Observing Sabbath: Why Downtime is Essential to Your Wholeness

reasons to observe the sabbath

Image Credit: By maxpetrov on shutterstock.

“If you don’t get rid of your stressors, you are going to die,” the doctor told me at a visit a couple of years ago.

Die? Seriously? Something in her eyes told me she wasn’t just being dramatic. I heard very little of what the doctor said next as those words reverberated in my head. I’m young. How could stress kill me?

It didn’t take me long to realize she was right. Anyone looking at me could tell I wasn’t doing well. I looked more like a character from the television series The Walking Dead than the vibrant person I once was. I had put rest and self-care on the back burner for a long time. My husband and I were parenting three children who had experienced severe trauma before coming to live with us, and we were dealing with their extreme behaviors. How in the world was I going to get rid of my stressors?

I’m far from alone in this struggle. Some studies show somewhere between 75 to 90 percent of all doctor’s visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.

Unfortunately, practices and activities that help restore our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls are the ones that get squeezed out when life gets too busy or stressful – the times when they are needed most. We need to make room again for a Sabbath. In fact, we are commanded by God to take that time and keep it holy.

Why Is It So Hard to Take Time to Rest and Rejuvenate?

For Christians, who are taught to be self-sacrificing to God and to others, self-care can feel, well, selfish. Mark 12:31 is used as justification when people argue that they can not practice self-care because Christ followers are supposed to “love your neighbor as yourself.” However, that leaves many Christians so busy taking care of everyone else that they neglect themselves.

Another reason why downtime is a struggle is that American society treats busyness as a virtue. From the time we are young, we are praised for being productive. As The Economist put it in a December 2014 Christmas special article,

So if leisureliness was once a badge of honor among the well-off of the 19th century, in the words of Thorsten Veblen, an American economist at the time, then busyness—and even stressful feelings of time scarcity—has become that badge now. To be pressed for time has become a sign of prosperity, an indicator of social status, and one that most people are inclined to claim.

We feel so good when we are busy that we often equate rest with laziness. The idea of rest being unproductive couldn’t be further from the truth. One study by the University of York and University of Florida found that even though we spend the majority of our awake hours thinking and planning,

more than 40 percent of our creative ideas come during breaks, when we allow our minds to wander or turn off altogether.

Marilyn Paul, author of An Oasis in Time: How a Day of Rest Can Save Your Life, says,

When you take a day off, your brain calms down. Your body rests. You connect with those you love, and through that, you regain perspective and creativity. It’s like supercharging who you are through this brilliant idea of a day of rest each week.

While increased productivity is great, we need to remember that rest honors God. When we rest, we let go and trust Him to work. We cease our own striving to make things happen and rest in God’s grace. In doing so, we acknowledge that God is in control and we are not.

Be still and know that I am God.

How to Build in a Sabbath Day of Rest

So what does rest look like? Unfortunately, we often turn it into a stressor, adding one more thing on our to do list. In the Old Testament, God opens Genesis with the story of the creation of the world and the first people, Adam and Eve. Then it tells us God rested on the seventh day. God did not need to rest. He is God. It appears He included this in the text as an example for us. Then, when He gave the laws to the people of Israel through Moses, God commanded that His people rest on the Sabbath Day.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping 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 …

Here are some ideas for building more downtime, or even a Sabbath Day of rest, into your life:

Figure Out What Rejuvenates You

Sounds simple, but many of us do not have a clue. Soon after I heard those words, “You’re going to die,” I started going to a counselor. She asked me what I did for fun. I’m sure the crickets chirping on my end gave her an idea as to how much time I spent on fun. After that session, she asked me to come up with 15 to 20 things that made me smile.

“It can be as simple as taking a walk or a bubble bath, but it needs to be something you enjoy,” she said. Then she asked me to do one of those things every day. At the time, I thought she was asking a lot, but as I followed her instructions I felt more like myself again.

It may take time to sort out what works for you, and that’s okay. If you find yourself doing something to rest and it actually causes you to feel stressed, find another activity. I used to spend my downtime playing games on my phone but eventually realized that I rarely felt restored afterward. For me, time in nature seems to work best.

Try Something Different

Though I’m doing something active, an afternoon of kayaking on a beautiful lake makes me feel rested. I spend most of my time in front of a computer, so the change of pace provides rejuvenation for me. Perhaps you spend the week in a flurry of activity. If so, a Saturday movie marathon might work best for you. Better yet, ditch the screens and take a nap or read a good book.

Listen to Your Body

Your body may tell you that you need less activity in order to experience rejuvenation. You may need to lie down with comfy pillows and plush blankets, or sit quietly.

Plan Ahead for Rest in Your Calendar and Budget

Unless we make plans and budget for rest, it won’t happen. It’s too easy to fill our lives if we aren’t intentional about setting that time aside. Put your rest time on the calendar or block out the same day each week. Make it a priority. If you feel the urge to get back to work or get asked to do something that isn’t restorative, say no.

Make Your Sabbath Special

Treat yourself to good food. Laugh together with friends or family. Go for long walks. Put away electronics and spend extra time in worship, feeding your soul with praise music and prayer.

While I’ve come a long way in my self-care practices and resting, I still have a long way to go. My tendency is to think that the world will fall apart without me, rather than resting and letting go. How do you practice Sabbath time and keep it holy? I’ve found this article — which outlines a number of family Sabbath Day ideas — to be a great resource.

Jennie Owens
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Jennie Owens
Jennie Owens
Jennie Owens, M.A., Ed., is the author of Dancing with a Porcupine, where she shares with humor and raw honesty the compelling story of her struggle to save her own life while caring for three children she and her husband Lynn adopted from foster care. Jennie is the program director at Forever Homes, a nonprofit organization supporting foster and adoptive families. She leads retreats and provides training. She also does one-on-one coaching with parents through the counseling clinics she and her husband started. In order to build in more rest and relaxation, Jennie and her family sold their home last year and now lead a mobile lifestyle, traveling the United States and helping other families.

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