5 Points on Practicing A Sabbath Day
I think the single greatest challenge when building a sabbath day into my schedule is the immediately obvious fact that I now have six days to accomplish what I would normally do in seven. I was surprised at how significant of a change that was to how I need to organize/manage my time. Simply blocking that day (typically Sunday) out on my google calendar affected everything from how/when I will get x,y,z tasks (or chores) done to forcing me to be more intentional with the time I have with my wife, roommates, co-workers and new people that have come into my life. I became keenly aware about how much time I actually waste in my day. Or, perhaps more charitably, as the time I had in the week became less it became more valuable to me and I constantly caught myself doing meaningless (to me) things with that time (ie. taking hours to configure my new phone until it was “just right”). The last “lesson” that I’ve “learned” from having only six days to work was the importance of both silence/listening to the other and minimize the amount of conversation about nothing in particular. Small talk is nice from time to time but its easy to stay in the safer waters in our relationships than it is to have intentional conversations about the hard stuff. I put “learned” in quotes here because ther isn’t a point of arrival on this. Living in community – not too unlike marriage here – is an ongoing process of learning how to swim in the deeper waters.
If anyone out there in the internet is reading this and thinking about how nice it would be to build a sabbath day into their schedule I suggest these five starting points….
1. Be legalistic about it. Seriously, decide when your Sabbath day is going to be and protect those boundaries. I promise you, as soon as you write it into your calendar there will be something or someone that will (unknowingly) try to stake a claim on that time.
2. To contradict #1 - make your stand with careful discernment by remembering Jesus’ words on the subject. Most problems that come up can wait 24 hours but they all need to be considered before making that call. There are legitimate emergencies that will need your time and attention. In a different, but apropos, vein – on a couple of occasions I found that I didn’t manage my time well that week and I needed to take a couple of hours on Sunday to do what I told someone I would have done by that Friday. It’s not fair to pull the Sabbath Card if you were irresponsible during the other six days.
3. Plan ahead on what you’re going to do that day. Recalling the nature of the Sabbath from my last post, the purpose of the Sabbath is further become the people we are called to be by setting aside this time to intentionally do those things that give us life. Theologically, the things that allow us to participate with the trinitarian communion of God. For me that means reading/writing, watching a movie with Amanda, hanging out at this coffee shop or even taking a nap. For my roommates it means going on a 25 mile bicycle ride with some friends. Whatever those things are – and typically they are the things you always wish you could get to but “just don’t have the time” – intentionally plan when and how you are going to do those things during that day. Don’t just wing it.
4. Change the way you might think about a Sabbath Day. It’s easy to write this time off as a luxury (and perhaps it is) and you just don’t budget for in our schedules. One, time isn’t a currency (something to be spent) or a commodity (something with a price tag). Time is a dimension to inhabit and how we organize our time determines our priorities. The most tangible example in this city is how our calendars evolve around Mardi Gras while other financial capitals (perhaps New York? I don’t know a good analogy) are keenly aware of financial quarters and fiscal years. As a kid my entire year was determined by my school’s calendar and my “job” was to get an education. What would our lives be like if we inhabited our time for the purpose of becoming the people God has called us to become?
The other paradigm I needed to shift from was thinking about the Sabbath as less of a luxury and more as preventative maintenance. As I mentioned earlier. I thought I was depressed, really depressed. A few days after I wrote my last post I went up to the Abbey for give days of performing the Mass, silence and working on my thesis. I arrived and slept for the first two and a half days (with the exception of Mass and meals). When I woke up the fog was gone and I felt refreshed. It turned out that I was just exhausted. It was a sort of tired that seeped into my bones and I knew I was flirting with burnout. Intentionally creating times for rest in my week makes me less tired in the week. Not that there aren’t any long weeks but the ways my soul is revitalized during the Sabbath has created a more sustainable rhythm of life. It also makes going on retreats more fruitful as I am not going to have to sleep for the first few days to just “catch up”. Finally, Sabbath isn’t going to be effective if it’s something you do only when you have the time for. It is a way of life, a habit to create by intentionally making the same choice to rest over and over again. You will only have the time when you make it.
5. The same rules apply for any new habit you aquire. If you don’t take that day for one, two or three weeks make the decision to start all over again. Taking a Sabbath once a month in better than not at all. The task is building consistency so set realistic goals and go from there.