By Malinda Fuller, Crosswalk.com
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." Exodus 20:8 NKJV
Sabbath. It was the fifth in a list of 10 rules carved into a rock by the hand of God. The command was to “remember it,” and until recently, what many translated that to mean was, “go to church on Sunday.” There wasn’t a sustaining from any other weekly activities, and there wasn’t a focus on anything soul-nurturing beyond the one-hour service guaranteed to make you feel good and send you on your way.
But lately this Old Testament word has been making a come-back. And not just because “self-care” seems to be the hip thing, but because the heart of command has been dusted off by scholars, teachers, and writers who have wooed us with their crafty words back to a place of remembrance.
We now know that Sabbath is as much as what we abstain from (work) as what we run towards (rest and relationships). It’s more than “not going into the office,” in our culture where we plug in and log on and continue with our workdays long after we punch out. It’s less about where we go on Sunday morning and more about the rhythm and rest of the day. It’s as much about what you’re not doing as it is what you are doing.
Before you read any further, know this— Sabbath is an intentional practice, and without preparing for it, you won’t be successful. It probably requires that you start thinking about it the day before. Do what you can to prepare in advance so that you spend your Sabbath day in a slower-paced rhythm. If you’re ready for some simple ideas on how to practice, we’ve compiled ten for you:
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1. Pray and Worship
For many of you, this looks like a time of corporate worship and teaching at your local church. It’s probably what you already associate the Sabbath with, and is already part of your weekly routine. Rather than it being the part of our day that points us back to God, it tends to become an item on the checklist, not the focal point of the day (example: get into a fight with spouse on the way to church, check. Endure sermon, check. Go out for over-priced family lunch, check. Finally get comfortable in front of the TV for the afternoon, check).
The point of Sabbath is to redirect our focus towards God, to find ways to connect with Him, to hear from Him, to refresh our souls. So, rather than segregating that connection time to only one hour on the Sabbath, what would it look like to find three, four, or more moments in the day to talk to Him, or worship privately?
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2. Eat with Purpose
Imagine what the first Sabbath looked like: Adam in the Garden, hanging out and enjoying a meal with God. There wasn’t fast food on the menu; they didn’t scrounge for just anything. The meal wasn’t rushed, more than likely, it was like a Europeans supper— slow and relaxed, with well-thought-out courses and superb ingredients.
Now, you may have toddlers at home who appreciate nothing if it isn’t smothered in cheese, or in the shape of an animal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find creative ways to enjoy a meal. Picnics in the living room, dining outdoors, pulling out the fancy dishes, or serving a themed dinner can change things up. There are options for every budget, age and season of life. It doesn’t require French cuisine, but it will require forethought and effort. Food should be enjoyed, not just the fuel that we shove into our body as we are en route from one activity to the next. There are six days for that, but on the Sabbath, we can do better.
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3. Turn Off the Screens
This is probably most important in regard to our addictions to our smartphones and less to do with the family movie that you enjoy on Sunday evenings. Turning off the phones (or leaving them on but put away) may be harder for some families than others-- abstaining from all forms of technology may seem like a battle that isn’t worth fighting if you have a teenager in the house. If picking up your phone means that you'll check email, get sucked into work mode, or mindlessly scroll social media for an hour, then perhaps it's worth trying. To repeat the sentiment from above: "there are six days for this; surely we can do something different on the Sabbath."
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4. Choose Your Company Wisely
For some families, the idea of "Sunday dinner”— a large table heaped with home-cooked food and the extended family circling the table is neither a reality nor a hope. For others of you, this is the dream. If your family brings you joy, then go for it. If you have friends that are closer than family who you can cook with, spend time with, and leave feeling refueled instead of depleted, then you’ve found your “Sabbath people.”
For others, the day is best spent without opening your doors to others. A morning hike, an afternoon nap, and a leisurely meal in the evening is the perfect way to spend the day.
For many families who live far away from relatives, Sabbath becomes the day of the weekly phone call or FaceTime conversation. It is the time to catch up with parents and grandparents, to share the highs and lows of the week. Just remember there is only room for those who promote peace and offer your spirit rest.
