5 Tips for Observing a Sabbath
Feel like you’re constantly on the go? You’re not alone.
Surveys indicate that Americans feel busier than ever. In actuality, we have more free time now than we have in at least 5 decades. The problem isn’t that we don’t have time to devote to hobbies, recreation, or spiritual development. The true problem is that many of us prefer our mindless distractions to intentional effort in any direction, including our spiritual lives.
I often tell students that spiritual growth, in some ways, is similar to any skill they want to improve in or discipline they want to practice. In contrast to the lackadaisical approach to spiritual growth to which many of us seem to subscribe, an active pursuit of Christ involves intentional effort, planning, and reflection.
There’s no way around it. If you want to observe a Sabbath and reap all its associated benefits, you’re going to have to plan for it. Taking an entire day off requires us to put more forethought into how we spend our time than many of us are willing to do. This one fact alone causes a hard stop in many of our minds.
Couple that initial resistance with another simple truth about our nature: we suffer from FOMO. Many of us will resist observing a Sabbath, not even because of what it will require us to miss out on, but simply from the fear of the thought of what it might cause us to miss out on. The challenge in this stage is for us to trust God’s goodness and wisdom enough to believe that saying “Yes” to a Sabbath, even though it will require us to say “No” to other things, will ultimately be better for us. As C.S. Lewis observed,
We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
Saying “Yes” to the Better Thing
Observing a Sabbath can transform your relationship with Christ. A Sabbath:
Prioritizes rest so that you aren’t always so stressed, anxious, and short-tempered.
Prioritizes reflection so that you can intentionally remind yourself of how God has worked on your behalf in the recent and far past.
Creates space for you to intentionally pursue activities and/or relationships that bring you joy.
Is a picture of faith in God in the midst of a hustle-culture.
Ok, ok. I said this was going to be practical. Here are my top 5 pointers for beginning to observe a personal Sabbath:
Put it on your calendar. Whether it’s on your phone or you keep a physical date book, look ahead 2 weeks and commit to a single 24-hour period to keep clear to observe your Sabbath. And yes, I mean 24 continuous, uninterrupted hours. Fortunately, we have the freedom to determine where those 24 hours fall. You may find that keeping all of Sunday free for your Sabbath works best for you. Others may find that observing a Sabbath from 3 PM on a Wednesday afternoon to 3 PM on Thursday works best. When doesn’t matter. Just set the time aside!
Make a list of all the stuff you have to do prior to your Sabbath. You may not be a list person, but trust me on this. The act of writing down the things that must be done is super-helpful. It will prevent something from slipping through the cracks that will come up just as you get in the zone on your Sabbath and you’ll be tempted to break Sabbath to go do it. Just make the list and be intentional about working through it leading up to your Sabbath.
Decide what you’ll do. Options abound! -Sleep in. -Exercise or go to the park. -Call friends or family. -Eat out and take your time -Take a prayer retreat -Lengthen your devotion time for the day. -Journal. -Read a book. -Take a nap. -Take up that hobby you love but stopped a long time ago because you just didn't have time for it anymore. -Etc.
Decide what you won’t do. The whole point of a Sabbath is to abstain from work. So, instead of giving you an exhaustive list, I’ll say that if you consider it work, don’t do it. *Note*– I will caution you from performing any work-related function under the guise of “But I enjoy it.” If it’s related to something for which you are paid or could be paid, the whole point is to leave it alone for 24 hours.
Resist the urge to work. Your first Sabbath is going to feel weird. We’ve been conditioned to think that taking time off isn’t an optimal use of our time. You will have to repeatedly remind yourself that rest allows you to more optimally use your time. As a Christian, rest is even more valuable because it permits space for you to weekly recalibrate yourself spiritually so that you can live abundantly in the settings in which God leads you throughout the week.
A Quick Testimonial
I began observing a Sabbath in seminary when I was a full-time student, managing a coffee shop, and serving in a church plant. Needless to say, it was a pretty busy season of life! For that period of my life, school work was considered “work.” So, on my Sabbath, I didn’t crack a book. I didn’t study. I didn’t write a paper. I completely walked away.
Seminary had been almost an entirely academic pursuit to that point in my career, so I spent my Sabbaths investing in my own spiritual life. I prioritized time with friends. I prioritized time with my wife. I went to bed early.
Then, the next morning, I woke up early and was the first customer at my favorite coffee shop. I sat there for 5 hours while I read for the week, worked on assignments, and worked on my papers. I was more productive in that 5 hours than I was at any other point in time throughout the week.
Why? Because I was refreshed. Because my relational, emotional, spiritual, and physical batteries were all completely refreshed. Because I made the conscious decision to trust that God’s way was better even if it appeared to cost me in the short-term.
I’ve never regretted a Sabbath. You won’t either.