We have struggled in our attempt to observe Sabbath as a family. At times, it has been difficult to stop just because the calendar says it is Sunday—the mountain of work looms, the interferences are many. Then when we first tried to truly carve out time to rest, it was hard to know what actually we should do with the time. Jean Vanier writes in The Broken Body, “Rest, relaxation and discipline are important. I am surprised, at L’Arche and elsewhere, that many people do not know how to rest. They are like rolling locomotives, fuelled by anguish, and perhaps by the fear of stopping. And when they do stop, it is just to sleep more or to potter around, not knowing what to do. Each one of us must find our own secret rhythm of how to rest, relax and find re-creation, for each one of our bodies is different…This is all the more important for those of us who are called to live with much tension and to carry great stress. This tension and stress that we experience as we live with wounded people can prevent growth and stimulate anger and exhaustion…” (p. 120).
By seeing Sabbath as a practice has helped us begin asking the right questions about what to do and how to go to learn how to enter into God’s rest for our souls. For us, we begin on Saturday night with a special meal, Scripture and prayer. As we light a candle it is a signal, the time for rest is now, the time for delight is here. We quiet ourselves and hear from God’s Word, the passage for the Sunday sermon. We then are more prepared as we go on Sunday to worship at our church, entering into a beautiful rhythm of prayer, praise, confession, teaching, and feasting. Then home for a family meal, sometimes with friends, sometimes just our family. Especially since we have little ones, we then find a period for napping or resting with music or a book is restorative. Back when we watched television we began to realize that for us we were not restored or uplifted after watching and we turned it off on Sundays during our Sabbath. We like to go on walks when the weather permits…or find other activities which will help the children to play quietly or have family time with a game or a favorite read-aloud. And then with our Sunday dinner meal, our Sabbath is over which gives us time to clean-up and prepare for the week ahead which becomes much different in light of a Sabbath rest. It is just what our family needs, but perhaps yours might look quite different.
But as we attempted Sabbath a new problem arose, in deciding that the Lord’s Day should be a place for restoration, other areas begin to suffer. At first resting on Sunday meant an overwhelming Monday, so much laundry, dishes, and dirt it was hard to begin again. I then began to prepare more on Saturday but then this became a crazy day of preparing meals, cleaning, running errands so that we all collapsed on Sunday and found it hard to enter into an attitude of worship and delight.
This is where Norman Wirzba’s explanation of Sabbathobservance is helpful:
“…we have grown used to thinking of Sabbath observance as an add-on to the end of a busy week. Sabbath is a time for us to relax and let down our guard, to pause from the often anxious and competitive patterns of daily life. This is not what the Jews, those who first gave us the teaching about Sabbath, thought. In their view, Sabbath observance is what we work toward. As our most important and all-encompassing goal, it frames and contextualizes our planning, much as the desire to achieve a specific objective—a championship, a masterful performance, an exquisite meal or party—will require that we take the proper steps all along the way. Sabbath frames our entire life, helping us set priorities and determine which of our activities bring honor to God." (p. 22-23).
That is how an understanding of Sabbath became more and more life-shaping,changing our habits and sensibilities of what our work each day should look like. Why are we so exhausted by Sunday? What is my house such a mess? Why can’t I let go of the anxieties of my week? Why am I so drawn to escape during this time rather than experience true quiet and rest? How can I, in this present season of my life, deadlines from work nearing, or the parent of young children with constant demands, or requirements of serving in a particular ministry on Sunday, or…
And that is again where Vanier is so helpful,
We must learn
not just to free ourselves from tension and fatigue
on the Sabbath day, our day of rest.
We must also learn
as the mother must learn
in front of the never-ending needs of her children,
how to respect our energy
and relax in all the moments of our day
filled as they may be with arduous work
or often tiresome meetings,
and crises of all sorts,
and the hundred and one things-that have-to-be-done.
To do this we must discover how to harmonize
the active and the passive in us.
If we are just doers,
feeling terribly responsible and serious,
we will crack up one day.
We must nourish the passive part of us,
our hearts made for personal love,
learning to listen to others,
to marvel at nature,
to rest a moment in the presence of Jesus,
to receive the love of those around us
and be nourished by their trust,
enjoying the little things of each day,
not taking ourselves too seriously,
accepting to become like little children. (p. 121)