How to Balance Your Life: Keep the Sabbath

How honoring God's commandment and keeping the Sabbath can bring peace to your busy life. 

- Posted on Feb 26, 2015

A woman standing in a field worships

How many times a day do you catch yourself stumbling over the “B” word? (No, not that one.) 

When someone asks, “How are you?” we often reply, “Busy!”  In today’s always-on, multi-tasking 24/7 world, we wear our “busyness” almost like a badge of honor. A dozen years ago, I stumbled into the cure for busyness.  It’s been the single best thing I’ve ever done for my marriage, my children, and my relationship with the Lord. The answer is as old as Moses and as relevant as today’s headlines: remember the Sabbath.

A recent poll of two thousand pastors in North Carolina revealed that less than ten percent are keeping a regular Sabbath.

In 2001, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I wasn’t a good candidate for chemo. I took tamoxifen instead and gave my trouble to God—just as Dr. Peale suggested in his book, "Thought Conditioners". Since then I’ve remained cancer free. -Guideposts Magazine reader

For those of us who believe in the Creator, the Ten Commandments are gifts from the very hand of God. The first three commandments are about our relationship with the Lord. The last six are about our relationship with humanity. The fourth commandment is a bridge: it connects heaven and earth, God and people. Once a week, God walks out on the Sabbath bridge to meet us. But most of us are no-shows; we unapologetically stand up the Creator of the universe, week after week.

Our generation is the first in two thousand years of church history that is on the go 24/7.  But this experiment in Sabbath-less living is taking a huge toll.  It’s called time debt.  We overcommit.  We multi-task. We stay so busy we don’t have enough time for relationships with family and friends, let alone God.

Here are five ways that will help you give up busyness and adopt the Sabbath rhythms of work and rest:

1) Block off Sabbath time on your calendar.

Here’s a simple truth: It won’t happen unless you schedule it. For most people, Sabbath is celebrated on Sunday. For church leaders, hospital workers, and people who provide emergency services, Sabbath might have to be moved to another day of the week. Because our ministry requires frequent travel, I use Google calendar to schedule our Sabbaths at least four months in advance. This lets our staff know when we will be offline and allows them to plan accordingly.

2) Prepare joyfully.

In today’s 24/7 world, Sabbath-keeping doesn’t just happen by default.  If you long to lay down your heavy burdens, you’ll need to be more intentional about your time the other six days of the week. On Sabbath eve, I clean out my email in-box, finish chores, and run errands with an almost giddy joy. I also plan ahead for holy fun, seeking out new places for a hike or picking out a book to read aloud with my husband.

3) Figure out what “work” is for you.

Scholars have argued for centuries about how to define rest. Here’s a simple definition: decide what work is for you and don’t do it on your Sabbath. For people engaged in sedentary work during the week, puttering around in the garden on the Sabbath might be restful. For people who do manual labor, holy rest might mean taking a nap.

4) Pray and play.

Eugene Peterson, one of my theological heroes and author of The Message, once said that there are only two rules for Sabbath: play and pray. My family and I have been keeping the Sabbath for the past dozen years, and all I can say is “Amen!”  Now grown, our kids kept the Sabbath throughout high school, college, medical school, and now residency. The Sabbath gave them something almost none of their peers had, even while attending a Christian college: a day off.  No homework, no chores, no shopping—just time with family, friends, and God.

5) Find a Sabbath buddy.

My husband I run a nonprofit together. We both have workaholic tendencies. We both love our work. This is a dangerous combination. Yet no matter what deadlines are looming, my husband and I do not work on the Sabbath. When one of us begins to “talk shop,” we gently remind each other to give it a rest. Sabbath is best practiced in community. So find a Sabbath buddy. Help each other to create a Sabbath plan: what you’ll need to do to get ready, how you’ll celebrate, and what you’ll avoid on your day of rest. Then check in and encourage each other.

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