Thursday, February 4, 2010

Keeping Sabbath

I am taking a class this semester called Keeping Sabbath.  I'm not going to lie - I didn't really think that I was going to learn much in this class.  I know that keeping Sabbath is a strong theological concept that pastors need to integrate into their lives.  I know that it is important to think about self care as I enter into the ministry as a full-time vocation.  I know that ministry is one of the unhealthiest vocations in the entire country.  I know that the largest percentage of students using the Emory University Counseling Services come from the School of Theology.  I know that it is important to set boundaries with my parishioners and with my friends and not take on their anxieties.  I know that the mind, body and spirit are connect and it is important to try to be healthy in all aspects of my life.

But apparently - I suck royally when it comes to actually implementing what I know and keeping Sabbath. Our professor told us that - in lieu of class this past Tuesday - we were each going to separately keep Sabbath and then convene and talk about our experiences at our next meeting.  I wrote about my experiences this morning and thought that I would share them here.  Feel free to leave your thoughts and let me know how you keep Sabbath - or if you do!!  Is it hard for you?  Have you found something that works or are you still looking?  I look forward to hearing what you all have to say - so many of you out there have such different day-to-day lives than I do so I think it will be really helpful to compare.


Keeping Sabbath

I have never been very good at keeping Sabbath. It is hard for me – especially in the middle of the day – to stop what I am doing and take some time for myself. My brain does not shut off and I am always thinking of something else that I could or should be doing.

When I was given the hour and twenty-minute opportunity to take Sabbath on Tuesday, I looked at my calendar and realized that it was empty and I would be able to head home after my early morning class and keep a longer Sabbath there. In my head, I listed off the countless ways I could keep Sabbath at home that I would not be able to if I were on campus and went on my way.

My Sabbath started off rocky. I “had” to stop and check in at work (even though it was my day off). I just felt that since I was not in class I was in some way obligated to do so. I ran around at work for two hours and was frustrated at myself for even going in. When I finally made it home, I couldn’t settle down. I folded laundry. I put the breakfast dishes in the dishwasher. I started pacing back and forth.

When my husband realized what I was doing, he told me that I was not doing a good job at keeping Sabbath. He recommended either sitting at my desk and doing homework or legitimately committing to do what I was supposed to do. I took him seriously, picked up my knitting and settled on the couch in front of some mindless television. And that is where I stayed for close to three hours.

And it was wonderful. I felt relaxed and refreshed. I knew I hadn’t done any work, but also felt confident that – after my 7:00 meeting that night – I would be able to focus on schoolwork for a couple of hours.

I left at 5:30 for my meeting, 50 minutes earlier than I normally would have left to get to church (it is a 40 minute drive). I was concerned about traffic and wanted to get there a few minutes early.

An hour later, I sat trapped on Cobb Parkway, knowing full well that there was no way I was even going to be on time. Traffic had been stop and go for the entire drive; I sat at green lights and did not move, intersections were blocked and brake lights were all I saw on the horizon. I texted my associate pastor and told her I was stranded with no end in sight. She was very understanding (it is Atlanta traffic, after all), but I hated having to tell her I was going to be late. Hated it – I simply do not like to be late.

A half an hour later my meeting was beginning and I was still stranded on Cobb Parkway. I had moved forward, but barely. I was frustrated beyond belief. I had been in the car for over an hour and a half, my foot had been on and off the break, people all around me were driving like maniacs (not the word I used at the time) and now I was late. And it was at that point that I lost it. I turned off my music because I did not care if Carrie Underwood thought that the mountain that I was climbing was just a grain of sand. I called Bruce and cried. I hit (albeit lightly) my hand on the steering wheel. I yelled at the driver of the Nissan Altima that flew past a line of traffic (that I had just sat through) in the turn-only lane and then cut me off to get into my lane. I leaned my head back and screamed. “I left early, this isn’t my fault!!” I said to myself.

Eventually I (safely) got to my meeting. Everybody was understanding, I was able to get caught up, we got a lot accomplished and eventually I was back on the road heading home – this time with no traffic.

But I still felt like I was there; on Cobb Parkway in twilight, surrounded by drivers just as frustrated by the traffic as I was and late for my meeting. When I finally got home, I went straight to bed. My earlier thought that I would do homework was gone; I climbed into bed and tried to go to sleep. But I couldn’t seem to fall asleep – I felt anxious and frustrated. I had not fully calmed down from something that happened nearly five hours earlier. I tried to breathe slowly in and out but I could still feel my heart beating faster than normal. Eventually – a few hours later – I fell asleep.

I learned several very important lessons that day. I joked with my husband about the first lesson being never going to work on my day off, but I think there is something very valid in this statement. It is important to put up boundaries and to keep them. Yes, eventually you may need to bring them down, but an ordinary day with no emergencies is not the day to do that.

Secondly, I learned that it is important to stay calm under circumstances that are beyond my control. There was not only an accident on Cobb Parkway while I was driving to church, but also on the highway, which infiltrated the traffic on Cobb. I could not control that and I could not control the other drivers dangerously trying to slide in an out of traffic. I could only control my own reaction and to do what I could to ensure my own safety.

Finally, I realized that keeping Sabbath for a few hours does not mean that you will be cool, calm and collected for the remainder of the day. I was disappointed that I had been so deliberate about keeping Sabbath and then essentially ruined my efforts. Keeping Sabbath is not just taking a nap from time to time; it is a constant effort that will require diligent attention on my part.

I love ministry; I thrive off of it. But I am a human being with faults and limitations. I am not perfect. I am a work in progress, still learning how to keep myself strong and healthy so that I am available to do what I feel like I am called to do.


  1. This was such a great post! I really enjoyed reading about your day and how you kept the Sabbath. Atlanta traffic must really be awful!

  2. Those are some important learnings about Sabbath! I'm still working on those lessons, especially setting boundaries and following them. It can be tough when committees need to meet, events must be planned, and sermons have to be written, but sometimes you just need the rest. Keep working at it!


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