I've not written in a while. At least not at my blog. Or, anywhere really. I recently put my pen down (yes, I still write with pen and paper) and picked up markers instead. The markers were sort of a desperate attempt at sabbath - to reboot my soul after a challenging summer and a truly full season of my writing being released in three publications this year (one of which was my first published devotional book - for which I'm truly grateful).
My friend, Dana, also released a book this year. It turned out her book was released into the world 38 days after her mother passed away in the care of hospice. The book was dedicated to her mom (prior to Dana knowing her mother was terminally ill or that she would only be around long enough to hold an early release copy). And so, Dana was invited into releasing For Sabbath's Sake into the world at a time when she needed sabbath more than ever - to honor her mom and her own grief. Dana shares her wisdom not only in her words but also in her actions and I'm so honored to see her live into sabbath since her mother's passing. She inspires me to remember sabbath is not a far-off dream. Think about your practice of keeping sabbath. Do you regularly keep sabbath? Is it invited or forced? Is it a set day of the week you honor or keep? Is there any sabbath space in your life? Or, does it occasionaly slip away like mine accidentally did?
My recent sabbath experience extended beyond an anticipated Sunday afternoon nap. It was not expected and actually bumped into weeks of other plans. Yet it was necessary beyond measure. Since it was uninvited by me yet clearly mandated by my body, it even included some anxiety (what about this commitment or that duty?). The more I'm honest about the fact that anxiety took hold during my recent sabbath experience, the more I realize how many of us struggle with anxiety on a regular basis. And, when that emotion hit, I panicked.
The standard tools in my tool box for soul care (writing, meditation, yoga, labyrinth walks, and retreats) offer me sabbath rest and recharge. Yet they have also become my work and I realized they were not companioning me as they had in the past. This made me anxious. Thankfully, I had some new tricks up my sleeve and per a little rest and relaxation (and even a bit of Netflix), I pulled out a new pack of markers for my newly embraced sabbath plans. And, wow! Was I surprised. Inviting in a new spiritual practice allowed me to hit the reset button and truly discover a new rhythm of sabbath. I began with a beautiful wall art poster I found at Ten Thousand Villages as well as the Upper Room book, Praying with Mandalas.
At first, I was impressed with the markers themselves. Each stroke swiftly glided across the paper with vivid color as my mind relaxed and I let go of my task list. And an amazing thing happened as the colors filled the page, I began to find rest in God's presence. My mind had been overflowing for weeks (okay, months). I was not sleeping well and my body barely desired movement (something I regularly long for). Yet with each stroke of the marker, a new tool was added to my tool box. I began to relax and unwind as I savored this quiet time with God.
And, then...I started to dream.
I'm not talking about dreaming into the future (this is a norm for me, I am always dreaming up new ideas). I'm talking about dreaming in the present, in my sleeping hours. The kind of dreams you wake up from and wonder what they had to teach you or what they may be inviting you to in the new day. Once embraced, God allowed me to find true rest when my head hit the pillow during this time of sabbath. True rest, which had recently been just a dream was a reality of the present. My nights were filled with dreams, dreams, and more dreams. Not all the dreams made sense nor did I remember every detail. Yet the dreams surfaced and my body and my soul found rest.
Sabbath is not a dream. Sabbath invites dreams. Sabbath does not have to be forced or uninvited. Sabbath may be a day a week. Sabbath may be a season. Yet how could I forget? Sabbath does not have to be a far off dream. Maybe you need this reminder too? Pick up your markers (or some other new tool for your own unwinding) and embrace your sabbath dreams with God.
Sabbath: the seventh day of the week observed from Friday evening to Saturday evening as a day of rest and worship by Jews and some Christians; often observed on Sunday among Christians as a day of rest and worship; a time of rest; abstaining from work
There is simply something about summer that leaves me yearning for quiet, slow, sunny mornings and extra time under the stars late at night. Somehow, exploring Sabbath rest comes more easily in the summer. The days get longer and time seems to slow down, even though my task list, chores, and never ending ideas continue no matter the season. Yet, summer days help me embrace the concept of Sabbath a bit more freely than other times of the year.
I don’t know about you, but my Sabbath time is not often scheduled on one set day of the week as the definition suggests. Since my retreat and workshop work often continues throughout the weekend, it’s challenging to always find Sabbath on Sundays. Many of us work varied hours, and those of us who are caregivers or parents know this type of work cannot be unscheduled on certain days. Those who work in the church or other ministry settings often share with me that Sunday is far from a day in which they abstain from work. Can we, too, discover Sabbath rest and might it be easier than expected in the summer?
