It is exceedingly rare for me to have a Sabbath day off that involves any measurable length of time without the interruptions of other people, my own family included. Usually Sabbath involves spending unhurried time with my wife, while my kids are off at school... so to have a Sabbath day where my wife is off working, and my kids are off at school, and it’s just me at home, with the ability to turn off my phone and leave my computer turned off, and simply spend the day in silence... it was absolutely golden and precious, rare to the nth degree. This past week the stars aligned and God saw fit to provide me with just one of those days, which was really helpful in that it followed immediately after a grueling series of days full of unusually hectic activity surrounding our biggest community outreach event of the year: Halloween. So on November first, the feast of all saints, I slept in past noon, enjoyed a cup of coffee by myself as I read the Bible on my front porch, silently enjoying not being around people after a very peopley week full of strenuous labor. It was a Sabbath that I desperately needed and cherished.
The biggest temptation for me on a normal Sabbath day is that I would, after properly sleeping in and then having coffee, go out and attempt to get everything done in my personal life that I hadn’t been able to get done the rest of the week because ministry life requirements prevented me from doing so. The struggle is real. Because the list grows each week of everything in my personal life that I’ve not been able to take care of. Car repairs, cleaning & organization around the home. Writing for pleasure rather than for profession. We’re not even completely unpacked, after having moved here two years ago. Those boxes aren’t going to unpack themselves. But... I’ve been trying to choose rest over activity, relaxation and recuperation to take precedent over recreational pursuits, for my Sabbath days. A full day to be unhurried, to unwind and be quiet is healing medicine for a soul tasked with caring for the souls of others. Equally important for physical restoration of a body worked too often past the point where it’s probably healthy. And yet I’ve tempted nearly every week to ignore those needs for rest and keep on plugging away at my endless to-do lists and honey-do lists.
There are always temptations to fill that day with busyness even in relationship: the myriad important friendships that I want to invest time into, which don’t quite seem to sync up with the schedule of ministry work demands. It’s so hard to say no to someone from the church who wants to hang out and get coffee on my Sabbath day, because part of me really wants the casual relationship. But the reality is, if it’s someone from the church family, it’s not a casual meeting. It never is. It’s always some degree of counseling, theological introspection, thing that needs attention, practical event planning... so say no I must, in order to have a day of rest from that toil. I’ve gotten better at saying no, simply telling people that I’m all booked up on that day. Which is true. And other folks really don’t need to know exactly what’s booking up my day.
Napping. Jesus napped, so I take it that napping is a very good, healthy thing. I rather unapologetically enjoy napping on a Sabbath day. Perhaps it may sound like a dream day to a dog: sleeping in, having a meal, enjoying some quiet time with God, relaxing, going back to sleep. It was gloriously refreshing to me.
Another temptation on Sabbath which I often succumb to is to log onto social media on my tiny devices and mindlessly scroll through the feeds, sometimes reacting to the stories and thoughts shared by others, sometimes sharing bits of lighthearted humor or insight of my own. It’s an easy way to waste a lot of time. So is binge watching TV shows on Netflix, or going down endless rabbit trails of videos on YouTube. Ultimately the social media is not entirely relaxing, as it does have a tendency to engage the emotions, especially if one is weary to begin with, being more susceptible to react rather than respond.
However, I’ve found that some TV show binge watching can indeed be conducive to rest... when properly combined with a leather recliner and a soft blanket, a TV show that one has watched many times can become comforting background noise that provides a great environment for napping and rest. For this particular Sabbath, I chose not to turn on screens though, and instead immersed myself in some pleasure reading, catching up on number of chapters in a spy novel that has been collecting dust on my bedside table most of this semester.
I was even tempted to write a reflection paper on Sabbath during that time. Why not? I was just sitting there doing nothing productive. I could reflect on that while writing in the actual moment. However, I realized that once I opened a screen, I’d be too tempted to check email, do work related things... just that one quick thing that I could get out of the way, and then I’d be off mission from my goal for the day.
Intentional unproductiveness was the goal of the Sabbath day. Intending to do nothing but rest.
I set out to do nothing, and having accomplished nothing, found it was everything I hoped it could be.