Confronted by Sabbath
When I started practicing the spiritual discipline of sabbath, I thought that I was just committing to a day of rest; I didn’t realize that the journey I was embarking on would be the beginning of deep inner healing.
My first year in college, I learned that the sabbath was more than an Old Testament law that we could supposedly ignore because of Jesus (for a more fleshed out exploration of the sabbath, see links below). While participating in a summer program with my InterVarsity Christian Fellowship community, I learned that the sabbath was a gift from God: a day of rest, reflection, and celebration. Observing the sabbath with community was a transformative experience for me. Upon leaving the program I committed to take a sabbath every week for the rest of my life (18-year-old Alayna was very optimistic). It took another three years before I started to actually put this into practice.
Coming into my second year of leadership with InterVarsity, I battled the exhaustion of being a college student, working a part-time job, and leading a small group. Having tasted the goodness of sabbath, though, I set out on a journey of how to do this mysterious thing called sabbath. What started out as a quest to construct a day that gave me rest quickly became a rude confrontation with the unhealth of my soul. Turning off my phone for a day revealed the way I distract myself from hard feelings like failure or loneliness and the ways I want to be needed. Spending time taking a walk showed the ways I find my value in what I produce. Not doing homework or ministry showed me the ways I don’t trust God and feel over-responsible for everything. But these things run deep and weren’t solved by one day of rest. It is the weekly practice of slowing down that has helped me begin to believe the words of truth that God cares about my feelings, that my value comes from being a beloved child of God, and that God is actually perfectly capable of running the world without me.
I am still learning these truths three years later. Now I am in full-time ministry with InterVarsity and need the sabbath more than ever. The temptation to overwork is great because the work of ministry is never done. There is always another student to meet with, another event to plan, another Bible study to prep. It is both the work’s importance and the desire to prove myself (especially as a single lady leader) that make it easy to blur the lines of sabbath: to send that one text, to reply to that one email, to host one more event. I need the sabbath because it is really hard for me to believe the one truth that will actually fuel my life and ministry: I am deeply, radically, and unconditionally loved by God. God did not make me to be his worker. I am his child. God made me to know and experience his love.
Beginning to believe this truth takes daily spiritual disciplines and one day a week of protected (often fought-for) time. Time to sleep in, take a walk in the forest, read, call a friend, and generally let God love me. Love that is not based on how well I led that Bible study or how good I was at adulting this week or how interesting or fun I am. It is deep, radical, unconditional, and completely-life-altering love.
When I started out on this sabbath journey, I never thought that God would want to do such a deep work in me. I am so thankful for the ways that God is continuing to use sabbath to bring me healing and life.
These are some resources I have found helpful on my journey: collegiateministries.intervarsity.org/blog/sabbath-invitation-spiritual-rest // bridgetown.church/teaching/work-series/the-sabbath-i-am-not-a-machine // Sabbath Keeping: Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest by Lynne M. Baab