I had been on my spiritual path for nearly a decade and never asked myself this simple question: when do you rest?
The question showed up one day back in fall, 2014.
I had just signed a big contract with Nike for a 3-month gig. I was in the first year of self-employment and this was way too good to refuse.
But, I had three other consulting projects already, plus service commitments and the rest of life. It added up to 60+ hour work weeks. 80+ if you counted housekeeping and caregiving.
I knew something had to give. And it wasn’t the work.
It turns out it was the Rest.
My Path to Jack
Several women in my interfaith women’s group saw the same spiritual director, Jack Kennedy. At first, I didn’t really know what a spiritual director was, but I had seen therapists and shaman, so it seemed in the ballpark of familiarity.
I got his phone number, called to set an appointment and showed up at the house where he rented a room for his sessions.
Nestled into the the antique striped couch at my first meeting, I explained why I’d come to see him and what was on my heart: the heavy work load, running a business, volunteering, family, the upcoming holidays.
He listened for 15 minutes until I reached the end of my laundry list and this question: How was I going to do it all and not get burned out?
“Well, when do you rest?” he asked.
Not power naps. Not quick breaks between meetings. That’s just more doing.
He meant time and space for deep, restorative being in rhythm with my own body, the world around me and something bigger. He meant Sabbath.
I was speechless.
It was not something I had experienced yet in my everyday life.
But, as he described Sabbath, it sounded a whole lot like my magical times at the coast on personal retreats.
And I could have some of that magic every week? I was in.
That fall and for the last 3 years since, I have set aside one day a week, usually Saturdays like in the Jewish tradition, for rest and renewal.
Sabbath has become my weekly retreat.
An ancient practice, Sabbath is the fourth commandment. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”
It comes before family, before murder, before adultery and more.
Overwhelm and overstimulation are newer human conditions. But, hard work is not new. Labor is not new.
Many call it a merciful gift. Compassion for all this labor. In other words, it is a day that has been given.
There are many ways that different religious traditions remember or observe the Sabbath, including Christian services on Sundays and Buddhist monks’ recitation of precepts.
Barbara Brown Taylor describes her experience in Leaving Church:
“Observing the Sabbath is saving my life now. For the first time in my life, I can rest without leaving home. With sundown on the Sabbath, I stop seeing the dust balls, the bills and the laundry. They are still there, but they lose their power over me. One day each week I live as if all my work were done…Now, when I know the Sabbath is near, I can feel the anticipation bubbling up inside of me. Sabbath is no longer a a good idea or even a spiritual discipline for me. It is my regular date with the Divine Presence that enlivens both body and soul.”
Finding My Spiritual Path
Just as Barbara says, Sabbath has become a highlight of my week.
It is not simply a day to set everything aside, to stop doing and simply be. But a “regular date” to reconnect with what grounds me and inspires me, something bigger than myself.
My path to rest did not start with this practice in 2014. I think it actually started in 2007 when I went to a spiritual community gathering, the first step toward spiritual development I’d taken since leaving home at 18 years old, seven years prior.
Or perhaps I’ve been on the path my whole life?
I was raised in a “new age” household by a former Roman Catholic mother and a former Episcopalian father (more by label than by practice for both of them) who found more inspiration in the outdoors than in the church.
My parents started their own spiritual journey in their 20’s soon after getting married, leading them to a new, broader sense of spirituality (though heavily influenced by the Judeo-Christian traditions).
Growing up, my only exposure to religion was tagging along with friends and most of it was “too churchy” compared to our hikes and seasonal gatherings.
While organized religion was not to their taste, looking back now I see that ritual, ceremony, values, and beliefs were baked into my very spiritual upbringing.
I distinctly remember in high school having a discussion about this with my parents – about not having any religion. Their response?
We were to chose our own religion.
My response: “Huh, well I won’t be doing that.”
Nowadays, I worship at a Unitarian Universalist church, I commune with the Sacred Fire Community outside around the fire, I find fellowship with interfaith, intergenerational women at BBB, I observe Sabbath, I am again practicing yoga in a nearby studio.
While I did no choose a religion yet, I am religious about my portfolio of communities and practices, along with many tools, that help me navigate the world.
It has been a journey of seeking what’s true to me. As well undoing dysfunctional beliefs that I created along the way.
Some of the dysfunctional beliefs I still struggle with directly conflict with Sabbath.
- Rest is earned not given.
- Taking naps is being lazy or childish.
- Doing creates a worthwhile day.
- Living life to the fullest means doing many things at the same time.
These are the beliefs that make me forget Sabbath.
So, how do I remember the Sabbath?
I remember that rest means more than simply being tired.
I remember that rest is a break, a pause.
I remember that rest is an important note in music.
I remember that when I step out of the grind I find space for reflection.
I remember that when I find space, I find perspective.
I remember how I’m connected to everything. Everything.
And over the years of remembering, observing, practicing Sabbath, I have also started showing up differently in the other six days a week.
- more present
- more connected
- more energized
- more focused
While the path getting here has not been easy – the path to rest never is – I bet it would have been a lot easier if I had always remembered the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
Moving forward, I do.