by Dr. Crystal L. Hall

This article offers five steps with accompanying biblical principles for creating rest in a world of busyness.

As a coach for women in ministry, I’ve helped dozens of lay professionals, pastors and deacons create sabbath practices that stick with these steps.

1. Build awareness of how your culture has shaped your thinking about work and rest.

“O LORD, you have searched me and known me. / You know when I sit down and when I rise up; / you discern my thoughts from far away” (Psalm 139:1-2).

Awareness is always the first step. Just as God knows everything about you, God invites you to get familiar with your own thinking.  You’ve been conditioned in the Protestant work ethic to equate busy-ness with Godliness–to measure your worthiness against your accomplishments. Knowing this reality, this is where you get to observe where your cultural beliefs are showing up for you. There’s no need to judge them or think you’ve been doing it wrong. There’s no need to beat yourself up. Nope, this is the part where you learn to observe yourself compassionately. To extend yourself the same grace you’d extend a friend.

2. Decide your work and rest hours ahead of time.

“So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it because on it God rested from all the work that God had done in creation” (Genesis 3:2).

God wove the relationship between work and rest into the very order of creation. As a human created in God’s image, you get to set your work and rest hours ahead of time. Now, I hear you saying, but what about when emergencies come up? While it may not feel like it, especially if you’re in the habit of reacting, there are likely very few actual emergencies.

Define ahead of time what is a true emergency for your context. Smoke in the building? Is someone actively dying in the hospital? I offer that everything else can wait at least 24 to 48 hours, if not significantly longer.

3. Intentionally schedule your time off and honor it.

“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work” (Exodus 20:8-10).

Your rest day may be something other than Sunday. But the principle is that you intentionally set aside a specific time to rest. Once you’ve decided on your work and rest hours, create a system for making decisions around your time. Calendaring is a skill that can serve you in many areas of your life. What is important to highlight here is that your scheduled time off is on your calendar. Treat your appointments with yourself no differently than you would treat your appointments with others.

Put away your phone and laptop. If someone interrupts, tell them you’ll get back to them at another time or how they can reach you in the meantime. And then you get right back to resting. Your time off is an appointment with yourself and with God. It is holy time that honors you, the people around you and your Creator.

4. Set boundaries around your sabbath.

“But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.” (Luke 5:15-16)

Even Jesus rested amidst all the healing and teaching he did by intentionally creating boundaries.

A boundary is a decision you make ahead of time about how you will care for yourself and others and the consequence you will enforce if that boundary is violated. Boundaries have less to do with your relationships with others than with your relationship with yourself. Boundaries are not about trying to control other people’s behavior. They’re about caring for yourself and managing your own behavior. They help you care for others, too.

5. Honor your boundaries by enforcing the consequences when boundaries are violated.

“And leaving the crowd behind, they [the disciples] took Jesus with them in the boat, just as he was” (Mark 4:36).

If the crowds tried to follow Jesus, he decided to honor his boundaries. Honor your boundaries by enforcing the consequences if your boundaries are violated. A boundary is, “If you do X, I will do Y.” Let’s say you’ve set a boundary around your sabbath where you don’t read or respond to emails. The consequence of emailing you on your day off is that you will not respond until you return to the office. Whether you read or respond to emails on your day off is entirely within your control.

You have the power to set the boundary by deciding ahead of time how you will care for yourself. You also have the power to honor the boundary by enacting the consequence if that boundary is violated.

With these five steps, you create a balance between work and rest that creates sustainability for the long haul. When you have sabbath practices that stick, you create life-giving energy, you’re grounded, you’ve had a good night’s sleep, and you live more fully in your calling in the balance between work and rest.

Discussion Questions:

  1. This article offers five steps for creating sustainable sabbath practices. What’s one small action you can take today toward implementing these steps in your own life? What’s one thing that feels ridiculously doable that moves you in the direction you want to go?
  2. What do you anticipate will be the obstacles to implementing these steps in your own life? What strategies can you put in place to overcome and work around these obstacles?
  3. What is a kind, encouraging thought you can offer yourself as you try on these steps in your own life? In what ways might you find encouragement from others? What supports might you want in place to implement these steps?

Closing Prayer:

God, who offers every good, may we be open to the rest you offer. May we take your command to Sabbath rest to heart and soften into your grace when we fall short. Keep and guide our working and resting so that it might reflect the abundant image in which you created us, your children. Amen.

Dr. Crystal L. Hall is a certified coach ( women in ministry and holds a PhD in Biblical Studies from Union Theological Seminary in New York. A former seminary professor, Crystal creates connections between what women learned in the classroom and the everyday demands of church work to create truly sustainable, live-giving ministries. She’s a frequent speaker in churches and denominational conferences on topics including women’s leadership, LGBTQIA2S+ inclusion, and immigration. She resides in New Haven, CT with her husband and their cat, Lady Blue.