Searching For Sabbath
Building rest and restoration into the rhythm of life
There is a line in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring that has been running through my mind lately. Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit, says, “I feel thin. Sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. I need a holiday. A very long holiday.”
I can relate. I’m desperate for a chance to catch my breath. It’s not sleep I lack, but rest for my soul.
I know I’m not alone in this. Culturally, we are a frenzied lot. Productivity and busyness seem to reign as tyrants over us, always demanding more. We say we want rest, but days at the spa or rounds of golf are just bandages covering a deeper issue. We write off our fatigue as weakness, ignoring our God-given need for renewal. Instead, we opt for another double shot latté from the nearest coffee drive-thru.
In Genesis 2, we read that God rested from His work on the seventh day. The Almighty Creator who spoke the world into existence modeled a life-sustaining pattern for us: Sabbath. In Hebrew, the word literally means “to cease.” What ceased was God’s tangible work of creation. What ensued was His holy delight. God rested. He initiated Sabbath. And I can’t help but wonder if He took the day to simply gawk at all He had made.
Marva J. Dawn, author of Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, says, “Sabbath keeping changes our character. We will be irrevocably transformed by the commitment to a special day set aside for our relationship with God.”
Of course I want that. But honestly, who has the time? “Sabbath keeping” feels like a fairy tale.
I have neglected the Sabbath for years now. I’ve felt like I need my weekends to detach from the workweek or catch up on my to-do list. But it’s not enough. Every Sunday night my head starts spinning, the workweek is looming, and I am once again under the pile.
I’m reminded of Matthew 11:28-30, which says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”
I’ve read this passage dozens of times, but it strikes a different chord when I’m in a place of need. I’ve prayed specifically for rest, gentleness and refreshment—exactly what Jesus offers. But how do I get there?
I’m learning that rest is a choice. My current pattern is to bow to the tyrants of productivity and busyness, attempting to keep up with the world. But the world doesn’t stop. I have to choose to go against the grain. I’ve been told that Sabbath keeping is more of an art than a science, and I’m not sure what to expect. In faith I have asked God to teach me how to experience His rest. Change begins with a single step, and I’m ready to make it.
Last Sunday, I put my new found lessons to practice. After serving in the church nursery and attending service, I made my way home. Over lunch I prayed, asking the Holy Spirit to help me begin to unearth a Sabbath heart.
Mark Buchanan has become my Sabbath guide. In his book The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath, he says, “Cease from that which is necessary. This is Sabbath’s golden rule, one rule to which all other rules distill. Stop doing what you ought to do. There are six days to do what you ought. Six days to be caught in the web of economic and political and social necessity. And then, one day to take wing. Sabbath is that one day.” He goes on to explain that the complement to ceasing that which is necessary is to embrace that which gives life.
Above all, the Bible teaches that the seventh day is to be set apart to connect with God. So that afternoon, I thought about picking up a book on Sabbath. But that felt too close to working on this article, so I ruled it out. Instead, I dusted off a book by Bill Bright titled, God: Discover His Character.
After reflecting on a few chapters, I was ready for something more active. I had planned to meet a friend, but the thought of driving across town to hang out in a crowded place sounded exhausting. I called my friend, and we both agreed that, in the spirit of Sabbath, I should stay home.
Our Sabbath afternoons looked different. She went to the park with her baby girl and the activity brought her life and energy. I, on the other hand, stayed home to make cookies.
I enjoy baking, but as a single person who works full time, I don’t often have the chance. Was it necessary that I bake cookies? No, and that’s what made the idea sound so great. Would taking time to bake be a way of embracing that which gives life? Yes! Some of my best prayer times happen while cooking. My mind can focus when my hands are busy. So far, Sabbath felt like I was playing hooky with Jesus.
As the cookies cooled, I settled down on my couch, thanking God for a life-giving day. I opened a book to read again, but my eyelids were heavy. I didn’t resist or set an alarm. I just curled up in a sunny spot and gave in to sleep.
When my roommate came home, she asked about my day. I told her about my change of pace, and marveled that I didn’t feel stressed, even though I hadn’t made any “progress” on work or my to-do list. “My time, work, relationships and tasks are all under His care,” I told her. “He is God; I am not.” Sabbath keeping was already changing my perspective.
Turning off my lamp that night, I thanked God. Unlike Sundays before, I didn’t feel thin or stretched. I was actually at ease. I prayed that the spirit of Sabbath would follow me into the workweek. That would change everything.