Learning the Sabbath: One mom's storyWritten by Dede Nicholson
Once upon a time, when I would attempt to keep the Sabbath, it didn’t go so well.
Over the years, my attempts to observe a Sabbath rest left me feeling confused, or frustrated, or sometimes like a complete failure. For long stretches I would just ignore the idea of a Sabbath altogether.
For me, it has gone in cycles that looked something like this:
On the times that I tried . . .
I would decide, Okay, I'm going to do this. It's an important, holy day. I need to obey and honour God in this.
But how? I wondered. What's the formula? What are the rules? (Rules and regulations – I’m very good at following rules, kinda like the Pharisees).
So I’d try no shopping, no working . . . just sit on the couch and stare.
Now what? I’d think. Am I really not supposed to do anything? This feels insane, not holy!
Then, to top it off, I would try to practice this Sabbath rest on Sunday, because I thought the Sabbath was for Sunday only – the holy day.
But on Sundays I had to get up early for church and rush to get out the door with the kids and my marriage intact. There was Sunday school class to teach, snacks to provide and sometimes after-church meetings, and lunch that had to be made.
Sometimes Sunday was the only day I could invite guests and entertain, or go to others’ homes and be entertained. Then I’d rush around on Sunday evenings to make sure all the homework had been done and the clothes washed to start the new week. My Sunday evening slump preceded the dreaded Monday morning.
I was a parent stuck in survival and catch-up mode. Sunday would not be a day of rest. On a Sunday, typically, I would end up more exhausted than ever. Then I’d start to feel resentful. So not only was I more tired, I was worse off, feeling bitter and resentful. This is not Sabbath, I would think. Great. A total failure. I'm a horrible, unholy, bitter, resentful person and I'm breaking the Ten Commandments.
On the times that I didn’t try . . .
My thinking would go something like this:
Maybe the Sabbath doesn't really apply to us now – maybe it's just something they did in the old days. Maybe it's not that critical. Isn't it the least important commandment? It's only about rest after all. It's not about the big things like murdering or stealing.
Maybe it's not for mothers of young children. Maybe it's a fairy tale. Rest is frowned upon in our society and sometimes feels unachievable anyway. Let's just put that back on the shelf.
So then I would forget about keeping the Sabbath for a while – a long while.
But here’s why I love the Sabbath now . . .
Since those days I have been on an incredible journey of healing with the Lord. It’s very hard and sometimes very painful work. But through this process, I have learned who I am and what is life-giving to me.
I have been learning to truly trust God and have been set free from things I never thought possible. I have been growing deeper in my relationship with, and understanding of, my identity in Christ.
I also began practicing gratitude. Keeping a gratitude journal – which I have been doing for about 15 years now – has been life changing. I have been learning to be intentional and in the moment, set free from fear of lack, and living in simple abundance. I’m learning about minimalism, and making room for what is important in my life by getting rid of what isn’t. All of this brought me full circle back to the Sabbath last summer.
In the healing of my past wounds, in the learning of what is life-giving, and in being intentional and knowing who I am in Christ (loved) as opposed to how He wants me to behave, the light finally went on!
I didn’t just hear this quote from Kathi Lipp; I learned it, I’m living it! She says:
“For so many years I got it wrong. I used my Sabbath to prepare for the rest of the week, when I should have used my week to prepare for Sabbath.”*
Wow! Now I intentionally carve out time and plan (preferably a 24-hour period) where I can be still and know that HE is God.
I pray, I worship, I write in my gratitude or prayer journal. There may be a special outing, or not; time spent with people, or not; a day I go to church, or not. I might read or write, or not. It might include serving others, or not; time in nature, a walk in the woods or an afternoon at the beach, or not. There may be cooking, or maybe eating out. No rules.
However, there is no prepping and planning for the week ahead during this time. There are no shoulds – nothing that drains or sucks the life out of me.
There may be surprises, things unexpected, but there are no distractions. I love my Sabbath and I’m very protective of it.
What happens during my Sabbath varies from week to week. It varies on how I feel led to plan, and what is needed, what God knows I need. But my Sabbath is always a time of rest, of being filled, of doing and receiving life-giving things.
I used to think the Sabbath commandment was the least important commandment. Now it's the most important one to me (and I think it makes keeping the other commandments more doable – kinda like that “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God” thing.)
I anticipate the Sabbath like a child anticipates Christmas, only instead of gifts from Santa I receive gifts from my heavenly father, my Abba Daddy.
It’s a time of communion. It’s intimate, it’s two-way. I am so richly blessed.
May you be richly blessed also in keeping your own Sabbath.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Exodus 20:8
“Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29
*As quoted from the book Overwhelmed: How to Quiet the Chaos and Restore Your Sanity, by Kathi Lipp and Cheri Gregory.
Dede Nicholson is on staff at Focus on the Family Canada.
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