Sabbath Model

The subject of rest and Sabbath has become a constant for me over the last twelve months through leading a coaching program and co-leading webinars. If I’ve learned anything in this time, it’s that we could all use more conversing about this as well as more examples of it.

In that light, I thought I’d share how mine went yesterday with some notes.

It didn’t last all day. First thing, I had to deal with some car stuff. Finished and back home at 11.

The next seven hours were my time to “embrace that which gives life.” (Sabbath’s golden rule according to Mark Buchanan, author of The Rest of God.)

Those seven hours included reading devotions and two other books, blogging, meditating, napping, and going to the gym (in this period of my Sabbaths, the TV is not on). None of this felt like work. (Another aspect to Sabbath’s golden rule.) At the end of those seven hours, I could say I had more “life”; you could even say more peace.

No one model of Sabbath fits everyone. While reading may give one person life, it may drain another person. Similarly, playing golf would drain me (probably more like kill me) but would completely bring joy to some friends of mine. So to give us all some kind of guide, here’s a reminder of the golden rule for Sabbath: cease that which is necessary in order to embrace that which gives life.

What could you embrace during your next Sabbath?

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Church

One of the first questions asked when I met up with our friends in Jordan was, “Can you speak tomorrow night?”

Twenty-four hours later I finished editing my notes on Acts 1:1-8 originally planned for Thursday night and headed to the service.

Right before the service started, I opened my iPad to take a final look at the notes. Somehow, somewhere between the house and the church my notes had disappeared. No notes. “You’re up in twenty minutes.” Not funny.

However, I had to laugh. The theme was God’s Plan and included statements like “we don’t have to see the big picture,” “we don’t need to understand,” and “we can rest because He knows more than we do.”

In between songs I put my notes back together as best I could. Then I shared with the congregation in my introduction my challenge and tried to practice what I was about to share.

God has a sense of humor. We’re better off laughing along.

God’s Plan

In prepping for several upcoming talks, unexpectedly Acts 1:1-8 is one of the focuses. Credit for this focus is due to our Thursday morning growth group discussion recently. Thought I’d share this simple outline since the majority of you missed that discussion.

  1. God is always at work. And it may be something I don’t understand…yet. (verses 1-3)
  2. God sees the big picture. And I don’t have to. (verses 4-5)
  3. God knows more than I do. And that’s why I can rest. (verses 6-7)
  4. God’s plan involves everybody. And so should mine. (verse 8)

The Gift of Balance: Rest/Play/Sabbath (Part 2)

(This is part two of the fifth topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. At the end of this post are suggested resources on this topic.)

John: What are the key components for balance in this part of our lives?

Mark: A couple of thoughts. One that Tonya has already expressed is that we are wired differently. We need to understand how we are wired and recognize what healthy is in terms of resting mind, body, and spirit. Another one is acknowledging and understanding that it is important.

I came up with this analogy of junk food. When we are hungry, we eat; but we don’t always eat the healthy foods. Our body and minds can be craving rest, so we have to feed ourselves healthy rest. Sometimes we feed ourselves junk rest where we are not fully disengaged or something like watching TV three hours a night and calling that rest. It’s not the same thing as unplugging from electronics or work, or going out for a bike ride or a run. So being able to distinguish between healthy and junk rest is also important.

Tonya: That’s really important.  I agree with that need to understand ourselves.  Like, I know what time of night my brain is shutting down. So it’s stupid for me to think I can push through and do a little more work, and I can’t.  If I try, I get frustrated or angry, and then I’m upset with people around me. So I have to know my body and set up my schedule to fit my body.  So I like that, knowing when you need rest and what kind of rest.

John: Using your junk food analogy, Mark, what is healthy food for you?

Mark: I have always been fond of sleep. I’ve often used the phrase, “Sleep is not overrated.” I’m in tune with what I need in terms of sleep. And if I don’t get it, I feel it physically, emotionally; I’m more irritable. Even 30-45 minutes in change of bedtime makes a difference the next day in how I feel.

On the flip side, I’m not so good with play. Part of me being comfortable and valuing play is continuing being present. Being in the moment to laugh, to see an opportunity with the kids or my spouse to be in the moment and just let go of everything else to be creative, whether it’s with a puzzle or a walk or a game, whatever it is to be in the moment.

John: What works in California?

Tonya: Well, we have lots of sunshine, just like you, so a lot of outdoor activities. I agree with the area of sleep; I have to get about eight hours of sleep. If I don’t get that, then I’m not good.  I also know that I need to be in my bed by 9 o’clock.  I might be reading, but I’m winding down. If I try to push past 10, it’s going to go all bad for me.

