Sunday, 29 April 2018

Five Things I Learned from Practising Sabbath

“You don’t understand!” was her first reaction. “I have so much work to do, I can’t simply decide not to work for an entire day!” I bit my tongue, controlling my urge to say, “This is exactly why we need to do this!” My teen’s response had confirmed that the decision we had made was much-needed if our family was to find its equilibrium.

This was back in the New Year, as we communicated with our kids that we had decided that practising Sabbath was no longer an optional extra for us. I’d been fighting it for a while, trying it out for a week here and a week there, although never really being consistent. But it was no use, all the signs were there that we needed this. And badly.

When I was a kid, Sundays had a character all their own. In the mornings we went to church, we often had people come home with us for the kind of lunch that was a lengthier affair than weekdays allowed. For one thing, there was always pudding! Later in the afternoon, we would head out for a long walk, shaking ourselves out of the sleepiness brought on by a heavy meal and constant conversation.

Sabbath-keeping seems like an old-fashioned idea now, perhaps. Why would we choose to shut off our devices, resist a trip to the store, slow down and enter into a different rhythm? What’s the point, when all around us the world continues turning at the same fast spin as any other day? In many places, the stores are open on Sunday as normal; my phone pings routinely with emails and WhatsApp messages that keep my mind whirling with tasks and responsibilities; and there are invariably tasks left to finish from an over-stuffed week. Sunday rarely feels like a day of rest anymore.

For me, it all came down to what kind of life I want for myself and my family. I want us to feel connected, to have quality time where we truly listen to one another, play and celebrate. I want us to learn how to give our attention to something without being pulled in a dozen different directions. I want us to have a memory bank of hours spent around a meal, talking, laughing and enjoying one another. I want us to share an awareness of the God who is with us, holding our hands through the seasons of life and teaching us how to be whole people. I want us to feel connected to a community that shares the same longing and desire for a life well-lived.

Spending the weekend at the mall, ferrying our kids from one activity to another, dropping in to church to make small talk, then catching up on work … it just wasn’t enough for me anymore.

To make this work for us, we decided to make our Sabbath run from Friday evening to Saturday evening. There is nothing Jewish about this, for us, it’s simply what works the best. We end the week a little thinned out and we all look forward to putting the busyness aside for Friday’s family night. It means Saturday evening is still available for un-Sabbathy things, if that’s necessary, and helps avoid that locked-in feeling of rules-based living. Mostly, it means that church-going isn’t part of our Sabbath (feel free to ask me about this!).

Here’s what I’ve learned during these few months of Sabbath-keeping:
  1. My soul is desperate for quiet and for rest; it drinks in great draughts of tranquility if I give it half a chance. Nurturing my soul in this way helps me to live the rest of the week from a deeper place.
  2. My false-self is absolutely duped into believing that I can do everything I set my mind to and, when I run into the wall of my own limitations, I drive myself to prove that this is true. Practising Sabbath reminds me on a regular basis that I was never meant to be self-sufficient; it reminds me that I need a Saviour and that He is glad to oblige. Sabbath is one way of writing this message into the hearts of my kids without preaching at them.
  3. Procreation does not a family make. Family is built through our day-in, day-out routines and rhythms; through the tidal swell of family traditions that move in and out; through conversation and connection and lots of cuddles. Sabbath has become a key connection point in the life of our family, an opportunity to make room for one another, to stop and notice important happenings between us, and to listen well.
  4. Celebration is far more important than we think. In a world that values things about people like their status or their salary, celebration around meals is more than an added extra. It becomes an opportunity to give value to the things that truly matter. Our Sabbath meals are a celebration of belonging, community, commitment and inclusion.
  5. We are anchored in our lives, not because of the place we live or the job title we have, but because of the truths we practice and through which we participate in a global family, past, present and future. Keeping Sabbath grounds us in this reality.

You know, people talk about spiritual practices as being channels of grace to us. I think this means that, even when we don’t fully understand the significance of doing a certain thing, when we practice it regularly it sort of does its work in us in a way that is larger than the practice itself. Sabbath-keeping has been like that for us, it has done more in us than I thought it would as just a ‘day off.’

Even our teenager has come to love it. And, as any parent would testify, there’s something truly miraculous about that!