If you are like most youth workers I’ve talked to lately, you are probably not really observing Sabbath and if you are, chances are that you’re doing Sabbath all wrong anyway. I’ve asked several youthworker colleagues lately what they do to observe Sabbath. After the blank stares and questioning looks, here are the typical answers I’ve heard:
“I look at my emails and texts and don’t answer the ones that can wait more than 24 hours for a response.”
“I try not to answer calls and texts on my day off.”
“I don’t text youth on my day off, unless it is an emergency.”
“Youthworker conventions are my idea of Sabbath.”
I’m not saying that these responses are all bad, but it makes me pause and wonder, has Sabbath come to mean nothing more than trying to take a day off from work? Should it be more than that?
3 Practical Reasons to Observe Sabbath
1. Rest reduces burnout. Youthworkers are notoriously bad at self-care. Spurred on by a culture that rewards productivity and busyness (and a church that is steeped in the same culture), we work hard and long hours to plan and perfect elaborate youth programs. I spent many Sunday afternoons adding final touches and extras to a plan that was probably perfectly fine by midweek, but I somehow felt that I needed to keep on working. It was as if I was pursuing a level of program perfection that was always beyond “this is good enough.” I can’t honestly say anyone said, “Erin, you worked 14 hours today, great job!” at the end of a Sunday or Wednesday evening, but I did feel a pressure to work hard. I was one of the lucky youth workers who actually had vacation days from work, but I usually used zero, probably even less than zero if you try to figure out comp time. I know I’m not the only youthworker who often fails to take a day off from work, who fails to guard a day off each week. (Just an aside, but did you know that most people in our country get TWO days off from work each week? Two!) The problem with working all of the time is that you will eventually get worn out. Working long hours without rest is okay for short busy seasons, but it is not a long-term, sustainable schedule. Intentionally keeping a regular day of rest reduces burnout.
2. Sabbath rest is a commandment. I don’t know if the Ten Commandments are listed in an order of priority, but the fourth one says:
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Exodus 20:8-11
As a spiritual leader of young people, you have an obligation to model faithful living. There is an old Puritan saying: “Good Sabbaths make good Christians.” What does it mean to follow Scripture today? Sabbath may or may not be necessary for salvation, but if it is still important enough for it to be in the Ten Commandments, it is still valuable. There is some scholarly debate on if Sabbath is still required of us today, but that doesn’t change that it is good for you. What are you teaching young people if you actions are not in line with these words? How could taking this commandment seriously impact the youth in your ministry?
3. Observing Sabbath is completely counter-cultural. In fact, it always has been. When the people of Israel observed Sabbath in the times of the Old Testament, it was basically telling the Pharaohs of the day, “Today we are not making bricks for you. Today we honor God and do not work.” We still live in a culture that rewards and expects productivity. To say “today we honor God and do not work,” counters what our industrious society values and rewards. I think it is a very good thing to model counter-cultural living, to be set apart.
What is the right way to do Sabbath? Is it more that just taking a day off from work? Certainly taking time off from work is valuable and a part of Sabbath, but I wonder if that is enough. Historically, Sabbath meant refraining from doing any work, even things like turning on a light switch. I’ve had Sabbath rest explained to me as setting apart time (ideally a day) to do the types of things that draw you closer to Christ. This is different for each person – it may be praying, singing, art, time with friends, time unplugged, time in nature, running or sports, whatever it is that refuels your soul. It can include making time to sleep, eat good meals, focus on relationships with those you love. My favorite response from a youth worker on how she kept Sabbath was that she intentionally set aside time to not be around other youth workers, to be around “normal” people and foster those friendships. The painting on this post is something I made during a time of Sabbath reflection on a passage in Mark.
Sabbath can mean doing absolutely nothing. Just being in the presence of God with no other agenda but to spend time with God. I am not very well practiced at doing nothing, at just “being.” Last month I attended the 5 Day Academy of Spiritual Formation and one of our exercises was to take an hour of silence to just be in God’s presence. I went for a walk outside, found an interesting place to sit on a fallen house, and just enjoyed the quiet sounds of nature around, praying, breathing, being. It’s hard to put in words how rested, refreshed and alive I felt at the end of the hour.
The “right way to do Sabbath” may just mean to intentionally set aside time to have Sabbath. Look at your schedule and pick a block of time that you will honor and keep holy as if your spiritual life depends on it. The practice of setting aside a time to just be with God is deceptively simple, but you will have to fight a lot of pressure to fill that block of time with work and other activities. You have permission.
I would love to hear how it works for you.
How have you successfully experienced Sabbath rest?
What draws you closer to God and refuels your soul?
Now that you’ve read this article, what block of time will you set aside? Who can you tell in order to hold yourself accountable?