The other part for me is I need a quiet morning. I get up early, but I don’t necessarily like to talk to anybody. That’s my time with the Lord. I often take that time to go on prayer walks or sit and read in my favorite chair and read; that time helps me get my mind prepared for the day.  I don’t want to be up and moving fast.

Play has also been important to us as a family. Going outside and shooting hoops, just goofing around in the yard throwing a ball; that’s always been important to us. At times, the margin to do that was being lost with traveling with the boy’s hockey. So we had to adjust; sometimes that meant going early ahead of the team or stay a day late and just goof off. That was important to us, but we had to be intentional about it sometimes.

John: Following thoughts about sleeping needs, I read several years ago that the optimal hours of sleep is from 10-2.  That’s when your body most gets what it needs from sleep. When I started paying attention to that, I realized how helpful that was. So it’s rare that TV stays on past 10. I’m working more toward turning it off an hour or two ahead of that, which I believe is a key thing for a single person. If you allow it, TV can become in essence a companion, another voice in the room. So shutting that down let’s you start shutting down your mind, your emotions in order to give space for renewal to start.

Mark: In a similar way, I’m thinking about how noise can be a challenge in a family as well. We can all be together and yet there’s noise in the background, whether it’s music or TV.  I think it’s a struggle for families also, to feel like we have to have this constant companion of noise.  I’m driving in the car and I have the radio going. Why is that? Is it a habit? Is it healthy? Or do I need to unplug and rest from input and work on being comfortable in silence?

John: Which is anti-cultural. Everywhere you go you are inundated, maybe feel like you’re in Time Square all the time. Your house is where you can control that. That’s up to you, how inundated you and your family are going to be.

Tonya: From a counseling perspective, when it’s silent you have to deal with yourself, your thoughts. If that’s painful, you keep noise. So it’s something to pay attention to. “Why is this hard?” There are times, by the way, when it all has to be off in my car.  I love listening to worship music, but sometimes it needs to be silent.

John: I have to tell you about the best day of my month off in October. Mark, it was the day I left your house and drove to New York. It was a nine-hour drive. I had no structure to the day, other than I knew where my hotel was in New York. I hadn’t traveled that highway before, so I determined in my mind that I was going to enjoy this road that I haven’t been on before; I got off on exits that I was curious about. When I got to New York I realized I had never turned on the radio, never had music on, didn’t listen to any podcasts. It wasn’t intentional. It was just the rhythm that worked for the day. When I realized it, it shocked me. It was just me and God and what I was looking at. It was revelational. “I need to pay attention to that.  I feel quite refreshed, and the only input was what I was seeing through my windshield.”

Mark: That’s a great reminder of being present and being in the moment.

John: We’re talking a lot about day to day. For the person who is committed to a weekly Sabbath idea, what’s your thoughts on establishing that for you or your family?

Tonya: I’m a big believer in a day off from work, and that includes house/yard work. We are not just the lay-around-sleep family. It usually means some type of sport, watching or playing. At least one day that is disconnected from work. For me, it is about making it a family day.

John: How does spiritual connection happen in that time frame?

Tonya: Typically when they were growing up that was Sunday. We’d do church together; I liked to have a tradition for going and getting donuts or coffee on the way to church. After church, we might discuss the message, but that was it for us.

Mark: Our family rhythm has been a lot like Tonya has described. Monday through Friday was school and career work.  Saturday has tended to be house work, chores, whatever. Sunday we try to put that down and not to work. Sometimes we are more successful than others; it’s more a guideline than a rigid rule. Sometimes we shift days because of weather, but that’s been the rhythm we have pursued.

In my career, I don’t think I appreciated the importance of unplugging from work for a day until I’d go through really long days weeks at a time. Growing up I had this perspective of Sabbath being a very spiritual day. Practically when Monday through Saturday is jammed packed, Sunday or a day can be very beneficial to give your body a chance to heal and recover so you can hit Monday on a full battery and not running on empty.

In terms of spiritual, for a significant period of our lives it was traditional church attendance with processing and discussion afterwards. For the last ten years, it’s been more of the home context where we set aside time as a family that we label as “God time.” It involves many of the components in a church context just in a smaller setting. We’ve always prioritized the spiritual together as a family for at least a specific time in the week to indicate it is a priority.

John: I just got this imagery of you passing the offering plate around, just the five of you. You should try that just to see what happens.

