- a restful Sabbath practice begins by developing some ideas for what your family rest day could look like
- with the list of ideas in mind, identify the boundaries you will follow to maintain a restful Sabbath day
- prepare your household and family for a day of rest and peace
- execute your idea plan for Sabbath and try to enjoy it!
- reflect on how the day went and adjust as necessary for next week (practice makes perfect!)
What Does Life Without a Restful Sabbath Practice Look Like?
Have you ever found yourself racing through the week, trying to stay caught up on the to-do list, juggle all the projects and responsibilities, staying up late, getting up early, and just dreaming of an opportunity to sleep in and slow down? Ideas of “self-care” and “intentional rest” dance through your head like sugar plum fairies? I definitely have. And more often than not, the weekend rolls around, and that elusive day-of-rest-dream I’ve been banking on happening POPS like a bubble from one of my kids’ bubble wand! Rest? What rest?!
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On our house, it usually goes like this: the weekend comes around, and one child wakes up in the wee hours with a bad dream. The baby starts demanding to be fed at 6:15 a.m. like clockwork. Gabe and I grumpily kick off the covers, climb out of bed, and end up bickering over who is taking the lead on breakfast. The kids are fighting with each other in their “hangry” state. Everyone is overstimulated by 7:30 in the morning. And all hope seems lost to find any way to enter into a restful sabbath practice.
Frankly, that scenario has played out more times in our house than I care to admit! But a few months ago, Gabe and I decided to DO something about it. I’d just finished reading John Mark Comer’s book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry and felt inspired. The way Comer described how Sabbath COULD look was really appealing. So I mentioned the idea to Gabe, and after brainstorming some options for how me might be able to make a true rest day plausible for our family, we decided to trial it for a few weeks and see how it went.
What is a “Sabbath”?
“Sabbath” (the word), comes from the Hebrew word “Shabbot” which means “he rested.” It references the creation story presented in Genesis, specifically when God rested on the 7th day of the creation account in Genesis chapter 2.
From my understanding, in Jewish culture, it is a weekly day of rest (24 hours – from sundown Friday night to sundown Saturday night) where the family attends synagogue to pray, and they pursue peace and wholeness as a family, trying to avoid unnecessary work. I’m sure each family incorporates different aspects into it, and I know that there are certain rules that apply, but in essence, its purpose is to allow for rest – to cease from toiling.
In fact, this idea is so important that in the instruction manual God gave to the Hebrew people for how to live well, he commanded that they establish a restful sabbath practice each week.
Have we always practiced Sabbath?
No! Gabe and I are not Jewish, so it may seem strange to incorporate observing Sabbath into our lifestyle. We were both familiar with the idea of Sabbath being a weekly day of rest, but don’t recall our families practicing it with a lot of intentionality.
I grew up on a farm, and the reality of farm life is that there is work to be done every day. Sunday was typically our “day of rest,” but it wasn’t actually all that restful. We got up, often argued about what was appropriate “church clothes,” and rushed out the door to church. After church, eating cookies and drinking coffee and visiting until our car was the last one in the parking lot, we went home. Everyone was hungry and sometimes we had company in tow. After scarfing food, we’d occasionally get to crash on couches for a glorious Sunday afternoon nap, but often, there were farm chores. We’d eat leftovers or popcorn for dinner, and my Mom would start to map out the coming week.
Gabe’s family had their own version of Sunday rest, but since his parents were worship leaders several times per month, at least the first half of Sunday was not usually all that restful either.
When Gabe and I started dating in 2011, he was in the habit of a restful sabbath practice each week. At the time, he was single, living at his folks’ place, and for a season in our early dating, he didn’t have a regular job. Although it certainly took intentionality, he also didn’t have a lot of external forces working against him getting a regular rest day. I was teaching at the time, and he inspired me to try to keep my Sunday afternoon free of grading papers or lesson planning as well. But I still wouldn’t have called my Sunday’s a “restful sabbath practice” that brought a lot of rejuvenation to me. Mostly, I just socialized or did other chores!
Why have we, a modern family, establish a restful Sabbath practice now?
Fast forward to getting married, we tried to incorporate a Sabbath into a weekends, but we had very different ideas of what was “restful.”
Gabe often wanted to be introverted and stay at home, watch movies, or go on long walks by himself. I, meanwhile, wanted to see a friend or two, knock stuff off my to-do list of “fun projects,” or watch movies. But… we found that even if we compromised and spent the day having a movie marathon in our living room, we didn’t honestly feel all that rested at the end of it!
