“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with Me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Matthew 11:28-30, MSG
Every January bears a welcome amount of white space. The clutter and craziness of Christmas are neatly tucked away, and I can once again see the bones of my life. As the stillness settles like snow—during nap time, of course—my soul begins reorienting itself back toward sabbath. It’s one of my favorite topics, one that I’ve touched on previously, addressing both the why and the how of this beautiful command from a loving Father.
Lately, though, my affection for sabbath has deepened, intensified. At times it’s been my lifeline to sanity. (If I sound overly dramatic here, you’ve clearly never experienced new motherhood in a pandemic with a chronically diseased baby as a melancholy introvert with erratic hormones, high sensitivity, sleep deprivation, and your entire support system half a country away. Mercy.) No matter how much the pressure mounted, I knew I could depend on our family rhythm of one day off per week.
It’s not surprising that stress has massively increased over the last two years. Between cultural upheaval, political unrest, and the far-reaching effects of COVID, America is currently a raw ball of nerves. Our chorus has become a cacophony of tension, anxiety, depression, insomnia, angst. You might assume that this is the least ideal environment in which to practice sabbath, that implementing a regular pause is only practical when life is humming along without too many problems… but you’d be wrong. Sabbath shines brightest in the darkest seasons.
So how do we move from stressed to rest when we don’t know what to expect? We’ve all had our fair share of soul care emergencies—those times we desperately need something simple and life-giving in a tempestuous world. If the bottom fell out tomorrow, would you be ready for sabbath at a moment’s notice? Here are a few tips I’ve gathered along the way about how to prepare in advance.
- Plan easy meals. Unless you’re among the blessed number of individuals who find cooking a soothing activity, premade is your friend. Break out the Crock-Pot, assemble fruits and cheeses and crackers, or choose your favorite takeout. Honestly, even Lunchables pass muster. Do whatever works for your family to make your plate a little lighter. (Yeah. I said it.)
- Keep one area clean. Pick your “selah space,” preferably in a low-traffic nook with a comfy chair and good lighting, and remove anything that will distract you from peaceful stillness. Pay attention to eliminating harsh smells, sounds, textures—it all matters. Then add a few comforting touches: a soft blanket, a scented candle, a bouquet of fresh flowers or foliage, twinkle lights. If you only have a short time to catch your breath, you won’t want to spend it creating a nice atmosphere that could have been waiting for you.*
- Lay some groundwork for a self-regulating house. Communicate your sabbath plan to your family and enlist their help in two departments: messes and conflict. Nothing frays a peaceful mood like returning to find your home in mayhem. (Have lots of grace on this one—the “as much as possible” rule is gold here!)
- Have your favorite outfit ready. Whether pretty pajamas or your cutest going-out ensemble most suits your purpose, you’ll face one less decision in the moment.
- Choose a meaningful prayer or song to mark the beginning of your time apart. Eventually, that song will inspire joy purely by association, moving your heart from panic to peace. (I personally start with Not in a Hurry by Will Reagan and United Pursuit.)
- Refresh your bedding. If “tired” is your consistent answer about how you’re doing, sleep will probably need to be part of your emergency plan. Sometimes the holiest thing you can do is take a nap, and clean sheets are especially inviting.
- Stock a sabbath basket. This might be an assortment of tangible goods (a journal, your Bible, a fun book, fancy treats, lotion, etc.) or a digital collection (favorite playlists, a sweet photo, YouTube ambiences, a note-taking app, Kindle books, etc.). Include whatever helps you relax, and keep the basket handy.
No matter how long or dark the night, Jesus never leaves. Sabbath is His compassionate hand extended to you in your weariest places. Take it.
*I realize that this might sound a bit fluffy, like, “Hey, if your world falls apart, just turn on some twinkle lights, and everything will be magical!” That’s obviously not how it works. But there is something deep and redemptive about fighting back the brokenness that looms during times of trial rather than just wallowing in it. Think of this as positive emotional warfare. Preparing a space where we can experience beauty and peace—tiny echoes of God Himself, the One who holds us in our chaos—is one small way we do battle. We’re reflecting His heart toward us in a physical environment, however limited it may be, and pointing our souls toward their ultimate destination: a forever-sabbath in glory.