Mark: We have joked about that at times.

Tonya: That’s not a bad idea because kids are expensive.

John: To answer this for myself, sure Sunday is the day. As a staff member, it can very much feel like a work day; it’s labeled one. I have to play around with other times.  That’s going to look different. Sometimes it’s Friday; sometimes it’s Saturday; sometimes it’s a mix of those two days. I have to be intentional. When I’m good about it, there’s nothing else on the day. It’s probably little engagement with other people; it keeps me from expending energy and resting. I’m trying not to take in too much because it moves my mind toward work. I have to find things that make me disconnect. Running is usually in there somewhere, but the rest of the day goes better if I leave it more unstructured since I am a very structured person.

Tonya: We’re talking about something that is very much a western culture problem. We have so much information bombarding us, and people are moving fast. These are things we know, but it’s still hard. We have to really work at rest. I think it’s much more about where we live.

Mark: I think you’re right. The two words coming to mind are doing, which is how our western culture is biased, versus being, which may be found more readily in an eastern culture. We are raised to do, but we are talking about being.

John: Shelly Miller in her book hones in on that quite a bit. There are some things that we do that are okay to do on Sabbath or while resting, but if we forget the need to just be, or have any intentionality to be, we are not getting the full effect of what the commandment is really all about.

Anything else come to mind for you that you have to focus on to maintain balance?

Tonya: My big motto lately is living out of your values. “Does your time, your money, your life reflect that? What’s the evidence in your life that matches what you’re stating?”

Mark: We have to give ourselves permission to do the things that are beneficial and healthy for us. That’s not selfishness. It’s more about recognizing God’s context for wholeness and healthiness requires these things. Because of this, then you are best able to bless others through your service, your creativity, your relationships, your time. The ripple effect cascades through your impact of creating legacy.

John: I’ll add to that the importance of giving yourself permission to say no. When you are asked to do things that interfere with your normal rhythm of rest, you need to be okay to say no or make rearrangements so your rest is not put aside. It can be tweaked but shouldn’t be put aside. If you have to say yes to something, where else are you going to say no to create balance.

Mark: The image that comes to mind is putting boundaries around rest, just like we’ve talked about putting boundaries around work.

John: And not to be legalistic. You determine what it is.  You and God work it out.  You know what feeds, restores, and refuels you. So don’t let anything else take that away from you.

Mark: Honor the Sabbath and keep that holy and set apart.

 

Suggested Resources:

Mark’s:

Tonya’s:

John’s:

The Gift of Balance: Rest/Play/Sabbath (Part 1)

(This is part one of the fifth topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. This entry will be the first half of the conversation continuing tomorrow with the second half.)

John: This topic brings a level of discomfort to most of us.  It’s foreign; we don’t do it well. Those kind of emotions. Does that ring true?

Tonya: It causes you to evaluate. All these conversations have been good for reflection and evaluating. “Where am I?”

John: So thinking through these three words-play/rest/sabbath-what are the differences?

Tonya: My mindset about sabbath has been changing a bit. But they’ve all gone together for me. Sabbath for me has meant I’ve been checked out of work and checked into fun with the family. So when I think about these three, they all intertwine for me.

Mark: When I thought through this I came back to the concept of rest, specifically rest for the mind (play), the body (rest), and the spirit (Sabbath). That encapsulated it for me.

John: That’s helpful because it’s important to know what we mean when we use these words. Just like that simple differentiation was helpful to you, it shows how all these elements are important.

Tonya: I say my views are changing because of the work I’ve been doing with different pastors who have different views. I like that layout also. You have to rest your body.  Playtime can be wonderful and refreshing, but it can also be exhausting physically.  So you have to have time of rest for your body, mind, and emotions, which may all look different.  I’m starting to see Sabbath as more of a personal time that is away from everybody and time with the Lord. That could be an hour in the morning, a whole day sometime in the month. But I’m starting to have a more spiritual approach to the Sabbath idea.

John: In a book I’m reading right now on this subject, the author mentions studies about how the brain requires periods of rest  There is an alternating period needed from structured work followed by unstructured rest. In some people’s minds, Sabbath may be a pretty rigid idea. “There are certain things I must do, or it’s not really Sabbath.” She’s presenting the idea that it can be unstructured, your brain may need it to be unstructured.

