“I’m prescribing rest for you.”
Words I never would have expected to hear from my Doctor had me fighting tears in the examining room. I’m not sick, in fact my health is stellar with low blood pressure, no abnormalities in this pregnancy, and minimal discomfort at this phase. But I think she could tell from our conversation that I was tired and possibly trying to do too much.
Rest doesn’t come easily to me. “There will always be something else that needs to be done,” were her words to me that day and that has always been the battle in my mind when I try to take a few moments to sit still. If I can just finish this task, or get started on this project, then I can rest and celebrate it more fully knowing all that was accomplished.
What my Doctor doesn’t know is that rest was a recurring theme in my soul during 2017. And as much as I have tried to instill some practices in my life to experience true rest, it’s almost as if I needed a professional to give me permission to enter into it on a daily basis. We’re stubborn like that sometimes, right? We know what’s profitable, we understand the benefits, but actually following through with those areas in life that don’t come naturally to us are challenging.
In the fall of 2016, I read a book titled Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World, by Shelly Miller. She expounds on the Sabbath, encouraging believers to rethink the way God designed an entire day of rest for his people. We attended church and required naps for the kids on Sundays, but it had been a long time since I had thought through all of the aspects of what makes a day restful for our family, and for me.
When I was in college, our school helped to facilitate a practice of Sabbath by shutting classes down on Mondays. The caveat: no homework was allowed on Sunday. This enabled involvement in a local church without the pressures of studying, and the heart behind this system was for us to treat Sundays as a holy day of the week. The cafeteria slowed down, the library was closed, and we were encouraged to find ways to worship, rest, and serve. I loved this. Of course it meant that every weekend was a three-day weekend, which for a college student is pretty amazing. But it also instilled in me a desire and enjoyment of setting aside one day out of my week to reorient my heart.
Once I graduated from college, this practice ceased. It was easy to slip back into the regular rhythms of treating every day the same, participating in the same activities and practices; there was nothing sacred or different about the way I viewed Sunday. And Saturdays were just an additional day off. No work, no deadlines. Just a day to do whatever we wanted, have fun, relax, and maybe catch up on sleep.
Weekends changed once children entered the scene, and what had felt like two days off suddenly became a battle between my desire for relaxation and the demands of caring for children, entertaining children, and settling disputes among children.
Saturdays and Sundays were my least favorite days of the week. I would both long for Mondays, particularly when the children became old enough to attend school, but also dread all the catching up I would need to do. Monday felt like part vacation and part working overtime.
When I began reading Shelly’s book, I found myself longing for the kind of rest that she described. But I wasn’t sure how to make it happen. There’s too much to do, too many needs to meet, and too many people to care for. How could I possibly create space for an entire day of rest? And what would that practically look like?
The more I evaluated my heart in the matter of rest, it became obvious that my perspective was wrong. I had been attempting to make the Sabbath into two days.
Scripture sets apart one day as a day of rest, but for years, I had been operating under the assumption that the entire weekend was a break, a rest from work. In some ways, yes, it is: we didn’t have to show up to our paid jobs. However, spreading out into two days what God intended for one was only breeding frustration, discontentment, and the opposite of true rest.
When I shifted my thinking, life changed drastically. I was suddenly able to embrace a one-day-a-week-Sabbath that became restful and sacred.
2017 became the year we began practicing Sabbath, and it was truly wonderful.
We’ve learned what works for our family to find rest, we’ve seen benefits from practicing a day of rest, and we look forward to the rhythms that we’ve set in place during this season of life for our family.
Sundays happen to be the best day for us to set aside, but the principles, practices and benefits that I’ve learned would apply to any day that becomes your ‘day of rest’.
1. Treat Saturday as a work and fun day.
Instead of expecting to just have fun, require nap times for everyone in the afternoon so I can do whatever I want, and let the work build up, Saturday has become a family work and fun day. I do laundry. The kids help with chores. Any housework that didn’t get done during the week gets distributed between family members and we spread it out throughout the day so that our home is maintained well. We also have things to look forward to. I make a big dinner and a dessert for Saturday night. We play outside together, if it’s warm, or go on a little outing somewhere in town. Because the kids are in school all week and this is the one day that everyone is home together, we try to do things together that can’t happen during school days.
2. Prepare for Sunday.
We straighten up every room in the house on Saturday evening. All the laundry gets put away. The floors are swept, the dishwasher is run, and the bathrooms are wiped down. I either prepare a meal for Sunday afternoon (something simple like soup) or I make sure there are leftovers from Saturday’s dinner to provide at least one meal for us on Sunday. When I’m really on top of things, the kids’ clothes are set out for the next day, which helps to limit Sunday morning frantic activity as we get ready for church.
3. Find specific ways to keep Sunday special.
Naptime is required for the children. The older girls are allowed to read, but everyone else must try to sleep. This allows about 1.5-2 hours for Bradley and me to enjoy uninterrupted time in the ways that are restful to us. Typically, this looks like reading for me, and often times working in the garage for Bradley. I treat myself with a homemade latte on Sunday afternoons (during the week I only have one cup of coffee per day) and I might browse through a magazine, paint my nails, or do something else that can’t be done when the kids are vying for my attention.
In the midst of whatever it is we choose to engage in that provides rest for us, it also enables our minds to quiet down and find ways to turn our thoughts toward the Lord. Busyness, work, tasks, and all of the things that crowd the other six days of the week have the ability to tune out what is most important. By quieting our bodies, and removing ourselves from the regular work of the week, we are able to focus more clearly, hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, and find true rest that comes from the Lord. The whole point of a day of rest is that it would be set aside, for the Lord. The ways that each of us find to do this will be different, but the purpose is the same.
4. Cease from household duties on Sunday.
As a stay-at-home Mom, it’s difficult to turn my eyes away from the tasks of our home. I used to fear that come Monday I would feel behind and the rest from the day before would have been in vain. But when I started to rest from my daily work (tending to my home), I found the opposite to be true. Nothing backed up and there was plenty of time to accomplish what needed to be done when Monday came around.
I don’t do laundry on Sundays (with the exception of dirty sheets from a bed-wetting incident), we try to use paper plates, or at least a minimum of dishes, the vacuum isn’t run, the floors aren’t swept, and I don’t wipe anything down in the bathroom. The biggest change for me is that I do not cook on Sundays. Because I’ve prepared the day before, there is always something substantial to eat for at least one meal, and then we eat sandwiches or just scrounge around for dinner. The kids actually love this because we let them pick what they want (within reason) and no veggies are required.
The two biggest benefits for me have been a deeper contentment with the weekend and less dread over what needs to be done on Monday. Life hasn’t become perfect; there are still parenting challenges throughout the weekend, sometimes projects take longer than expected, kids don’t sleep well at night or someone disobeys during Sunday rest time. Yet, instilling this God-given rhythm of rest has been life-giving. I think that’s what God intended.
And now, as I wade through the newness of 2018, set goals, find new rhythms, look toward what lies ahead, and try to heed the words of my wise and caring Doctor, I hope to instill better practices of rest on a daily basis. Not to escape or check out, but to create a life characterized by embracing rhythms of rest that will nourish my soul.