So, we sort of gave up trying. Oh, we’d attempt to catch up on sleep on the weekends, if we didn’t have social plans. And once we started adding children to our family, we’d try to tag-team a nap time for each other. Gabe would sometimes head out on a long, solo walk. And I’d often immerse myself into a creative project. But for the last few years, even if we individually felt a bit more rested after the weekend (and often we did not), we didn’t feel more connected.
We ultimately decided to intentionally begin a restful Sabbath practice for our kids’ sake. We want them to have a grid for what it looks like to work hard AND rest well. I think it would be lovely for them to have fond memories of family rest days, celebrating the good gifts God has given us in each other. We want our family unit to be strengthened by our time together on the weekend, not thrown out of kilter and experiencing discord. And when Gabe and I look back on these years, we want to rejoice in what we chose to do, not regret what we didn’t do.
How do we prepare for a restful Sabbath (minimalist style)?
For us, preparation is key for making a restful Sabbath practice happen (since I don’t rest well in messy or disorderly environments!):
- I keep up on our daily household cleaning tasks throughout the week. Our house is pretty minimalistic, so there isn’t a lot of clutter to be dealt with. We stay on top of dishes and wiping down counters after every meal. And we usually also wipe down the bathroom mirror, counter and sink, and toilet in the final wipe down of the day. We do a laundry load almost every day, and get it folded and put away before bed. Several times per week, we vacuum the hardwood floors as part of our nightly “tidy up” routine.
- I mop our floors before Sabbath. Something about having dirty floors really drives me nuts! I wear slippers in the house most of the time, and we adhere to the Pacific Island lifestyle of taking shoes off at the door. So our floors don’t get horrendously dirty. But with kids coming in and out (often barefoot), and food accidents, I feel like it needs a weekly mop!
- I’m a meal-prep, meal-plan [LINK COMING SOON to my Winter Monthly Meal Plan Post] kind of person anyhow, so I almost always know what dinners we’re going to have each night of the week, but on Thursday or Friday I like to double check our supplies and specify what each meal is going to be. If one of the Sabbath meals is going to involve quite a bit of prep, I try to get at least some of that done in advance. More often than not, I try to use my freezer meal stash so I can avoid much serious cooking unless there is a recipe I’ve been excited to try and I want to make it (restfully) for our Sabbath.
Dos and Dont’s of our restful Sabbath practice:
We have decided to adhere to John Mark Comer’s definition of Sabbath to help us define our “dos” and “donts” of of Sabbath day: whatever is worship (helping us appreciate God and his character) and restful (helping us find true rest – physical, mental, and emotional). And we also have chosen to prioritize the idea that anything and everything we do will be done in an unhurried way on the Sabbath!
So we make and eat yummy food together. We read aloud books to the kids. Usually, we go outside for a walk or some outdoor play. We also frequently play card or board games with the kids. And we take a nap! We drink coffee and tea. And we burn candles and listen to calming music. We answer the kids questions, and ask them questions. And we try to be as present as possible with each other and with our children.
We try to make simple, at-home memories. Cultivating peace and a sense of belonging and connection for each of our kids is key. And we try to laugh, play, and have FUN together.
Ultimately, we try to stop and rest and enjoy life.
A Typical Sabbath Routine:
We’re several months into this practice, and we’ve settled into a routine that is working really well for us:
- Wrap up any Sabbath prep chores
- Finish up dinner prep – usually slightly nicer than our normal meals, often with a baked dessert of some kind
- Light a votive candle for each member of the family and sing the doxology around the table as our meal time prayer
- Dig in to the meal with ambiance lighting, sitting around the table a little longer than normal and settling into an “unhurried” pace
- Finish the evening by reading aloud to the kids, or playing a board game. If I’m on top of it, I’ll do a little breakfast casserole prep before going to bed (if I haven’t gotten it done earlier in the day) listening to a podcast with some candles burning.
- I wake up when the first child wakes up, and head into the living room with that child. I get to sleep in on Tuesdays, and Gabe gets to sleep in on Saturdays
- Light a candle and watch the sunrise, cozy under a blanket with the awake child(ren)
- Serve up cold cereal and milk as the kids get hungry so I can make breakfast in an unhurried way without the peace of the house disintegrating!
- Coffee or tea and breakfast casserole when Gabe gets up
- After breakfast and that leisurely hot drink, Lazlo goes down for his morning nap and we blitz through dishes
- When Lazlo wakes up, we go for a nice, leisurely family walk if the weather is nice. If it isn’t, we settle in for some readaloud time, or some card games (current favorites are Gnoming Around and Sleeping Queens)
- Leftovers for lunch
- Family quiet rest time during Lazlo’s afternoon nap. Everyone is down for at least 45 minutes – the girls often look at books quietly
- Once quiet rest time is done, the girls get to decide what they’d like us to do with them: hop in the hot tub, create chalk art, read aloud more, or do tricks on the trampoline are all popular options. Tea parties and card games are also frequent choices.