Mark: I’m not an expert in the science, but I’ve read enough to know that sleep is so beneficial for your brain. Your brain doesn’t stop; the rest of your body slows down, and your brain has the time to process, organize, and structure thoughts and memories. It’s amazing what your brain is doing while your body is sleeping.  Then there’s also the component of how sleep benefits the rest of your body-your organs, your health, your immune system, and particularly your heart. So that’s sounds a lot like what you’re reading.

John: She talks a lot about rhythm, the need to figure out the rhythm of life that you are wired for, what is physically and spiritually good for you. Ignoring it or not being aware of it is where many people fall into. We may not even understand it is a rhythm that we need.

Tonya: In one of our earlier conversations I referenced a book by Archibold Hart who has written a lot on sleep, how it rejuvenates us and how much sleep we really do need.

Mark:  In that aspect of play, until recently I don’t think I’ve had a full appreciation for play and what that is. My personality tends to be a little more serious, “color inside the lines” kind of thing. I’ve been reminded by articles, things Michael Hyatt has published, about the importance of play in the same way that sleep helps. By unplugging, you tap into creativity, which reminds me of what we used to do as kids. It’s a challenge as adults to reconnect with that in order to get the benefits to the mind and soul, to feed them.

Tonya: Along with that is the idea of laughter.  Laughter is such a healing thing as well. Learning how to laugh and let go of the stresses that we have through work is so powerful and rejuvenating to be able to handle the problems and have creativity.

John: Mark, you mentioned creativity. Since I’ve been back from being on sabbatical the month of October, people have asked me questions like, “Did you get what you needed? Do you feel refreshed?” I’ve answered that the creative juices have been flowing better and more naturally just because I was away from anything that had to do with life in Florida. The space for creativity was created. Taking time on a rhythmic basis is going to help all those juices keep flowing more naturally.

Tonya: The idea of just building in time for fun in your week, even a moment to take a longer drive home or go for walk, and allowing ourselves to do those things without feeling guilty. One of the things for me is to learn to relax and enjoy without feeling guilty.  There’s still a pile of work, but it’s okay because it’s not my work hours and I’m living out of that value. It’s okay to forget it and just relax and have fun without feeling guilty.

Mark: There’s an irony and a tension there.  If you make time for rest, then you can be more efficient, productive, and creative in all the areas of your life.  Whereas we tend to think that “I just need to work more, work through this creative block. I just need to push through it. I don’t have time to sleep because I have a deadline.” That thinking ends up being counterproductive. It’s irony that what we need is the opposite of what we think we should be doing.

John: As you say that, my immediate thought goes to napping. I’ve taken the time over the last several years to allow myself to listen to my body. On my day off if I find myself dozing off or having a hard time concentrating, that’s a sign to me to go take a nap and that’s fine. If it lasts thirty minutes or an hour, whatever.  I don’t set an alarm. I wake up when I wake up. That feels congruent with the idea of rhythm. If your body is giving you signs, pay attention.

Mark: What was that like, to give yourself permission to do that when you first started?

John: When I woke up, it felt fantastic. But I realized I don’t have a routine about this, and I’m going to give myself the permission to do this whenever and however often my body tells me it needs it.

Tonya: What this brings me back to is that rest and Sabbath looks different for everybody. The key is that you’re resting; you’re finding those times that you’re resting your body and your mind, having moments where you can laugh and not living under serious or heavy emotions all the time.

John: These thoughts are giving me flashbacks to growing up in the South in the 70’s. The culture definitely was built around the idea that there were things you don’t do on Sundays, like shopping or playing sports. Well, that didn’t mean when I became a teenager with my driver’s license that I always obeyed the rules; I’d find ways to get around them and observe rest a little differently, like going to play tennis. So yeah, it’s going to be different, and giving yourself the permission to figure that out is huge.

Tonya: I think even permission for your family. This goes back to what we talked about last week, finding the balance between legalism and letting them find it out. I have a son who is moving all the time, and to ask him to do nothing on a Sunday would have been just pure torture for him.

Mark: My upbringing was not too different. Sunday was mostly at home, couldn’t go out and ride my bike; at the time I felt really trapped inside the house. With some time and reflection, I realized that my parents were basically creating space for themselves to rest physically. That left me wondering, “My experience was this, and what does Sabbath look like in this New Testament, post-Jesus context?” 

 

 

Sabbaticals: Not So Unnormal

I’ve had interesting dialogue with people about going on sabbatical this month. For the large part, it seems people have an idea what a sabbatical is for, but it appears foreign because they’ve never been on one themselves. 