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5. Sleep Well
If possible, try to wake up when your body naturally wants to. If that isn’t possible, maybe an afternoon nap is an option. Depending on your season of life (or how full your house is) it may be easier to go to bed earlier the night before your Sabbath begins (which is the Jewish tradition—evening to evening) or to retire early instead of staying up late.
If none of these seem feasible, then perhaps you'll appreciate a written pass to lounge. Stay in comfy clothes, let the dishes pile in the sink, allow yourself to enjoy a movie or game night, or music and reading as a family. Rest looks different for everyone; figure out what works for you.
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6. Get Outside
This is one of the quickest ways to reset our minds and souls. Scientists tell us that getting outside for even fifteen minutes a day will make us a happier person and it's no wonder – getting into nature gets us closer to the Creator Himself. Note: this shouldn’t be a strenuous activity. It’s not the day to push yourself on a strenuous hike or run, but the day to go slow. Run if it makes you alive but walk if you prefer. Get onto the water if possible. Find a view that takes your breath away and enjoy a meal there if you're able. Sip your coffee on the deck, or watch the sun slip into the horizon in the evening. Pick your favorite way to get outdoors, fill your lungs with fresh air and watch your energy and happiness peak.
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7. Avoid Work
This is the part of the commandment that we tend to skim over — “you have six days to do your work, but the seventh is set aside as holy.” We tend to forget that many parts of our lives can be categorized as “work.” For stay-at-home or work-at-home parents, this is most difficult for you because your entire day is spent working— prepping meals and then cleaning them up. Doing laundry, picking up rooms, changing diapers, cleaning the house. It can feel never-ending. And on the Sabbath, your family still needs to eat, and the children still need your attention, so cut yourself some slack.
Purchase ingredients or a meal in advance that requires minimal preparation. Maintain one room instead of the whole house. Get your shopping done before your Sabbath begins. Don’t run errands. If you’re a parent, forget number four: put a movie on for your children and enjoy some quiet time for you and your spouse, or each of you takes a shift so that the other one can read, take a nap, or get outside.
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The obvious choice that we go to is "the Bible,” but it can be anything else, as long as it’s a title that fuels you. Read aloud as a family, or start an afternoon quiet hour where each member of the family reads independently. Maybe it's using the time in the evening (because you aren’t tuning in to your latest Netflix obsession) or making the early morning your time to soak deep into some pages. Find some time to sharpen and refresh your mind with a book that brings our attention (our worship) to God.
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9. Extend Grace
You can be the best planner on the planet, and still, there may need to be some modifications. You may try something only for it to fail, or you may have to give up something that has been working to embrace a new season of life. This is especially important if you're a parent of littles or a single parent. There is still much work to be done with little people at home. Do your best. Rather than trying to apply all of these ideas, pick one. Maybe it’s an evening bubble bath while you read a good book, or “family nap time” after lunch. Perhaps it’s an evening walk in your neighborhood or biking to the park. Everything can be customized based on your income and season of life.
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10. Be Flexible
If your schedule rotates, so should your day of rest. If you work at a church, Sunday will never be your Sabbath. If you’ve chosen to be family that lives at the sports complex on weekends, then you’ll have to get creative about what your Sabbath looks like. Just be careful— it is something God asks us to do, regardless of what else is happening in our lives. It wasn’t a command that He only gave to some of the Israelites— to those without children or those who served the people (Levites); it was for everyone.
Sabbath was created for rest-- for worship and connection with God first and with others second. When observing it becomes another list of things to do, or not do, we’ve made it a religious event instead of a relationship-focused practice. It’s much better when we choose to make it the latter.
Malinda is passionate about seeing families thrive, and individuals grow in their love for Jesus. She is a bold writer and speaker, as well as a proud homeschooling mom to two spirited girls. Malinda had her husband Alex currently serve their local church where they reside in Northern California, and she is excited for her first book, Obedience Over Hustle, to release next year. You can connect with Malinda on her website on through Instagram.
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