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Friday, 3 April 2020


I am really tired, although I am nowhere near as tired as many members of my community. I have thought often of keyworkers today. I have thought of NHS staff working all hours. I have thought of single parents desperate for a break and with none in sight.  

This has been an exhausting week as I'm sure it has for almost everyone else on the planet.

And it has made me think about Sabbath.

In our family, we try to Sabbath together on a Saturday. In the Christian faith, most people tend to view Sunday as the Sabbath because that is the day for gathering together as a church family. However, for our family, one of us is usually involved in running some component of a church service on a Sunday so it isn't a particularly restful day.

When Hamish and I first got married, we were heavily involved in all kinds of youth and community work on the estate where we lived, but we were really bad at boundaries. Almost every evening and weekend, we were involved in doing something. They were usually pretty good things too, but our calendars were full to bursting and by the time our first anniversary came around we were close to burn out.

I don't ever want to get into that place again but, at points this week, I have felt close to it. I'm worried about lots of different people and situations. I am trying to creatively and energetically look after my two children. I'm using technology as much as I possibly can to contact with all the people that I miss terribly.

I am shattered.

But tomorrow is Sabbath. In traditional Jewish culture, Sabbath is a day set aside exclusively for rest and worship. Sometimes people can be quite mocking about the restrictions placed on what Jews can and cannot do on their Sabbath. Can you turn on a light switch? Are you allowed to put your oven on? Does tying your shoelaces count as work? But this kind of questioning totally misses the point, and Jesus rebukes the pharisees for doing just that: missing the point. (Mark 2:27)

God designed Sabbath to help us out. That's what Jesus says - The Sabbath was made for us, we weren't made for the Sabbath. It was made for us to bless us and sustain us. It is not meant to be a burden. It is not meant to be complicated. It is an opportunity once a week to stop. To spend time with family. To spend time with God. To rest a while and take stock.

Our culture is terrible at Sabbath. We do not place a high value on rest. Many of us do not know how to rest. We do not even know what we need to do to feel rested and so, often, resort to Netflix and Facebook to distract and numb us, rather than seek out the things that give us life.

I am trying to get better at taking Sabbath seriously. It's difficult at the moment. The things that we would normally do on a Saturday to rest as a family are impossible. Usually, we go out together in the morning on some kind of adventure. The beach, the river, the woods. Somewhere in a wide open space that will restore our souls. There is none of that at the moment.

And then Hamish and I work hard to give each other some child free time. We try to ensure that both of us get to do something we really love on our Sabbath that will replenish our souls and give us life. For me this usually looks like some form of exercise followed by a really good coffee and an hour with my nose in a book. For Hamish it is probably taking the time to fix something or listen to a podcast or do some kind of coding on the computer.

All of this has become harder since lockdown. We are all more hard pressed. We all feel more claustrohphobic. The gym is closed. Costa is closed. We can only leave the house once a day to exercise and so that probably means doing so with our girls rather than without them.

But, in this context, I would argue that Sabbath is more important than ever. All of our souls feel a little sick and tired at the moment. All of us need to figure out what a pattern of rest looks like in this strange strange season.

We are still working on that, but here's what I've learned so far.

1. Sabbath means a change of routine. Part of the reason why we try to get dressed each day during the week (even if none of us are leaving the house), and follow some kind of routine, is so that we can enjoy lazing in our pyjamas on a Saturday and it feels like a treat.

2. We need to plan our Sabbath to make it work. We have two small children. Rest is never going to be an automatic thing in our house. We all need to work together to make it happen. We try to plan our Sabbath together so the girls look forward to it too, so that family time is special and set apart. Tomorrow afternoon we are watching Frozen 2 and ordering pizza. Maybe not my first choice (!) but something that Sarah and Lucy will love, and that will help Hamish and I to rest because the girls will be happy!

4. Sabbath means no work. That probably sounds pretty obvious, but it's actually sometimes quite hard to follow through on. Hamish needs to be quite disciplined not to check his work emails, and I have to steer clear of Facebook posts relating to the Sunday service. And part of that discipline is remembering that there is a God and he is not me. There will always be things that need to be done. There will always be crises on the horizon. But it is not actually my job to fix situations or people. That is God's job. That is his responsibility. 
On a practical note, on a Saturday I try to not do any house work. This is almost impossible (our house would be an absolute bombsite by 9am if no one did any tidying!) but I try and do an extra load of washing on a Friday (it's sunny so I've done two today) and either order food in or use something up from the freezer so that no one has to cook. Even just those two small things mean that my head is freed up from having to think about the day to day or running a household.

3. Sabbath means reducing my time with technology. Again, this is doubly important at the moment: in the midst of corona-crisis, technology is not always our friend. Zoom, Whatsapp, Facebook, Facetime... they are all wonderful ways to stay in touch with the loved ones that we miss so much, but they can also be completely consuming. I am finding it impossible to reply to every message. I could spend all day every day searching for the perfect craft activity for my children or reading the news or checking people's Facebook statuses. But I just don't think it's helpful. Part of Sabbath is being present. It is committing to our actual reality, rather than trying to escape from it, even if we don't like it very much. Tomorrow, I need to be present with God. I need to be present with my children and my husband. I can't do that if notifications are pinging in my ear every five minutes. And so that's why, on a Saturday, often, but not always, I do a day phone-free. It is utterly liberating. And mildly terrifying because you realise how addicted you actually are to your phone.

Finally, I recognise that for some of us in these unsettling times, Sabbath is almost an impossibility. For those I mentioned at the start of this post: keyworkers, NHS staff, single parents. But, it is worth fighting for. It is worth slowing down if we can. It is worth doing whatever is necessary to attend to our soul's need for rest and time with God. And I would urge those of us with more time and energy to think about the practical ways that we might enable someone else's Sabbath to happen. What do we need to do to make sure other's can rest? Think twice about phoning someone to complain. Offer to get your neighbour's groceries. Don't book a click and collect slot unless you really need it and let someone who's just done a night shift pick up their shopping on the way home instead...

Rest is really really important. It is part of God's good design for humanity. He commands it. So let's strive this week to put patterns in place that mean that we, and others, can Sabbath, can recover, can recharge and unburden weary our souls. 

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