I strongly believe that my adherence to a weekly day of rest from normal activities since my early twenties has been a key part of staying high functioning with a chronic illness. I know that Sabbath-keeping is probably not a popular topic, but hear me out. Your well-being implores you to!
I am all about health in all of its forms and aspects, from physical to emotional to psychological as well as spiritual health. After all, we are complex beings with bodies, minds, and souls. In this post I am going to attempt to discuss why taking one day a week to rest is necessary for good health in all four areas mentioned above and how I do a Sabbath.
For ease of conversation, for the rest of the post, let’s just call this weekly day of rest a Sabbath, a Biblical term, meaning “to cease, desist” (1).
First of all, why is the Sabbath essential. For one thing, it is one of the Ten Commandments, the 4th one, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy”, Exodus 20:8 (NASB, 1978), holy meaning set apart. For another, God did it Himself. Genesis 2:3 tells us that after God completed His creation of our world and everything in it, He rested on the seventh day. I believe one reason that God wants this day to be different is that it exemplifies the marvelous cyclical qualities of life, the ebb & flow. I see it as a gift really, not a religious duty. A couple of other good reasons to keep the 4th Commandment that talk show host Dennis Prager (2) gives is that it strengthens ties with family members and friends by giving us the time to spend in community, and another is that it reminds us that we have a soul to feed, that we are not just material beings. Those two things alone are great for emotional, psychological, and spiritual health, which end up benefiting physical health.
Another aspect of taking a Sabbath that benefits physical health is the rest part. During the week and often on the weekends we are go, go, go. Stress here, striving there. Driven, all cylinders firing, tension galore. The results of all of that being increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, increased cortisol levels, with increased blood sugar, insulin resistance, and insulin levels due to the higher cortisol levels, which in turn leads to an increased risk of obesity (3), accelerated aging, increased risk of Alzheimers, even cancer and much more. Better to take a break one day a week, breathe deeply, rest, replenish, commune, meditate, celebrate, rejuvenate.
Secondly, I think that there are different ways to keep a Sabbath. I like to think of it as a 24-hour period that is flexible, but usually I practice my Sabbath from sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday. This gives me Sunday evening to ramp up for the next week. But this time period can differ due to the needs of the week. Also, the day can vary. For instance, when I used to work at the hospital on Sundays then I would take another day of the week off.
This is how I spend my Sabbath:
1. No work, even if it seems pressing. No matter how dirty my car is or how many loads of laundry are waiting for me, or how many of my leaves are blowing into the neighbor’s yard, I don’t do any work unless it is making my bed, making a meal, changing a diaper, or something emergent happens, like my donkey falling into a ditch. If that happens, yes, I would pull it out.
It is interesting to note that even during nursing school and then later when I was working on my bachelor degree in nursing I kept the Sabbath by refraining from all studying and school work. Except for one time. Confession: I gave into the temptation due to a big test on the respiratory system ominously looming the next day, and spent some Sunday hours studying, and I ended up getting the lowest test score in all of nursing school, 72%. I felt that God did not honor this decision, and that He was showing me that He was blessing my efforts all of the other times when I kept the Sabbath.
The Sabbath habit also applied this with my husband’s business. Even when things are crazy busy and the work load seems crushing, Kevin never works on Sundays. It is just a deep conviction that we have had since our early twenties. And we have seen God bless it.
A big note here: My husband and I are not totally dogmatic about Sabbath keeping. And we do it so imperfectly too. For instance, we have been known to go pick up a few things at the grocery store. I wish we scored higher in sainthood.
2. We go to church. Most weeks. While these places are filled with less than perfect people, led by less than perfect pastors, and take up precious weekend hours, my husband and I are convinced that over all we are way better off having persistently attended and been a part of church on a weekly basis.
3. I typically spend more time reflecting on God, spend more time reading the Bible, usually read a spiritual book like True Spirituality by Frances Schaeffer, and focus my prayers more on praise, thanksgiving and worship of God than requests.
4. We do restful recreation like going on a moderate hike or for a walk on the beach or just around our neighborhood. Incidentally, this wouldn’t sit well with the Puritans though. They believed that recreation was not to be a part of Sabbath-keeping. Some have believed reading the newspaper, playing cards, and/or playing frisbee golf are not allowed either, but I personally do not.
5. Take a nap. I am definitely not the nap-taker type, but once in a while on a Sunday I can just about fall into a deep coma. Very restorative.
6. Less or no screen time. I have yet to turn off my cell phone, but I do try to look at my iPad and computer only minimally, and we are inconsistent with limiting television viewing. I think the idea is fabulous, but I am definitely not the icon in this area.
7. Doing good. Acts of mercy such as rescuing a kitten from a tree, or visiting the sick in the hospital, calling, emailing, or texting someone who is lonely. I would also consider picking up a sword if Red Dawn happens, and for sure dousing a fire if my neighbors house was ablaze.
There is a flipside though to not resting enough. Jim Rohn, one of my favorite how-to-have-a-successful-life gurus remarks in his book, The Five Major Pieces to the Life Puzzle, that a reasonable activity-to-rest ratio is six days of labor to one day of rest. He goes on to say that too much rest is not wise and that “the punishment for excessive rest is mediocrity”, p. 73. I will add: and possibly worse.
In closing, I admit, I do not know what the perfect way to keep a Sabbath is, and I do not even do perfectly what I think would be the best. But I have seen many ways that God has honored my physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual health even with my imperfect attempts. And so I encourage you, if you already don’t, consider making Sabbath-keeping a part of your weekly routine. Maybe try it tomorrow.
I invite your comments on the matter: Do you set aside one day a week? If so, how do you use your time on the Sabbath?
(1) Unger et al. (1985). Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words. (p. 542). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
(2) “Six Reasons Why Keeping the Sabbath Matters”, National Review, December 30, 2014, https://www.nationalreview.com/2014/12/six-reasons-why-keeping-sabbath-matters-dennis-prager/
(3) Fung, Jason. (2016). The Obesity Code. (p. 90-93). Vancouver, Canada: Greystone Books.