September 5, 2013

Sabbath Rest: Where Can I Get Me Some of That?

This is the second in a series of posts that you voted to hear more about from the 30 Things I Learned About God, Myself, and Ministry This Summer. The first, in case you missed it, is here: Ministry and Unhealthiness.

This summer awakened me to the level of overstimulation and exhaustion that I had come to associate with normal Christian living and ministry. Last year, together and separately, my husband and I were leading or responsible for countless areas within the church: preaching (him), counseling (him), hosting and teaching community group (both of us), heading up our women's ministry (me), discipleship training and facilitation (both of us), personal discipleship (both of us), hospitality (me), and all the leadership and vision-casting needed from the lead pastor that cannot possibly be listed here (him). And did I mention that we have three children? And that we do enjoy having a life outside of the church? And that I released my first book last year? I feel the need to take a nap after just writing all that, so no wonder I was tired living through it.
I don't list all those things as list of accomplishments so you'll think I'm superwoman. I list all those things because my husband and I are representative of most church planting couples out there who are working their tails off to get a church up and running, all the while raising kids and trying to maintain a healthy marriage. I list all those things to show that we are asked to give in almost every area of our lives. Where and when, then, do we receive?

God has actually commanded us to receive from Him. He puts forth this crazy idea in Scripture that we should stop working once a week and enjoy Him and the life He's given us. He calls this opportunity the Sabbath, and, as is normally the case when a command is involved, He doesn't intend for it to be optional.

But in our case, we thought of it as optional, or more accurately as impossible. How does a couple with so many responsibilities--especially if one person in the couple is a pastor leading a group of people with so many needs--reserve a period of time each week to stop giving and simply receive? We didn't not practice Sabbath, but they were half-hearted at best: we weren't purposeful with them, we often planned ministry events on our Sabbath, and we have young children, which needs no further explanation.

But this summer, within a few days of commencing sabbatical, we looked at each other and said, "We need to actually take this weekly Sabbath thing seriously." So we made a plan, because a Sabbath requires planning. And we committed to do it together, because a Sabbath for a couple requires the commitment of both parties. And then we were like, "How in the world are we going to make this happen?"

First, we asked each other this question: "What gives you emotional, physical, and spiritual rest?" For me, a few easy answers came: a book and a nap. But then I thought about how journaling, friendship, and time with my husband also feed my soul and awaken holy desires in my heart. After my husband answered, we talked about how a good Sabbath would incorporate these things, every single aspect of which, we discovered, had absolutely nothing to do with ministry.

Second, we discussed what hinders us from taking our Sabbath. For me, it's technology and feeling guilty when I rest. For him, it's difficult to unplug from ministry needs, whether on his phone or in his mind. Our conversation drifted toward this question: "What drains you of emotional, physical, and spiritual vitality?"Most of what has hindered us are the same things that drain us of vitality.

Honestly, we have reached a sweet spot in ministry and life that will allow us to practice a Sabbath as we've never practiced before. We're about to celebrate our fifth anniversary as a church, we just added a fourth elder on our leadership team at church, and our third son started kindergarten this year. We are at a place where tasks and ministries can be delegated and where my husband's day off can be taken while the kids are in school. BUT (and that's a big BUT (and that statement would have my three boys falling to the floor in fits of laughter)(where was I? oh yes))) BUT a Sabbath is a choice. We can make every excuse about why we can't do it, but God didn't say it was only for us in certain stages of life. He didn't say it had to be on Sunday or that everyone but the pastor and his family are allowed to rest. He offers us this gift of grace. Will we accept it or not?

That's exactly what my husband and I talked about. Because even with where we're at, there are still many responsibilities and burdens, and we could continue to allow ministry and life to encroach on time that is for rest and rest only. My husband could answer that phone call. I could say yes to a ministry appointment. We could waste our time and not actually rest. But it just comes down to this: will we accept God's gift of rest or not?

Practically, we planned and committed to this: Fridays (Kyle's day off) are for rest, marriage, and family. On Thursday night, we will devise a plan together depending on our individual needs for that week. The computer will not be a central part of my day (no blog posts on Fridays...I've moved them to Thursdays. Did you notice? Yeah, I didn't think so...). The phone is not a central part of Kyle's day. We'll read, exercise, and, most importantly, ask God, "What do you have for us to receive today?" And when our kids come home, Friday afternoons and evenings are family time.

If you don't currently practice a Sabbath, my question for you is this: Will you accept God's gift or not? If so, how will you do it? If you have small children, how can you and your friend or husband switch off so both of you can have a few hours of doing what feeds your soul and affections for Christ? If you are a pastor, are you teaching your congregation that you are or aren't available to them on your day off?

My second question is this: If you are unwilling to stop and rest and receive from the Lord, why? From personal experience, the answer to that question is extremely telling and leads right back to the idea that not only do I need to rest, but, for the health of my soul, I must.

I don't know your life circumstances. I don't know your stage of life or the demands on your time. I just know that no matter who you are, you are a limited person. You need rest. And God has created a way for you to receive what you need. Will you do it or not?

If you'd like to reflect further on rest, you may want to read all the things I recently learned about rest by practicing it. 

Now it's your turn! What is your life stage and how do you practice Sabbath rest within that life stage?