Amidst the ongoing duties of life, new rules seem to take effect in the summer for our family. Or, maybe it’s less rules? A teen who calls to stay over and spend the night at his grandmother’s house rather than come home (he knows his room looks like a tornado hit and avoids this duty at all costs), yet I agree. A newsletter that has a deadline, but instead, a yoga mat, some homemade kombucha, and a lovely back porch (from where I cannot escape the loud construction of a new home next door) call more loudly and I easily unplug. And a day that should have involved household cleaning - instead I find myself loading my Kindle with tons of library books. Free fiction and summer - that’s my Sabbath.
Today I sat in silence and wondered - rest and worship come easy for me. Yet why is it sometimes hard to abstain from work? Is it because there are so many great ideas brewing in my creative heart? There are not enough hours, even on a long summer day to tackle everything God has planted inside me (and the stuff I avoid too, like laundry). How do I step away from "work" and lean in to my own soul care? Here are five soul care tips for exploring Summer Sabbath:
This summer I am definitely not tossing my ideas or creative spirit - these are not work. I am exploring Sabbath rest and discovering time apart from work (like my computer screen) more freely. I desire to embrace soaking up the sun, sleeping plenty, keeping safe boundaries for my social media time, savoring my senses, and discovering plenty of silly fun! Will you join me in this and keep me accountable as well?
What does your summer Sabbath look like? How do you make space away from your work? Is that easy or difficult in this season of summer?
By the way, I was inspired to write this post as one of my fellow Upper Room authors, J. Dana Trent, is releasing a book on the topic of Sabbath this fall. I’m excited to dive in (I might just get a sneak preview, one of the perks of “working” alongside her). Yet reading her words will not be work for me. Sabbath, this summer I’m ready to embrace you! Stay tuned for the release of For Sabbath’s Sake!
In our county, kids have not seen a full week of school in over a month. From ice and snow to more snow and ice then fast forward to "Spring Break" - you could say life has been less than routine. I found myself getting irritated and short tempered. I could not figure out how "not doing anything" made me so tired (note the sarcasm, parents). I saw the posts on-line that begged for Calgon to take every stay-at-home and work-at-home and even work-outside-the-home parent to another time and place each time a school cancellation was announced. And yet, I truly wondered why I was so tired and what was it we all wanted to flee from during this break? Why did we have to be entertained? Why couldn't we just find rest? Why couldn't I rest?
It didn't make sense. The extras disappeared and we had a bit more forced space. Nature gave us a "time out" for rest and yet I was spinning my wheels rather than settling in to the space. I am a planner. So, it's quite likely if notice had been given, I would have been prepared and more mentally ready to rest. But it was not expected and I struggled. Why is it we struggle to settle in to the unplanned empty spaces in our lives? What seemed like a loss was really a gain. And, I did not take full advantage of that fact.
Now the rest transitions back to life and as I prepare to return to routine and all the commitments that accompany it, I found myself briefly getting anxious. Why? Let's be honest, the routine kicks in and the busy quickly follows - and busy is not pretty either.
Why are we so busy and why is there no in between? What is it we seek with what fills up our calendars? Why when those calendars are unexpectedly empty, do we feel lost? Are we addicted to busy?
I don't attend yoga class to make use of comfy pants. I don't attend worship to visit with my friends. I don't take my son to Scouts and basketball so his agenda is full. I don't schedule time to date my husband in order to seek out a good meal. I don't visit family or friends because I need or want something. I don't teach or plan retreats or lead or write or volunteer for recognition. So, why then? Why do I do the things that fill up my calendar? Why do you?
I've struggled with being vs. doing for much of my adult life. And thankfully, I hear permission from God that it does not have to be one or the other. We can be with God amidst our doing, we can find rest.
Here are some reminders for myself in this season, maybe for you too:
During likely one of the most challenging times in the life of Moses, God told him this, "My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." (Exodus 33:14, NIV)
Every time I start to get overwhelmed, I am reminded to rest. And yet, my initial response is that I have too much to do to rest. You know the drill. The kids, the job, the house, the family, the friends, the church, the place you volunteer down the road, or even the shelter downtown - they ALL need you!
