All of us have experienced some level of physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual strain during the pandemic. And if we’re being honest, many of us were well-acquainted with stress and fatigue even before the surge of COVID-19. We know that putting our noses to the grindstone and pushing through the pain can only get us so far, yet the notion of rest often feels like an unfamiliar concept.
While we can’t avoid stressful situations altogether, and there are times when grit is required, it isn’t healthy to be in a constant state of doing. The fallout from becoming overworked and overstressed can dramatically impact not only our productivity, but our health, as well. In extreme cases, it can even lead to depression, anxiety, and burnout.
As Christians, God calls us to follow a different path, and in His wisdom and compassion, He showed us the way from the very beginning:
“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” Genesis 2:2 (NIV)
The creation story in Genesis is familiar to many inside and outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition. God creates the heavens and the earth, plants and animals, humankind in His own image, and on the seventh day, He rests. In Hebrew, the word used to describe this period of rest is shabbat, which relates to the verb for “to cease, to stop.” From the very beginning, God demonstrates for us a rhythm and pattern of work and rest. Starting and stopping. Modelling our lives after Genesis, we have formed our calendars accordingly. Work for six days, rest on the seventh.
But is this the pattern God intended for us?
In her talk at Women, Work, and Calling 2018, Tara Owens, spiritual director and founder of Anam Cara Ministries, challenges this pattern by taking a closer look at the creation story. For God, Sabbath came on the seventh day, but for humanity, Sabbath came on day one. “The first full day that humanity is in existence, the first thing we see God do with them in community in the account of creation is Sabbath.” On the surface, this may not seem like a profound statement, but when considered carefully, the idea of starting with stopping changes the way we understand our work week.
We tend to work for the weekend, putting in our time and paying our dues until we reach that one day when we get to take a breather. We treat rest as a reward for hardwork, as something to be earned. Perhaps that is why so many of us feel guilty when the weekend rolls around; how can we take a break when there are so many tasks and projects left unfinished? But as Owens points out, this pattern doesn’t reflect what we find in Genesis. There are two reasons why recognizing the rhythm laid out in the Creation story is important. First, it leads us to recognize the importance of being in communion with our Creator; second, it allows us to approach our weekdays from a place of peace and strength.
Sabbath is sacred time, a time set apart for the purpose of stopping and connecting with our life-source. That’s why it’s so critical to understand that Sabbath is not a reward for a job well-done. Owens sums it up poignantly: “Rest is the product of Sabbath, not the purpose of it. The meaning and purpose of Sabbath is to stop.” Stopping gives us room to breathe – room to rise above the noise and reconnect with what truly matters. Intentional, purposeful time spent with God can lead to clarity and joy, even in the midst of hardship. Mindy Caliguire, founder of Soul Care, says it beautifully:
If your soul is charred, know this: the power of God’s love and grace to bring new life and healing to a soul has no measure.There is no limit to God’s ability to breathe new life and new healing into your soul, no matter how dirt-tired you are, how angry, resentful, steeped in some terrible addiction or behavior. Whatever it is, turn toward God.Mindy Caliguire
Life can be messy. Life can be difficult. We don’t always have as much time as we’d like, and sometimes resources are scarce. In the middle of the storm, taking time out to stop and rest can feel like a luxury we simply can’t afford. But there’s a reason why God commands us to observe the Sabbath. It reminds us who is ultimately in control. Particularly in times of trouble, it becomes more important than ever to turn our eyes towards the one who saves.
When times are good, observing Sabbath becomes a way for us to acknowledge that we aren’t solely defined by our work and that we aren’t at the center of our world. Author Walter Brueggemann says it this way: “Sabbath provides a visible testimony that God is at the center of life—that human production and consumption take place in a world ordered, blessed, and restrained by the God of all creation.” Obeying God’s command to rest serves to remind us that our lives ultimately depend on His provision and grace and not on our own understanding and strength.
Exercise is perhaps one of the best analogies for the hard work we do during the week. And an athlete can tell you, entering into a new workout or competition from a place of exhaustion can be a recipe for disaster. That’s why so many athletes build recovery days into their routines, prioritizing the healing process before taking on more challenges. Recovery days provide the time when the beneficial effects of exercising take place. During workouts, microscopic tears in the muscle tissue occurs; it’s during times of resting that the body is able to repair this damage which leads to stronger muscles. Recovery time is also linked to reduced muscle fatigue, improved performance, and lower risk of injury.
To put this into work terms, Sabbath is a time to repair our mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional muscles. Most of our jobs require focus, investment, and training; work can be incredibly taxing at times. When we intentionally stop, when we build recovery days into our routine, we give ourselves the chance to heal. Starting from this place of rest and recognizing it as the gift and tool it is – rather than a reward for hard work – leads us to consider our lives in a different light. Rest becomes the source of our work, not the trophy at the end of the finish line. Think of how disastrous it would be for athletes to only rest after achieving a big win or milestone. We recognize how unhealthy that would be, yet this is exactly how some of us frame our work lives.
God calls us to rest. It is so important for our lives that He handed the directive to us in the form of a commandment. But more than a command, seeking rest on the Sabbath can be an incredible source of peace and joy, giving us the clarity and energy we need to find our way through the work week. Marva Dawn, author and theologian, says it beautifully:
One of the greatest gifts for my life as one who serves God is observing the Sabbath. Celebrating a holy day and living in God's rhythm for six days of work and one of rest is the best way I know to learn the sense of our call - the way in which God's Kingdom reclaims us, revitalizes us, and renews us so that it can reign through us. Before we can engage in the practice of our call, we need to be captured afresh by grace, carried by it, and cared for.Marva Dawn
In Part II, we’ll share more about how you can embrace Sabbath practices in your daily life and how to grow a culture of rest in your company or organization.
Kristi is a new addition to the Denver Institute for Faith & Work and serves as an intern. Writer, artist, and dreamer, Kristi spends her free time chasing her curiosity wherever it leads. She currently calls Greeley, Colorado home.