Sabbath as a healing practice

Like many people, our family used the pandemic as an opportunity to evaluate our lives, and we began to slow down. Our pace had already become too hectic with four daughters, careers, after school activities, etc. We could feel our lives getting away from us, but we didn’t know how to stop. And so, when the pandemic forced everyone to shut down activities, we were finally free to stop. And we haven’t returned to most of our lifestyle since. Instead, we’ve adopted a new one, with sabbath right at the center.

Sabbath keeping honors the sacred rhythm of work and rest, the delicate balance of being and doing, activism and surrender. We use it to also connect to gratitude and ground ourselves in our faith. While sabbath practice is a part of many faith traditions, including our own, I have to admit that we always saw it more as an outdated ritual, one with very little application for our present day lives. But we were reminded of the words of Jesus, the sabbath was made for you, not the other way around. So after reading Wayne Muller’s Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives, I knew that there had to be something more to this ancient wisdom. We wanted to know exactly, how could sabbath become a healing practice for our family, in the midst of a culture and lifestyle moving at a breakneck speed all the time?

We choose Saturdays because it seemed to be the easiest day of the week to start with for our family. We began by eliminating activities. It was easy enough to move the one extracurricular that we had reenrolled in (swimming), to Sunday afternoon. My favorite part of Saturday now is the fact that we rarely leave our house. It’s like one long vacation day (minus the busyness) each week.

We sleep in late, we eat a big brunch together, and we spend the day lounging around. In the middle of the day, I find my favorite spot upstairs by the window and stretch out on the couch soaking in all sunlight as I read or write. During warm months, we go for an afternoon bike ride. During the winter, like today, we go for a brisk walk with Coco. In the evenings, we relax perhaps around a fire, or a family movie. There’s no agenda. No plan. Just a day of letting go.

I was skeptical at first mostly about how we would make this work with young kids. I mean, seriously, what rest could we expect with little ones running around all day? As it turns out, one of the beauties of our sabbath practice is embracing nature. Since we built a fire pit we’ve had fires with s’mores, and enjoyed the outdoors as a family. Most importantly we send the girls outside on their own to play and discover the world around them. People are a bit surprised when I tell them that we send our kids out to freely roam the neighborhood, but we do and they love it. This gives them some freedom and provide us with the much needed hours of quiet time during the day to relax.

I guess what makes sabbath so healing for me, is that it’s a day when I don’t have to be responsible for answers or getting anything done. And for someone whose daily life requires getting things done, to have a break from doing to simply be, is like an exhale. No chores. No errands. No fires to put out. It’s not that the world stopped spinning and things happening, it’s just that for just this one day, I give myself permission to not care.

That’s where the true restorative power of sabbath lies, in taking a leave of absence from our cares. Because truly, though many of us have more than we need, what we’ve acquired requires so much of us to maintain. Our lives can become exhausting, if we let them. Sabbath is just one way to intentionally unwind from all of that. And bonus, it’s even more restorative when it’s there’s a shared element to your Sabbath experience.

Ruth Haley Barton writes in her book, Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest:

I have experienced rest that turns into delight, delight that turns into gratitude, and gratitude that turns into worship. I know what it is like to recover myself so completely, that I am able, by grace, to enter back into my work with a renewed sense of calling and presence.

She also writes that sabbath is a way of being in time that is open, receptive, restful, and replenishing.  I get to experience that with my sabbath practice. I’ve learned firsthand as Wayne Muller writes how, if we do not allow for a rhythm of rest in our overly busy lives, illness becomes our sabbath. Therefore, I am willing to be stopped.

We don’t always get it right, and even that is a journey. Granting myself permission to fail at trying to rest is a gift. My main sabbath practice is learning how to let things go. First things. Then worries. Next hustle and hurry. And finally control. Each week, it brings me closer to the peaceful posture I need to begin again.



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