Guess what? They do need you! Without you, there will be no one to fold the laundry, help with homework, kiss the boo-boos, build friendships, give to the church, or volunteer in the community. But, here is the big news flash! You don't have to do it all at once and you aren't expected to do it all when you are exhausted.
We need rest. God designed us to rest. He even rested. He tells us that he will give us rest! So, why do we think that we are special and we do not need to rest? If you are guilty of forgetting to rest and take care of yourself, you are not alone. This has been a skill set I have been working on for quite some time. What is interesting is that many of us simply don't know where to start. Most of us have not been modeled rest or taught well how to rest by our society.
So, I'm sharing some small changes I've made to incorporate rest in my life and hope that by sharing my list it may help you to expand your list. Read it through, get some ideas and get some rest!
You may think that it is impossible to get away with God and find rest in today's society with all that is resting on your shoulders. But, it really is possible. And, in the long run, you may just find you are more productive. Or, you may find that the less important things in life just fall right off your list. What gives you rest?
I'm signing off to go stretch and then sleep while the dishes await! Happy rest!
“Doing things differently” sounds so much better than change, doesn’t it? Most of us are not fans of change and we often resist it to the bitter end. But, if we take a few steps back and commit to “doing things differently”, it may not seem as painful.
I’ve taken the summer off (a sabbath) from schoolwork and although I have my book-list, I have not read anything that is required for my next class (woo-hoo!). This summer, I’ve needed to practice what I’ve been learning rather than learn more about it and I also just needed to do things differently. For starters, I needed to not take myself so seriously. I have been in a mode of vocational discernment, trying to figure out what is next and where God is leading me. There are many definitions for “what” discernment is or looks like. But, for me, it has been a place of waiting and learning. It’s a place God has had me in for a while and I’m finally getting used to it. Just as I adjust to this place of waiting, things are starting to take shape. Isn’t that just how life goes?
Anyway, at the start of the summer, I declared it a summer of fiction and fun with the family. I can say that has been a success as I near the completion of the entire Harry Potter series! The summer has mostly been about family fun with our 7 year-old that has included camping trips and swimming in the lake. But, this week he is gone to visit my grandmother with his grandparents and I am taking this time of silence to go on retreat. So, the first thing I longed to do was write. Doing things differently this summer has shown me how much I’ve missed this time of reflection.
We often know that certain things in our life need to be done differently. We hear God’s little nudge or urge to make a change. Sometimes we give in and make drastic changes and sometimes we answer with small changes. But, I really believe that when God nudges us to do things differently, there is a reason for it. We can only ignore him for so long. I know that the spiritual formation tools I’ve been studying are to be shared with others. But, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with where to start, who to start with and when to start. Sometimes, it isn’t as hard as we make it. Here is what I have learned so far: I need to step back, look around me and simply start with myself by following God’s urge to do things differently.
I had the privilege of meeting with some amazing young women in our community who have the itch to “do things differently” this summer. They have volunteered this summer to learn and serve as "Project Collide". These girls have worshiped under a bridge with some of Nashville’s homeless community. They are definitely open to “doing things differently”.
Here is some of what impressed me most about those young women…they didn’t roll their eyes or mutter under their breath when I asked them to take a deep breath and get comfortable for a time of silence. They listened in silence as I shared a guided prayer with them. They were intrigued by the sand labyrinth I brought to share and wanted to know all about my hand crosses and stones and 10,000 Villages (a very cool store making global change). They were open to doing things differently. I might even dare to say that most of them are hungry for it. The next day I got an email asking about where some of the girls could go to visit a labyrinth. That isn’t the expected afternoon activity for teenage girls in our community, it’s doing things differently.
Yes, being different is hard and it often isn’t popular. Take a moment and think about expanding that box you’ve put around yourself, what could you do differently this week? And, I’m not talking about just the serious stuff. I went to Zumba for the first time last week (and if you know my dancing abilities) that was a good laugh for the spectators outside the workout room, but it was also fun. It was a good way for me to do something different!
Why is it that when we are looking to make a difference or find something more fulfilling in life we seek to change everything around us instead of changing ourselves?
Give yourself a spiritual, physical or mental workout this week. Yes, we are all busy. But make the time to do something different: go to church under a bridge or in a thrift store, try a new workout, give yourself a good laugh, memorize a scripture, walk a labyrinth, try a healthy new food, read a good book, create some art, go on retreat, worship with your eyes closed, pray out loud, sit in silence, volunteer your time, talents or resources and you may just find that there is great joy in doing things differently!
Whitney R. Simpson
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