by Dr. Crystal L. Hall
Here’s how you know this article is for you:
You’re telling yourself that if you read your emails but don’t respond to them on your day off, you’re not “really working.”
You tell yourself that if you take your vacation, you’ll be behind when you return, and it won’t have been worth it.
You can’t turn your brain off even if you’re not working when you want to be resting.
You’re ruminating about your to-do list, anxious because you have no idea how you will get it all done. In short, you feel like you’ve got way too much going on, but you’re not doing enough, so you might as well work anyway.
And here’s what I would offer: keeping sabbath in the productivity-obsessed culture of the United States is absolutely a counter-cultural practice. And it’s completely possible, even for the busiest people.
You know “intellectually” the importance of taking time off but haven’t been able to connect the dots.
In my work as a coach for women in ministry, I do just that: connect what you think you “should” be doing with a pathway to actually creating the rest that restores the soul. Creating sabbath practices that stick is not about finally getting more organized or figuring out how to get people to stop texting you on your day off. What I’d offer instead are four principles to change your thinking.
You can create the sabbath rest you need when you unwind and rewire the habitual thinking driving you to work more than you want.
Principle one is to recognize. Recognize that you are socially conditioned by the Protestant work ethic. You’ve been taught that being busy and working hard is morally virtuous. You’ve also been taught the opposite. That to not be working is immoral and lazy. That sloth is one of the seven deadly sins. That idle hands are the devil’s workshop.
The second principle is to detach. To create restorative rest, you get to detach your worthiness of rest from your accomplishments. Related to the Protestant work ethic, you’ve been taught that your worthiness is connected to your accomplishments. But I’m here to tell you that, as much as you’ve been conditioned to think otherwise, your worthiness as a human being has nothing to do with what you’ve done or left undone. How well you do your job has nothing to do with your belovedness as a child of God. You are in right relationship with God, your fellow humans and all of Creation not because of what you did or didn’t accomplish today. The only thing that brings you into the right relationship with God is your faith in Christ. Justified by grace through faith.
So, hear me when I say you are not your accomplishments. You are not your work. Not even your work in the church.
Principle three is permission. To create restorative rest requires giving yourself permission to rest. There is no one giving you permission to rest. This permission gets to come from you. Rest is an inside job.
By resting in the assurance that you are enough regardless of what you accomplish or don’t during the week.
Principle four is trust. Resting when you think you “should” be working can be deeply uncomfortable. This is the part where you get to build trust, especially trust in yourself. Trust in your belief that rest will create more of what you want and less of what you don’t when everything about your socialization suggests otherwise. The word in the Greek New Testament that’s typically translated as “faith” is pistis. This word can just as equally mean “trust.”
Faith is trust. Trust is “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” And what is belief, if not thoughts, you’ve thought repeatedly?
Right now, through no fault of your own, you have more “faith,” more “trust,” believing that your worthiness is based on how hard you work and how much you accomplish. That’s only because you’ve practiced those thoughts, largely unconsciously, more than you’ve practiced any other thoughts about rest.
When you’re willing to apply these four principles, you change your thinking and your doing. You spend quality time resting with your loved ones and with yourself. You don’t feel guilty about taking an hour to go to the gym by yourself. You don’t worry that you’re being selfish. Instead, you know how important it is to care for yourself by resting instead of modeling endless self-sacrifice as the only way to be in relationship. You’re fully present because your brain and your body are in the same place instead of your body being on the floor with your kids and your brain a million miles away drafting an email. And you remember the last time you had a couch day because you’re scheduling them regularly into your calendar.
Here’s the final thing I would offer: Rest is good in and of itself. You don’t need to justify, explain, or rationalize it. You get to rest simply as a function of being human. Simply because that is the way God created you.
1. Resting when there’s so much social pressure to always to be working can feel deeply uncomfortable. What are your “whys” for resting, even if it means going against the grain? Why is rest important to you? Why do you want to make it a valued part of your life?
2. When you set aside time to rest, your brain may offer you a thought like “I really should be working right now.” Ask yourself, how could the opposite be true? Why shouldn’t I be working right now? Where do I think this “should” is coming from?
3. You’ve been offered a lot of beliefs about work and rest by society. What beliefs about rest might you want to choose on purpose? How might these beliefs be informed by your study of scripture or religious beliefs?
God of Sabbath rest, We ask for your grace to remember that we are created in your image not just for work but also for rest. Help us remember that, even when it feels hard to do, our rest is good and holy and precious in your sight. Amen.
Dr. Crystal L. Hall is a certified coach (https://www.crystalhallphd.com/)serving 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.