightening/destroying my brain with TikTok?
For most of my life, I thought a Sabbath was outdated and impossible in modern times. How can I take a ‘day off’ with endless life obligations?
Not to mention extracurriculars like infinite ideas and large ambitions, which include countless Home Depot trips for house projects, hours and hours of brainstorming the next screenplay I would half finish, and consuming mass amounts of media to try and learn everything (this week’s obsession was blacksmithing videos).
As I began to reflect on how this lifestyle was treating me, however, I realized having this little-engine-that-could mindset always led me into an inevitable downward spiral of exhaustion and burnout. This conduct had become unsustainable, and I needed to make a change.
Maybe, I thought, there was something to this whole ‘Sabbath’ thing, though I was worried about what any potential shift in my schedule would mean. Would I have to stop doing things I loved to become a monk and just sit and do nothing all day just to feel rested?
In light of my conquest to learn everything, I picked up a book about a year ago that caught the Christian world by storm, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry By John Mark Comer. This book opened my eyes to the biblical idea of rest and sent me on a journey to learn about the Sabbath and see if it can even be done in the modern age.
Through much trial and error (and still some error), I found that the Sabbath is enjoyable, possible, and essential in today’s world. But what is the Sabbath? I decided it was best to learn what I was trying to get to before I took the steps.
What is Sabbath?
I found the concept of the biblical Sabbath came straight out of the mouth of God and right into the Ten Commandments. Crazy, right?
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy”. (Exodus 20:8-11)
I found this commandment also reflects the creation of the universe in Genesis, meaning rest is built into the DNA of creation:
So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:3)
The God of the Bible, the all-powerful creator of everything, spent six days (whether or not they were metaphorical days or literal days) creating the entirety of the universe. Then on the seventh day, He…rested.
I learned if God can take a day to rest, so can I. I’m not sure if it was because He actually needed the rest or he was just modeling it for us - but I don’t think it matters. He did it, and I think I should, too (and nowhere in the Bible does it say it has to be on Sunday, by the way).
But that begs the question…what is it all for? Why did God command it? Just to have another rule for us to follow?
In the gospels, there is a moment on a Sabbath day when Jesus and his disciples walk through a wheat field, and they begin picking grain because they are hungry. Some Pharisees (keepers of the Jewish law) yelled at the disciples for breaking the law because it was considered work to pick grain. Then Jesus responds with this mic drop line,
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
God seemingly made the Sabbath for us just to enjoy it - and to enjoy him and his creation (God said to Sabbath to the Lord in that Exodus verse). It doesn’t appear God made the Sabbath just to have another commandment (or make it aesthetically pleasing for there to be exactly ten of them), but to give us a day to breathe and relax and worship Him and realize we are not that important that we need to work every day of the week.
If I’m being honest, I probably did (and do at times) think I was that important. So when I would try and Sabbath early on, I felt guilty about how little I was “accomplishing” on my Sabbath day. I would see that day as a log in the road to stop me from being efficient or a guilt trap where I sit around and watch the world be productive.
However, this perspective from Jesus on the reasoning for the Sabbath felt refreshing to my preconceived notions - and a lot more joyful. God is giving me permission to rest, and if I feel guilt during said rest, I don’t think it’s coming from him. And that while work is inherently good, having a day removed from it shows me that it is not the most important thing in the world (and again, neither am I).
I also believe that story shows that once we become religious about the Sabbath, it becomes less about the rest and relationship we form with God and more about the rules we follow. Therefore, if I miss something on my Sabbath schedule or really need to make a phone call (or pick some grain), it’s not as if the whole day is ruined or I am doing everything wrong. I just don’t make a habit out of it.
Plus, we all have different work and life schedules. In all my reading and failed attempts at taking a rest day, I found there’s not a one-size-fits-all model of rest. I would try multiple pastors’ versions of a restful day, and some things would work well, while others would drive me crazy. I personally found running to be restful, but you might think that is the least restful thing possible.
In the end, I learned we all experience rest differently, but there are two fundamental things that are not rest.
The first (tough) lesson I learned early on: rest starts with not working. That seems pretty obvious, but then I realized this doesn’t just apply to my 9-5 job. I thought about all the house projects, cleaning, checking email, and grocery shopping I usually fill my non-career-hours with and decided if it feels like a chore, or it is a chore, it’s not rest.
The second thing I found in my pursuit is that rest is not about leisure - even though, in the beginning, for me, that felt like the easy answer. Isn’t the opposite of work to do…well…not work? Also known as ‘absolutely nothing’? This was a hard one to get my brain around, but Andy Crouch describes it best in his book Tech Wise Family.
“…you could think of leisure as fruitless escape from labor. It’s a kind of rest that doesn’t really restore our souls, doesn’t restore our relationships with others or God.”
I guess this meant that rest is not re-creating the plot of WALL-E, and sitting around in a motorized chair watching TV all day, huh? I decided I could not sit on the couch all day, binge a whole season of a show, play video games for 14 hours, and especially scroll through social media until my eyes bleed.