- Dinner is usually very simple – leftovers or a frozen casserole we heat up
- After dinner and dishes, another round of reading aloud or card games with the kids. Or a bubble bath in a tub in our shower if they’ve gotten dirty. And then prayers and bedtime
- Gabe and I will often turn on an episode of Fixer Upper or have a cup of tea together to finish off the day.
What do we NOT do on the Sabbath?
First, we don’t go to church! Frankly, the process of attending church is not very restful for me. Also, Sunday afternoons are often social times in our church community. And as much as we love socializing, social engagements can be taxing. Additionally, I’m usually itching to get a jump start on the week’s home and life management by Sunday afternoon. So we usually Sabbath on Saturday.
Second, we try to avoid unnecessary internet or computer time. We try to turn our phones off Friday night before dinner. If possible, we don’t turn them back on until after dinner Saturday. I will look up recipes on my computer if I need to, or we’ll play music on youtube. But I try to stay off all my social media accounts on our Sabbath.
Third, avoid engaging in commercial endeavors. I don’t want to step foot in a store on Sabbath. We avoid recreationally shopping or heading to the mall “for fun.” And I really try to avoid getting on Amazon or online shopping. If I think of something I want to purchase, I write it down on a sticky note and put it on the fridge, but I don’t let myself look it up on the Sabbath!
Fourth, we avoid initiating planned social events on Sabbath. Sometimes, we get invited to social things – birthdays or baby showers. When we get those invites, we weigh up whether we have the flexibility to switch our Sabbath to Sunday that week (and skip church). If that isn’t possible, we consider whether the social event will be restful and unhurried for us to attend as a family, for a delegation to attend, or if we need to pass.
What have been the benefits we’ve noticed?
We REALLY love our Sabbaths, so I’ll try not to gush! But specifically, we have noticed:
- We actually feel rested after our Sabbath. Crazy, right? I have sometimes felt like it just isn’t possible to feel rested in a season of life with young kids, because having young children is demanding. But I find when I can do a whole day without HURRYING, I feel amazingly rested!
- We have become much more intentional about how we approach planning and executing the rest of the week. Sabbath has become the “anchor” in our week, so to speak, and we prioritize it. Everything else gets allocated into priority after that.
- Gabe and I both are enjoying our kids more! There’s something really special about sitting down at the table together multiple times within a 24 hour period to eat, play games, and talk. I’m noticing things about our kids that I haven’t been seeing regularly. This practice seems to help us slow down the passage of time just a little, and allows us to savor this precious season with our kids.
- We are getting better at identifying when emotions start to get stirred due to unmet expectations being thwarted. And we’re getting MUCH better at stepping back, communicating how we’re feeling, and either releasing those expectations or working together to make the desires a reality!
- We’re eating healthier. Because I plan to have dessert on Friday night, I will often skip making something during the week in favor of saving it for the start of our Sabbath. The result is less sweets during the week!
How can you begin a Sabbath Practice (with or without a family, and with or without being minimalist)?
I listed these at the top, but after explaining how we do Sabbath and our journey of getting to this place, I’ll try to break these down with a bit more detail:
- Develop a vision for what your Sabbath day looks like. Sketch out what an ideal rest day looks like for each family member (include them in this brainstorming process!). Sometimes it takes creativity, and sometimes it takes compromise. But if everyone has at least one thing they look forward to on Sabbath, it helps everyone stay motivated.
- Once you’ve got an idea of everyone’s dream rest day, define your goal for Sabbath and the boundaries you will follow. I think it’s really helpful if everyone in the house can have a clear idea of what you’re going to try to do (and not do) on the Sabbath.
- Prepare your household and family for a day of rest and peace. Get your food sorted and your house tidy. I strongly encourage trying to make Thursday afternoon/evening or Friday a household “reset” time. Then you can go into your Sabbath without chores hanging over your head!
- Execute your plan for Sabbath and try to enjoy it! Once you’ve set the goal and the boundaries, developed a plan that everyone is on board with, and prepped, it’s time to bask in the reward of that work!
- Reflect on how the day went and adjust as necessary for next week (practice makes perfect!). I’ll be honest, we had some BAD Sabbaths before we got this routine sorted! Don’t expect too much to start with – it’s really hard to disconnect and slow down. Just keep trying, adjusting, and prioritizing it. It’s worth it!
Go Forth and REST!
I really hope, if you are looking for practical ways that a modern family with young children can practice Sabbath, this article has encouraged you to prioritize giving Sabbath rest a try. If you don’t currently have a restful sabbath practice, I challenge you to give it a try! And if you currently practice Sabbath, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.