Sabbath… A Key to Freedom

Categories leadership, life, Sustainability

When was the last time you turned it all off? I mean, literally turned every aspect of your work and accompanying technology completely off? 

Seems impossible? It’s no news flash to say we live in a 24x7x365 world. Whether talking about ministry or the marketplace, most people feel pressured to stay in touch and available almost every hour of every day. Socially imposed conventions blur the lines between your work life and your personal life. Any boundaries that exist are purely the result of stubborn personal courage.  And, full confession, my own pace has been too demanding to get this article finished and posted for a few weeks now. This conversation is no theoretical challenge.

Ask yourself a few revealing questions: Have you ever felt like your vacation is only a short term fix, never quite enough to fully re-charge your batteries? (Did you even take a real vacation from work in the past 12 months?) Do you check work-related email during a date night or family get away? Do you regularly check email, respond to text messages, or return phone calls during the weekend? Does the notion of a full day disconnected from work every week seem like an unrealistic pipe dream?

If you answer yes to any of the above, then this article is specifically for you.

I propose that the ancient command, “honor the Sabbath,” is God¡s provision for breaking the chains of cultural bondage to drivenness and overwork. As a matter of fact, I believe each of the Ten Commandments offer revolutionary strategies for freeing us from our cultural captivity in many forms. But, I’ll save the other nine for another day.

“Sabbath” is easy to understand. It literally means “cease.” “Rest.” “Stop.” “Take a break from your work—from your ministry if you’re a ministry leader.” Don’t over think this. It just means stop working, give it a break, and let your soul catch up with your body. The problem is everything about our modern way of life in this always-connected-world makes sabbath-keeping hard.

I have been thinking a lot about the importance of sabbath-keeping because I need it. It feels like my work is never finished. There is always more to be done. People I work with are scattered in different time zones across half the world. Sometimes I feel like I have to let work to blend over into evenings and weekends because, well, stuff just needs to get done.

However, I think God foresaw my wiring. Probably yours, too. He knew we would have a tendency to say, “just one more thing.” “I probably shouldn’t, but tonight—or this weekend—is an exception.” “My work, even the world, can’t possibly survive without my attention.” He knew our long term relational and personal health would benefit by turning it off for a little while every week. He knew we needed a forced discipline to loosen our death grip on the belief we are indispensable. He knew that the weekly choice of trusting him with our economic vibrancy is essential for sustaining the health of our souls.

The question then is, “how the heck do we pull it off now and then? Not to mention every week!”

  1. It starts in our heads. Start by telling yourself that one day out of seven is off limits to work. Unless you believe it yourself everything else is merely wishful thinking.
  2. I think the next step is to shut things down—Stop it! 
    • By shut down, I mean, shut down. Don’t check the technological conduits. Don’t open email. If you look at personal communication, don’t be seduced to “check work stuff,” just in case.
    • You might need to warn your colleagues of the new habit. Then stick to it. Their email will still be there in the morning. People need to see they are not an exception to your commitment to cease from all work.
    • Leave your laptop closed. Leave those file folders in your backpack. Leave those voice messages in your “inbox.” Need I go on?
  3. Now, deliberately fill the space you just created with life-giving and relationally meaningful activities. Do something with it.  Read a book. Go do something fun and adventurous with your kids. Go to the gym without a time pressure to get done and out of there quickly. Make an investment in yourself that feels luxurious.

My favorite image of a sabbath came from Pete Scazzero.  He likened it to a “snow day.” One of those days when the snow forces everything to shut down and everyone understands you will not be available. as a result, people play games, bake their family’s favorite meal, laugh, and in general shut out the outside world. (See, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.)

One day a week. Every week. From the beginning of creation.  The King of the Universe demonstrated and commanded that we shut it all down one day a week. I dare you to break the chains of bondage to our 24/7 addiction and choose a different way. Your soul will thank you. Years from now you will wonder how you ever managed to live another way.


2 thoughts on “Sabbath… A Key to Freedom

  1. Gary, we are in Antioch, CA and the grandkids & Grampa Joe are enjoying naps. I was enjoying a few email conversations and landed in the friend/fellowship zone of the Mayes Partners. Hm-
    While not a Sunday Sabbath, this family trip will be healthier as I sign-off! Thank you Lord for the gift of your example and Gary’s obedience to share & lead.
    Hugs to you and Margaret.
    Grama Lisa Banning

    1. Hey I think Naps can be profoundly spiritual–sometimes even sacred. We probably need more of them.

      Plus, so fun to have you engage with a comment. Hugs back at you!

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