When my children were growing up, Sundays seemed to be the busiest day of the week for me. My husband and I hustled three kids out of the house and into the family van to get to church on time. On most Sunday mornings, I taught an adult Sunday school class and sang in the chancel choir. On other Sundays, I also directed the children’s choir and handled worship council responsibilities.
Following the worship service, our family usually came home to a roast dinner that I had shoved into the oven before leaving for church. During football season, we kept one eye on the Dallas Cowboys schedule. When there was a noon kickoff, we ate quickly, not wanting to miss a Troy Aikman touchdown pass. Then it was back to church for Bible Bowl, UMYF snack suppers, youth choir, worship council meetings and Disciple Bible studies. By the time Sunday evening rolled around, I often fell into bed, grateful that the “sabbath” was over.
Please don’t misunderstand. Certainly, there were glorious holy moments sprinkled throughout those busy Sundays. It was not unusual for a favorite anthem to cause my eyes to flood with tears. There were times when a poignant Sunday school lesson or sermon prompted me to think more deeply about God’s love and grace. But an entire day devoted to God-centered rest and restoration? It just didn’t happen very often.
From that season of life, I learned that it is easy for sabbath to be swallowed up in the activity of Sunday. I also discovered that church activities are not the same as sabbath rest and renewal.
As our children grew up and moved away, my husband and I became empty-nesters. The busyness of raising a family dissipated, and my attention turned to the needs of my aging parents who were struggling with physical decline. We changed our Sunday routine so that I could maintain my daily caregiving schedule. In the midst of this challenging but holy season of life, I began to better understand and experience the real purpose and rhythm of sabbath.
Each morning after rush-hour traffic had slowed, I drove to my parents’ home. As I descended a hill and onto a 5-mile bridge that crossed a large lake, I began to talk aloud with God as if God was sitting in the passenger seat. Sometimes I sang along with my favorite hymns or praise music. On other days, I just soaked up the solitude. The first glimpse of the bridge became my reminder to open myself to the gift of sabbath.
I paid close attention to the colors of the lake and how the water reflected the ever-changing sky. I gave thanks for the geese flying overhead and the silent sailboats that somehow calmed my weary soul. Even as I was driving toward the unknowns of a new day, I became more God-centered and felt a sense of calm and renewal.
My parents have since passed away, and I am in yet another season that has its own distractions and activities. My calendar ebbs and flows with visits to see the grandkids, bucket-list travel plans with my husband, and speaking events around the globe. There are book deadlines and conference calls. But even as life spins, I am prompted to get in sync with God’s rhythm.
These days I keep sabbath in the solitude of a backyard retreat, a waterfall that splashes over large stones in a natural tangle of trees and shrubs. From the windows where I write and think, I can see and hear the waterfall. When I am tempted to overstuff my day with social media and 24-hour news, a glimpse of a red bird bathing in the waterfall brings me back to the rhythm of creation. I seek sabbath even as I travel. Sky. Water. Ebb. Flow. Work. Rest. Breathe in. Exhale.
The rhythm of sabbath makes me think of my friend, Lucimarian Roberts, mother of Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts. When I was on the Mississippi Gulf Coast working on Lucimarian’s memoir, My Story, My Song, the older woman introduced me to her own sabbath practice. Every afternoon she slid onto the bench of her baby grand piano and played hymns and spirituals that meant so much to her. “This is where I come to meet God,” she told me.
Last year I read a blog by Taylor Mertins, a United Methodist minister who wrote about a group of clergy having lunch together at their annual conference. One person asked the group to name something they’d like to change about their church if they could. According to the writer, there were answers about tithing, going on mission trips and serving the poor. But the last person to speak gave them pause. He simply said, “I would make everyone rest.”
Oh, how we need sweet sabbath rest.
Missy Buchanan writes about aging faithfully for Upper Room Books. Her newest release is Spirit Boosters for the Journey of Aging: 366 Devotions, a perpetual flip-book calendar.
Guest Series: What do you do, #ForSabbathsSake?
In A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles,” Marianne Williamson writes that “as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” I asked prominent authors, theologians, bloggers, and ministers to “let their own light shine,” by writing on the joys and challenges of sabbath practices. During this summer guest blog series, these writers will help us learn from one another, and, in turn, give us permission to explore our own sabbath journeys.
I want to hear from you, too!
Take a photo of yourself—or a selfie—while engaging in a sabbath practice (rest, worship, or a community gathering). Share the photo on social media and include #ForSabbathsSake in your post. Give yourself and others permission to enjoy the gift of sabbath.