There seems to be a direct correlation between the winding down of the pandemic (in America at least) and the increase of busyness in our lives. Life is starting to feel like a race car revving its engine at the starting line, ready to bolt at the sound of the gun. But before you take your foot off the brake and jam the gas pedal to the floor, it might be a good time to throw it into neutral and take stock of how well you are doing at creating space for rest and reflection in your life.
Participating in a regular Sabbath can give us the space we need to keep busyness at bay. Unfortunately, there are many things that can steal God’s gift of the Sabbath. Let’s look at five things that can potentially steal our Sabbath and what we can do to get it back.
1. Work Can Steal Our Sabbath
Last March, many people cleared out their desks and headed home to work from make-shift offices in bedrooms, closets, and basements. This shift blurred the lines between home life and work life. For many, the distinction between the two became unrecognizable as business calls were taken during naptime, and peanut butter and jelly was wiped from laptop screens. My husband has worked from home for over ten years, so we are no stranger to what millions experienced this past year. It takes discipline and boundaries to keep work in its proper place.
You can rescue your Sabbath from the demands of your job, even if you work from home or even have to work on Sundays. That’s because Sabbath is not about a specific day of the week. It’s not about checking a box and moving on with your day. It’s about a heart attitude of reflection and worship that can be done any day of the week.
In fact, if your job demands a lot of your time, you may be the type of person who would benefit from a daily Sabbath. Set aside time each day to reflect on the character and person of God. Put down the phone, shut off the laptop, and rest and reflect on what God accomplished in your life that day. Praise Him when your day goes well and even when it doesn’t.
2. Our Stuff Can Steal Our Sabbath
Years ago, when my husband and I moved into our house, there was a lot to do. It was a new build, and it was quite unfinished—inside and out. There were no doors (except those required by code), no flooring, no paint, no trim, and not a single blade of grass outside. We even had plywood resting on the dirt leading up to the back steps as a make-shift sidewalk. It was “rustic.”
But it was also time-consuming. Make that all-consuming. We moved in when I was six months pregnant, so our lives were full from the get-go. Suffice it to say, we spent virtually every waking hour working on or thinking about working on the house. We painted windows during nap time. We raked rocks out of the soil with a baby stroller at our side. The to-do list was endless. We felt a lot like the people the Lord describes in Haggai 1:5-6. We worked so hard, but we never seemed to get out as much as we put in. And it wasn’t just that. Things were not going smoothly. It became a joke that we had to do everything twice. Then, independently, my husband and I both came to the conclusion that something had to change. Our priorities were all messed up. So, we said, forget the to-do list; we need to get things straightened out.
We rescued our Sabbath from our stuff by making some changes. We set aside one day a week (it was usually Sunday). We went to church. We spent time with extended family. We went to parks. We rested, and we reflected. And we didn’t work on the house at all. We sacrificed 1 out of 7 days–and you know what happened? It shouldn’t be a surprise because the Bible told us what would happen in Malachi 3:10.
When we gave God what was rightfully His, He blessed us. We found that when we did work on the house, we were more productive. Sure, frustrations still arose, but they didn’t seem to matter as much because our priorities had shifted. But that shift required a choice. A choice to pick God’s way over our way. After all, Jesus clearly said that we are to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we are also to give to God what is God’s (Mark 12:17). The Sabbath is His, not ours. And when it resides with the rightful owner, life is better.
3. Sports Can Steal Our Sabbath
I remember a family at church whose kids came to service dressed in their little league uniforms. They sat in front of us, checking their watches throughout the service, only to leave mid-sermon for what I can only assume was the first of several events of their day. I appreciated their efforts to make it to church, even if it was only for part of the service.
I don’t know this family’s story. I don’t know if they were burning the candle at both ends or if this Sunday morning ritual was an anomaly in their weekly schedule. But I do know that modern-day kids’ sports have a way of becoming parasitic – sucking the very life from you and giving little in return.
I am not suggesting you remove your kids from all sports. And I am not suggesting that they sit at home reading their Bibles all Sunday instead. It’s about balance and perspective and finding a margin in your life for rest and reflection.
When we read that God rested on the seventh day, we get the impression that He was marveling at His creation – taking it in, pleased with what He created. Our Sabbath – however we decide to define it – requires the same perspective. It’s not about doing nothing. It’s about reflection on the goodness and glory of God. We are told to keep the Sabbath “holy,” which simply means to set it apart for a special purpose. If your kids’ involvement in sports has squeezed every opportunity for awe-filled reflection on who God is and what He has done, it may be time to re-evaluate its place in your life.
Have an honest, heart-to-heart talk with your kids. Share with them that, just like you cannot create a healthy body with a diet of only fast food, you cannot create a healthy spirit with unrelenting busyness. Model creating space in your life for a Sabbath and encourage your children to do the same.
4. Church Can Steal Our Sabbath
Sunday is not a Sabbath rest for pastors. Serving the body of Christ is a blessing in its own right, but it is not a substitute for taking a Sabbath. If you are a pastor or heavily involved in serving at your church, you may find that Sundays are not the idyllic picture of rest and reflection.
You can rescue your Sabbath from your service at church by asking the people in your life to offer you space for a true Sabbath (either later on Sunday or another time during the week). Be open and honest about your needs and work together as a family to meet those needs.
5. Relaxation Can Steal Our Sabbath
Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that “God has put eternity in every man’s heart.” We all have a built-in desire for eternal rest. That’s why we long for vacations and get-aways—we are seeking to create a bit of timelessness here on earth. However, no matter how hard we try on this side of heaven, our thirst for eternity will not be quenched. There are many things we do to try to manufacture it. We watch TV (it’s easy to “lose track of time” while watching a favorite show or movie). We seek out opportunities for fun and entertainment. There is nothing wrong with these things—they create memories and connections with others. But entertainment and relaxation are not the same as taking a Sabbath. God’s idea of a Sabbath wasn’t to escape but to engage. Engage with Him and His work in your life. You can lie on the beach with a good book and not once think of God. That is relaxation, but not Sabbath.
You can rescue your Sabbath from your relaxation by inviting God to be a part of it. Talk to Him about what you are experiencing. Ask Him to help you see what He sees.
Sometimes the biggest stealer of our Sabbath is ourselves. We don’t prioritize taking it because we don’t see its value. Take some time and talk to God about what keeps you from valuing a Sabbath as highly as He does. Think about what in your life may be stealing it from you.
We have been presented with a rare time in our lives where we have the option to make some radical changes. Seize the moment and hang on to some of the simplicity and space that the pandemic has given us. Blessings come when we do things God’s way. Not because He is a tyrant, but because His way is always the best way.
Laura Kuehn is a licensed clinical social worker with a specialization in children and families. She is the founder of www.cornerstonesforparents.com, an online resource for Christian parents. Cornerstones offers parents faith-based tips on how to correct, disciple, and connect with their children. She lives in New England with her husband and two teenage children.