On Sabbath and Self Care

A couple of weeks ago I briefly mentioned some ideas about self care which Karen had shared with us, and I said I would come back to them in another post. I was reminded of the importance of this on Sunday, when Rob’s reference to Sabbath was met with some rolling of eyes and clearing of throats. We all know we’re meant to rest, but we also know that we’re not very good at doing it. I have written before about Sabbath as the first rhythm of our lives and the importance of Sabbath for our wellbeing, and we also touched on the blessing of Sabbath when we explored The Year of Living Biblically, but it’s a message that bears hearing again, so you might like to go back and look over those posts.

I have been reading a little more about Sabbath this year, and Abraham Joshua Heschel speaks of it as “a foretaste of paradise…a testimony to God’s presence”, and as a cathedral or sanctuary in time. These words remind us that Sabbath is far more than just self care, but there is an important element of that within it, and so we I think can talk about the two together, without reducing the one to the other. Heschel also says that “there is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord”, and that “the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of [our] work”. Practising Sabbath will renew and sustain us, but we do not rest only so that we can work harder the following day, and I think the same goes for self care. Sabbath and self care are ends not just means, and I think it is good to have that in mind as we return to Karen’s ideas.

One of Karen’s first pieces of advice was to protect a day off, or in other words, to maintain a Sabbath. I think there is something quite profound about the idea of a collective Sabbath, where we all stop and rest together, but that’s just not always possible. If Sunday doesn’t work as your Sabbath, choose another day. If it can’t be the same day every week, look ahead and book it in where it fits. Remember it’s not selfish or wasteful to spend time doing nothing or doing something entirely for pleasure. It is both a necessity and a precious gift. But don’t neglect that it is a gift from God. Make time to rest in his presence and acknowledge him in all your Sabbath activities. I am sure that God desires to enjoy the day with you.

I found Karen’s practice of allowing herself half an hour to work on her day off really helpful. I have tended to swing between not being sufficiently disciplined to protect a rest day, and becoming so stubborn about not working that I lose the day to thinking about something that would have taken five minutes if I’d just got on and done it. Jesus valued the Sabbath, but he also knew that a legalistic attitude weighed it down and sapped it of its restorative power. The point of the Sabbath is to rest, and to recognise the holiness of that rest. If I rest better for sending a quick email of sticking a load of laundry in the machine, I think that’s okay.

I was also struck by what Karen said about loving ourselves with heart and soul and body and mind. If we are called to love God like that, and if we are called to love our neighbours as ourselves, and if love of God and love of neighbour are parallels, then it makes sense that we are called to love ourselves in the ways that we love God. For Karen that means taking care of heart and soul and body and mind, doing things that bring joy to our hearts and rest to our souls, things that treat our bodies well and stimulate our minds. I don’t want to stray back into legalism with anything resembling a tick chart, but I do want to build these things into the rhythm of my life. Listening to classical music, practising the examen, taking dance classes, reading for pleasure…life giving rhythms of self care.

Karen spoke too about doing more of what keeps us well and less of what keeps us unwell, and I think the words she chose are really important. We won’t always be able to completely avoid the things we find draining or frustrating, and we will rarely be able to do only those things that we find exciting or relaxing, but we will often be able to shift the balance. This probably won’t come as a surprise to those of you who have seen my house, but I really really hate housework. I like the idea of having a clean and tidy home, but I find the physical effort exhausting and there is little pleasure in the actual tasks. And yet I know that if I can do little and often, it won’t feel such a mountainous task and things won’t take so long, and then less of what drains and frustrates me will allow for more of what excites and relaxes me. Easier said than done, and other balances will be harder to shift, but it’s a start.

So, now you have read some of my reflections on Sabbath and self care, I encourage you to set aside time for your own reflections, asking yourself how you can better care for yourself, and how you can remember the Sabbath and keep it holy in your own life.



Published by leighannegreenwood

Baptist minister in training with Revive Leeds. Blogging on behalf of Revive and (coming soon) for myself at Covenant Project.

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