Why? Because while those activities sound so naturally restful in our modern world, I don’t think any of us actually would say we feel “recharged” after a six-hour YouTube Shorts session. It also explains why we can somehow feel more tired from laying around all day than if we ran a marathon. I don’t believe rest is about doing “nothing”; per se, but that it’s about finding the right non-work things to do to refresh our souls.
Don’t get me wrong - I still watch TV and play video games for a little bit on Sabbath, but it is done for a short amount of time, and I don’t let it get in the way of resting with family. This day is designed to be set apart from every other day of the week. I had to learn not to fall into my everyday escape from work on this day.
So now that we know what unrestful rest is, what is restful rest?
I believe Sabbath isn’t just rest for our bodies but also for our souls. And I found there is no better way to rest your soul than creating space to sit with God, which meant I had to unplug from leisure to get real rest…and that I would have to work for it.
I know it sounds like a contradiction, but to pursue my goal of finding true rest, sacrifices did need to be made. I didn’t major in Mathematics, but when you remove a whole day’s worth of work, that work has to go somewhere else, right? Therefore, that causes a necessary adjustment in your other six days of the week.
When my wife and I sat down and made the decision to Sabbath, we chose a non-workday with the most flexibility and practicality to remove activities that weren’t restful. For us, that was Saturday (for you, it could be any of the other six days - or even the second half of one day into the first half of the next day - it’s your Sabbath!)
Next, we made a list of all the things that don’t bring us rest - most being chores like vacuuming, laundry, and grocery shopping. Then, we looked at our calendar and realized if we didn’t want our day of rest to involve these chores, we had to set up new rhythms during our week to make that happen. As a result, our TV-watching time got cut in half during the week in order to complete those chores and not have even one of them fall on our Sabbath day.
We soon realized it wasn’t about just changing one day of the week - we had to change every day of our week. Our Sunday through Friday became a little more busy, but that Saturday day of rest is all the sweeter.
We also had to actively plan our day of rest. We live in a world that offers us an infinite amount of options, and it can quickly become overwhelming to decide what we should do on our day of rest (let alone what we should do for dinner every night). I make decisions all throughout the week, and the last thing I want to do on my Sabbath is try to decide what I’m going to do at any given moment.
So, we created a rough schedule of how our day of rest will operate. This list is completely flexible and changes from time to time, but it’s there to provide a bit of structure and eliminate the need to make decisions. We decided ahead of time what TV shows or movies we might watch, what each meal was, and if we were going to do a family outing. Here’s what our schedule looks like:
- 6:00 PM: Shabbat Meal (I’ll explain this one)
- 7:00 PM: Listen to Sabbath playlist & playtime
- 7:30 PM: Bedtime for kids
- 8:00 PM: Read the Bible and Pray
- 8:30 PM: Watch TV
- 7:00 AM: Dad wakes up
- 7:10 AM: Dad Enjoys coffee and prayer
- 7:30 AM: Dad gets interrupted by kiddo
- 8:30 AM: Mom wakes up
- 9:00 AM: Breakfast sandwiches
- 9-11 AM: Go outside for thirty-minutes
- 11:00-2:00 PM-ish: Possible nap window (this is when I run)
- 2:00-5:00 PM: Family outing and quiet reading time
- 6:00 PM: Dinner
- 7:30 PM: Bedtime for kids
- 8:00 PM: Read the Bible and Pray
- 8:30 PM: Watch TV
All of those things are flexible on when they happen or even if they happen. These elements are ingrained into our Sabbath rhythm and help us to fall into rest mode. The two most crucial parts of our Sabbath schedule are our Shabbat meal and getting outside in nature.
‘Shabbat’ is the Jewish word for the meals you have for Sabbath, and ours is like a mini-feast. Most days of the week, we are surviving off Trader Joe’s frozen meals (I highly recommend their turkey burgers). But on Shabbat, we eat good - from Chicken Marsala to slowly braised beef. This is a time for us to celebrate the blessings God has given us.
We also say what we’re thankful for this past week. All these help little practices help our minds, hearts, and souls fall into a posture of thankfulness and rest with God.
If you skimmed through this whole piece, here are some practical steps:
- Pick a day for Sabbath
- Identify what is restful for you and what isn’t
- Create a Sabbath day plan.
- Rest and be in relationship with God.
Lastly, I show myself a lot of grace and patience while learning to Sabbath. If I get invited to a party at the same time as my Sabbath, I believe I am allowed to go. If my week has gone off the rails, and I can only get errands done during my day of rest, that’s fine. But on the flip side, it’s also okay to say no to parties and other invites to prioritize your Sabbath.
I’ve learned to be prayerful in this process to make a wise and not rash decision either way. It was a lot of work (ironically) at the start. Also, some weeks aren’t as successful as others in feeling rested. But most of the time, the peace we feel throughout our week by having one full day “off the clock” has been transforming.
I sheepishly realized God knew what he was doing when creating and declaring a Sabbath as not just a helpful life implementation but a necessary one. I am well on my way to finding the restful rest God commanded for us, and I’m just upset I didn’t pursue it sooner.
Looking for more ways to practically Sabbath? Here are a few perspectives from Crossroads Church community members.
Disclaimer: This article is 100% human-generated.