By Jenny Stricklin
Just about the time the holiday season began, and the pace of life kicked up a notch, I took note of my emotions. I’d been on the verge of tears for a few weeks by that point. Depleted, discouraged, and discontent. I was uncharacteristically snappy and strangely void of any original thoughts. I’d been over–extended in every way and unsuccessfully multitasking many things that each deserved my full attention, which left me irritable, insecure and the very worst version of myself. Now that I think about it, it was taking a physical toll too – jaw pain, a brick-on-my-chest feeling each morning, and pure exhaustion. Something HAD to give.
After taking a soul-searching step back, the problem was clear. I had severely deprived myself of one of the most basic human needs: REST. And not just a nap here and there or a good night’s sleep. But true, restorative sabbath rest.
Sabbath, a Hebrew word meaning “to cease, to stop working,” historically referred to a 24–hour period of time once a week when the ancient Israelites were to stop all work, paid and unpaid, and to reorient their lives around God. This was to go on in purposeful repetition. Work, rest, work, rest, work, rest.
So much of creation operates in awe-inspiring rhythm. Sunrise and sunset bring the dependable periods of light and dark. Spring, summer, fall, and winter rotate predictable seasons of growth and dormancy. The recurring phases of the moon bring the ocean tide steadily in and then back out again. Likewise, God saw fit that mankind would operate in a steady cadence.
From the Genesis beginning, after His creation work, the God of the universe modeled rest. He then strategically embedded this holy (set apart) practice into the fabric of His holy (set apart) people. God was so serious about this work-rest pattern in the Old Testament that He ordered Sabbath violations be punishable by death! And in case anyone thought he was out for meaningless rigidity, He made his purposes clear:
- Sabbath would cultivate a bond of trust between God and His people as they obediently sacrificed a day of work, and then watched Him make up the difference and provide for their needs again and again.
- Sabbath would serve as a consistent reminder of their human limitations and need.
- Sabbath would be a signal to a watching world that God’s people were free! Free from all the “doing”, and free to focus on the “being”.
This counter-cultural sabbath practice would mark every part of their lives from the inside out.
Interestingly, in the Ten Commandments line-up, it seems the Sabbath law served as a sort of bridge between the God-laws and the social-laws. Not only was it of equal weight to “Have no other God’s before me” and “Do not murder”, it was seemingly foundational to our ability to keep in step with God’s law at all, particularly as it related to other humans. Without regular breaks from our work and deliberate reconnection with Him, we can’t possibly love and honor God as we should, nor maintain healthy relationships with others… the little people or the big ones.
Without regular breaks from our work and deliberate reconnection with Him, we can’t possibly love and honor God as we should, nor maintain healthy relationships with others… the little people or the big ones.
The root of my sabbath-neglect was nothing short of pride. Without realizing it, I had been living as though my little corner of the world depended on me, like I had no limitations, as if my agenda was the authority. I needed to humble myself and act like God is God and I am not.
Alongside our bodily requirement of food and water, the need for rest is one of the great levelers of humanity, isn’t it? Lest we dupe ourselves into believing we are superhuman, exhaustion and hunger and thirst come knocking and bring us right back down to reality within a matter of days.
We are dependent creatures, constrained to the divine design of our Creator. Yet history reminds us that we’ve been bucking the system and believing lies about our boundaries since way back in the Garden of Eden. Subconsciously even, we suppose, “Did God really say…?”, and we justify our defiance. It doesn’t usually look evil after all. In fact, it’s often hidden under the acceptable cloak of busyness, hurry, production, or efficiency.
Though I was regularly at church, and genuinely sought to connect with God when time and mental energy allowed throughout the week, I had no intentional routines in place for soul renewal. No rhythms of rest that could sustain my constant output.
Years ago, I faced a similar struggle against sabbath which prompted significant life adjustments. In desperation, I’d laid down many things that year (paid work, social media and various good commitments), and picked up the only replacements I believed might cut through the chaos in my mind and body: a slower pace, margin for reading and reflection, and time to delight in God and the real people in my real life. Turns out these changes had major impact on my spiritual, emotional, and physical health. I saw firsthand the value of incorporating rest routines in life. Of regular solitude and silence. Of slowing down and saying no to good things. Of purposely enjoying God and His gifts on a regular basis.
And here I found myself again, years later, in need of a reset.
How about you, friend? Do you need a reset? Do you have protected periods of time where you can regularly reconnect with God and be renewed for the work ahead? Thankfully, when we get off track, God graciously helps us get back into rhythm.
For the sake of the people we lead and love. For the sake of our souls. REST. This isn’t just for extra–credit bonus points. This is the core of Christianity – resting in the ongoing and, ultimately, the finished work of Christ.
From Little Rock, AR, Jenny Stricklin is a pastor¹s wife and mom of five young kids who is seeking to live out her motherhood calling in a way that honors God and impacts the Kingdom. God has graciously shown her His heart through everyday struggles, foster care, adoption, and parenting a child with special needs. Out of a love and desire for community, she¹s eager to link arms with other moms as they run - and sometimes crawl - toward Jesus in an effort to follow Him in the context of family.