Stealing Back Sabbath Series: Sabbath Opportunities
Friends: It’s a honor to host our second writer of the “Stealing Back Sabbath” series, Kristen Vincent. Like Kate Rademacher’s call to Sabbath discipline, Kristen reminds us that Sabbath is a opportunity to be cherished, not a sentence to be endured. And, you might be surprised at what transpired to get Kristen to that realization. Read on, comment, share, and spread the love; I’m certain you’ll find her message inspiring.
Until recently, I resisted the Sabbath. It sounds funny to say, but there it is. I spent most of my adult life avoiding rest and relaxation. I preferred to be on the move, working, cleaning house, shopping, checking Facebook and/or email, etc.
My journey towards true Sabbath began in earnest July 2012 when I entered The Upper Room’s Academy for Spiritual Formation. For two years I left home every three months to head to a retreat center in Alabama. There, I joined fifty other people for five days to pray, worship, listen to lectures, meet in covenant groups, and spend several hours a day in silence. This was like Sabbath on steroids, and I fought it at every turn.
While others arrived early to the retreat center, I would show up at the last minute, breathless and stressed, a computer and piles of work under my arm. During the week, instead of praying or napping or walking the labyrinth, I would sit hunched over my laptop. The work could not wait, at least, that’s what I told myself. Then I would sit with my covenant group in the evening and complain about how stressed and overworked I was, unable to take full advantage of my time in the Academy.
After four sessions it dawned on me that I was sounding like a broken record. I also realized I was sabotaging myself. I had plenty of time to complete work projects before leaving for the Academy, assuming I didn’t waste time checking Facebook and shopping on Etsy. I tried it out and, sure enough, it worked. I was able to relax and be present for this incredible experience. Meanwhile, the earth did not come crashing down as I had feared.
That’s how I learned that Sabbath is a lot about trust. I was not keeping Sabbath because I thought it was up to me to fix and do and control everything. I didn’t trust God to keep things in place while I took time to play.
I also avoided Sabbath-keeping because it called me to stillness. That scared me. There was a reason I stayed plugged in and on call and full tilt: I didn’t want to face the fears or insecurities or whatever else might be laid bare in the calm and quiet. But as I gradually slowed down, I realized that no matter what, God was there. I could trust God both to keep the world turning and be with me in the stillness. My Sabbath observance improved, at least in relation to the Academy. I still hadn’t transferred the practice to my everyday life.
It was a concussion that brought Sabbath home for me. Two weeks after graduating from the Academy, I hit my head going down a waterside and ended up in the emergency room. For my mild concussion the doctor prescribed eight weeks of “cognitive rest.” My husband and I both used to work in the field of traumatic brain injury, so we knew that even a mild concussion could have major consequences. I took the doctor’s words seriously. Cognitive rest, he explained, involved lots of naps. It also meant no work, no reading, no television, no brain games (which I love), and above all, no electronics. I would have to give my beloved iPad and laptop a rest.
“What am I supposed to do, stare at the walls for eight weeks?” I complained to a friend after my first two days.
“Sounds like an opportunity to go sit outside and listen to the birds sing,” he answered.
Ah. Now I get it, I thought. Cognitive rest is Sabbath. Sabbath is cognitive rest. And physical rest, and emotional rest, and so on. It is our time to refresh ourselves so that when we return to work we can approach it with new energy and joy. And as my friend understood, Sabbath is – first and foremost – an opportunity. It isn’t a sentence to be endured. It is a gift from God, a chance to take a break from the hectic pace of our everyday lives, to play and chill out and reconnect with God, ourselves, and others.
I am completely recovered from the concussion. But the better news is that I now observe the Sabbath faithfully. Saturday is my Sabbath day. I sleep in, relax, have fun with my family, and do things I enjoy (but don’t have time to do during the work week): reading magazines, organizing photo albums, doing craft projects, etc. It is easy, joyful, healthy, refreshing. I look forward to it each week. And I see how it impacts other areas of my life. I am calmer. I stress out less. I am more productive. I have a greater sense of gratitude. Best of all, I see God everywhere. I see a God who is trustworthy, loving, glorious, and ever-present.
That’s the true gift of Sabbath.
Kristen Vincent is the owner and principal artisan of Prayerworks Studio, which specializes in making handcrafted prayer beads and other prayer tools. She speaks widely on prayer and prayer beads and enjoys leading retreats. She writes frequently for The Upper Room and is the author of A Bead and a Prayer: A Beginner’s Guide to Protestant Prayer Beads, published by Upper Room Books. She also maintains a blog at www.abeadnaprayer.com.