Each week from Friday evening to Saturday evening my family observes a Sabbath. I try my best to have everything ready for church before Friday afternoon (though I’m not always successful). This means my sermon and anything else for Sunday morning worship. That frees me to take the next day to sleep in, read, listen to a podcast or two, play games with my family, go for a walk with my wife, watch a little bit of TV, and, hopefully, enjoy some of the special dessert left over from Friday evening.
Our Sabbath begins with a sit down meal that includes special prayers, Scripture readings, the lighting of candles, the singing of the Shema (based on Deuteronomy 6:4), reciting The Apostles’ Creed, the sharing of the bread and cup (an at home family version of Communion), and, of course, food. Usually, it’s the only night of the week we have dessert. It’s also one of the only evenings when there are no other obligations other than being together as a family. We rarely make plans on Friday evenings that involve us leaving home, especially if it’s somehow work related. My wife and I guard this sacred time jealously.
Speaking for myself, I have come to the place where I need Sabbath. It’s a time to exhale. It’s a time simply to be rather than do. It’s an admittance that life is not within my control. It’s an act of trust in God’s sovereign care. It’s both relinquishment and recuperation. On the rare occasions when it’s interrupted, my soul notices. Indeed, it lends a profound rhythm to my week. When a week is especially draining or difficult, I know that Friday is coming. Respite is on its way. Knowing that Friday evening is not like every other evening is a gift, one that I have learned to savour.
Now, if I’m honest, I’d also have to admit that our Sabbath often doesn’t feel long enough. There are weeks when Saturday evening arrives and I’m just beginning to find myself again. I’ve only begun to rest. Selfishly, I want more time.
You don’t have to be running or driving around doing a million things to feel weary these days. Much of our world is wearying. I don’t mean physically wearying. No, I mean emotionally, mentally, and spiritually wearying. I mean the kind of weariness that can penetrate our hearts and lead to discouragement and depression.
Over the last couple of years most of us, even if we haven’t been directly touched by the COVID virus, have been profoundly impacted by everything COVID. Fear, anger, exhaustion, anxiety, grief—all are symptomatic of our current culture. Our world is weary, dispirited, frustrated, and fed up. Often we’re fed up with other people because they see matters differently. Public discourse is often lacking civility. Those with opposing views never seem to have respectful dialogue.
Never mind the fact that many people live overextended, busy, distracted lives. We increasingly lack the capacity for reflection and self-awareness. Slowing down and being quiet isn’t an option, or at least not one we appear willing to consider. We should be asking ourselves: what kind of lives do we want? What actually helps me live into the world, to be genuinely present where I am? How can we gain honest perspective on our priorities and assess our values?
I think we need spiritual anchors, practices that orient us. We need to structure our lives as much as we’re able around what matters most to us. We need to build into our weekly routines activities and rituals that help us contextualize our everyday experiences within a larger framework of meaning. I’m not saying this is easy to do. It might very well mean saying no and disappointing other people who have expectations of us. But I am saying that it’s essential. I’m saying it’s one of the ways our souls can remain tethered to the reality of God and his purposes for us and the world. Otherwise, we’ll be tossed to and fro by the urgency of the immediate and find ourselves adopting the priorities of our surrounding culture.
Sabbath is part of what does that for me and my family. It’s a small but life-giving act of rebellion against a consumerist, media-driven culture. Even if I stop, life continues. Things don’t come apart at the seams. God remains in control. In the meantime, I’m freed from the life-sapping illusion that I have to get everything done and that it’s all up to me. Nothing is more wearying than feeling like you just can’t let go. Nothing is more life-giving than letting go knowing that God has everything well in hand. In a world that is weary and wearying, that’s the truth that allows me to experience the rest I badly need.