This is my first legit one. I say that because two seasons in the past I pretty much gave myself a sabbatical by choosing to leave jobs without transitioning immediately into another one. No regrets. Both ended up being about six months long. (I should have lobbied for more than a month this time. JK)

If you just Google various angles inquiring about sabbaticals, you find this is more normal than not. And it should be. How it’s defined is going to vary, yet the value will remain. To read one recipient’s review, follow this link.

So as I post throughout this month, I encourage you to ponder what a sabbatical might look like and mean for you, your family, your company. Become more normal.

Hope in Loss

Over the last 24 hours, I’ve witnessed two families say goodbye to a family member. Both were relatively young, 41 and 61. Both stories could be looked through the lens that life can be cruel. Yet, the witness I’ve observed revealed a different perspective. 

Both of these family members left behind adult children in their 30s and 20s, young adults. Through various means, these young adults, in the middle of their pain and grief, affirmed that even though life can be cruel it can also be hopeful.  In that light, here are a few pastoral thoughts for all family members.

To the older adults, interpreted as you have adult children and maybe even some grandchildren:

  • Spend time (intentional/fun/memorable/meaningful) with your family
  • Model for them what it means to pursue a relationship with God
  • Challenge them to live as much or more for others than themselves
  • Live with eternity in mind
  • Teach them the only source for hope when it comes time to leave this earth isn’t found in anything on this earth

To the young adults:

  • Guess what? Your parents know they aren’t perfect. Love them anyway, like God does you.
  • God has a purpose for you in your family. It may seem weird to step into a more leading role in the absence of your parent, but God is available to guide you just like he was available to guide your parent.
  • The strength that is holding you up right now is the strength you’ll need the rest of your life. Don’t let go. Relentlessly hold on. Better yet, just rest in it.
  • The maturity you’re experiencing right now through this event is just another step of life. There will be more maturing moments. Embrace them. Learn from them. Seek God through them.
  • Life is going to be cruel again; that’s what we’re in for until God returns. Keep your eyes on hope. Guard your hearts from bitterness through gripping to hope.

May these words encourage you:

“Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.””‭‭ Joshua‬ ‭1:9‬ ‭

The Answer to Why

“For the thing I feared has overtaken me, and what I dreaded has happened to me. I cannot relax or be still; I have no rest, for trouble comes.” ‭‭

Those are some telling words at the end of Job 3.  It’s as if he is saying, “I knew this was going to happen.”  That’s a scary way to live. And that explains all his questions in this chapter as he cursed the day he was born. Understandably, he is very down, probably quite depressed. And who could blame him.

Seven of his questions start with the word “why.” When we find ourselves asking why, we most likely need to pause and ask ourselves why are we asking why. In his case, these two verses seem to give us the answer. What he feared has overtaken him, he is weary, he can’t relax. He wants to know why.

Is it possible that God allows these moments in life in order to redirect our fear back to him? 

  • When we lose that dream job?
  • When the “C” word is heard for the second or third time?
  • When she means it this time?
  • When the last shovel of dirt covers the casket?

Sounds cruel, maybe harsh, even unloving. Yet, by the end of this book, that is the realization Job has come to. His fear of God, his awe was restored as a result of this time in his life. His rest returned when he found the answer to why in the person of God.

Know Your Season

There are aspects of a job, of being a parent, of living that are a given that they should always be present. These aspects often actually go through a season where they are heightened to another level of intentionality or necessity. Solomon wrote about these examples in Ecclesiastes (see chapters 3&8). 

Here’s a directional question that could help you get more out of your seasons. Do you know your current season? If so, what intentionality are you getting out of it? If not, how could you determine the nature of your current season? Consider these possibilities:

Season of margin or rest or fun or renewal

  • God actually made this clear from the very beginning (Genesis 2; Exodus 20). He designed you with a seasonal need for rest. The more you intentionally seek it the better that need will be met.

Season of focus/little margin/doing

  • “…a time to plant and a time to uproot…a time to tear down and a time to build…” You probably spend most of your time in this season. A more directional question to ask yourself is what are you focused on right now and for how long-what is God’s intent for your current focus/doing.

Season of giving

  • You should live with a giving spirit. Some seasons call for more intentionality of giving, not just living in that spirit. For instance, giving care for an unhealthy loved one or providing shelter for needy family members.

Season of receiving

  • Last week someone reminded me that givers and doers are not good receivers. Givers and doers, how can you keep giving and doing if you never go through seasons of receiving? Here’s a key word: balance.

Know your season. Have intention to get the most out of your season. 

Know your season. Balance rest and doing, giving and receiving.