Is it possible to live with rhythms of work and rest in today’s society? More importantly, how do we experience inner soul rest? These questions surfaced after my last blog post, “Too Much.”

We’re not the only ones asking these questions. Time’s cover story last week was dedicated to the rising depression and anxiety in teens. The drama in junior and senior high school is magnified to a tipping point as teens struggle to manage their virtual identities around the clock. According to the article, this is society’s first generation without literal time off.

During the frenetic season of starting a new church and raising a young family, we realized with each passing year that the craziness wouldn’t stop. We had to make changes. Yet, even with modifications, I couldn’t quiet my mind. Anxiety and stress often cling to me like unwanted companions.

Tim Keller recently wrote an excellent article on the freedom of Sabbath rest. Sabbath rest. He writes, “Avoiding overwork requires deep rest in Christ’s finished work for your salvation (Hebrews 4:1–10). Only then will you be able to ‘walk away’ regularly from your vocational work and rest.”

In order to experience this kind of rest, we have to discover what enslaves us. We won’t know what these are unless we cease from our usual activities. If I don’t, I just keep playing around the edges of burnout.

Like the short, wrought-iron fences protecting New York City’s trees, I need protection from myself. The natural starting place is celebrating the Sabbath. It’s the observance of one day of rest in seven, over and over again, until it becomes a rhythm that protects me from my incessant drive to accomplish, whether it’s vocational work or another of my many projects. Working until I’m exhausted and then taking a vacation doesn’t do it. I just return home dreading the cycle.

  1. Planning my Sabbath: Observing the Sabbath isn’t just taking a day off. I had to decide when it would begin and when it would end. What it would include and what it wouldn’t. And if my husband observed it differently, to realize his needs were different from mine. I listed the types of things I needed to turn over to God and not indulge in for one day a week. They were usually things that caused me to work harder or worry more. For example, when we were pastoring a church, I realized I couldn’t listen to congregant’s problems or discuss church ministries on my Sabbath. I learned to ask people to send me an email that I could answer later. One wise friend commented, “You’re showing us that you have limits, too.”

We asked our kids on Saturday morning about homework assignments due on Monday. We could help them on Saturday but we were reserving Sunday for enjoyment of God. John was leading two congregations then and his Sabbath began Sunday evening after church and extended into Monday. After realizing he was giving himself the worst day of the week for a minister, he changed his Sabbath to Thursday evening through Friday afternoon.

  1. Letting go of concerns: I began practicing committing my worries and fears to God at the beginning of my Sabbath. Often I would start the day with my hands outstretched as a symbol of releasing my worries to God. With palms down, I named the concern and released it to God. With palms up, I received from God what is promised in scripture. If I didn’t know what God promised, I simply told God I didn’t know and waited. I did that for each item.

No sooner had I finished, however, then I begin worrying about the same things all over again. But rather than admonishing myself for having so little self control, I remembered God had already declared me righteous and holy through Christ’s saving work on the cross. Learning to turn my fears over to God even for a day wasn’t about how well I did it. Whether I did it well or not wasn’t the point. I just needed to keep calling out to God for help. When I first began this practice, I started with an hour. I’m a fixer and found it impossible to calm my mind. But I continued with this practice and began to notice a change. As I turned concerns back to God over and over again, they started abating. While I say this jokingly, I actually would remind myself that tomorrow I could return to my habit of worrying, but today it was God’s turn.

  1. Letting go of ideas: With time to relax, without my mind focusing on the concerns of the upcoming week, anxieties began to diminish. I discovered energy for new ideas and projects. I surely didn’t want to lose those great ideas, so I would jot them down or plan when I would work on them. Before long though, the idea would expand and I was working again. It’s not that I couldn’t work on them as much as I realized ideas were another slave master of mine. If I really wanted to experience the freedom that Sabbath brings, ideas would have to learn to wait, like the other rumblings in my brain. Be forewarned, however; we keep busy for a reason. Unbidden emotions will bubble up. Unfinished tasks will stalk you. Faces of people you meant to contact will march before you. I’ve had to learn to let them walk by.
  1. Letting go of media: For the Sabbath to be rejuvenating, I might put aside some forms of media for the day. At other times, I include some. This changes with each season of my life. It’s liberating to go a day without paying attention to the time, to social media, and especially to my phone.

Then there were the things we began adding to our Sabbath. Friends and acquaintances began coming over. For one particular season, I took a break from cooking at least one day in seven. Friends brought sandwich makings or went into the kitchen and made a meal. John is an introvert, so he would eat with us and then often get away. We had a large covered outdoor space with a daybed and hooks for hammocks. I would usually fall asleep listening to others talk or read aloud. Our teenagers and their friends would drop over. For a time, the TV would stay off unless someone wanted to watch a movie in the basement. We were able to make those choices because we had the space.

Now we have an apartment. John isn’t leading two congregations. Cooking is restful and a joy for him. Our grown kids’ friends find their way over. Sometimes they worship with us at church. Those who aren’t ready for that step meet us after. We feast. We talk. We play. I sleep.

Sabbath keeping will look different for each person depending on season of life and career. Recently, a friend said she could tell when I’m practicing these rhythms. The person she described is someone I want to be.