This post was written by Christie Penner Worden, a member of the INCM Blog team.
It was a beautiful afternoon, late in June–the kind of afternoon that is filled with the promise of summer and a heat only the July sun to come would offer. I sat with the sun on my face, listening to the casual conversation of my colleagues in our outdoor meeting when my phone rang.
I don’t remember exactly what she said, but it was my daughter’s care team. She’s medically fragile. They were urging me to meet her in the Emergency Room. “No, you don’t have time to go home. – – Do you understand? – – Where is she now? – – Okay, we’ll talk soon.” The moments following were a blur, but I do remember sending one text to my boss: “I won’t be in for a while. I need to request a leave of absence.”
Each night, I would walk past her empty bedroom and plead with Jesus to heal her. I would imagine her long, curly hair on her pillow and the peace that wrote itself all over her face as she slept, even when peace felt so far away. I would fall into bed exhausted, and I would beg my Father for rest. In fairness, many of my friends were begging God for rest for me, too. The lines were growing deeper on my face with every video call.
After a seventeen-day hospital admission, new doctors, new meds, and a team enlisted, we were on a new journey with our daughter. One that would require moment-by-moment care. Taking her home didn’t feel like the relief one expects at the end of a hospital stay. We were at the beginning of something that felt like a marathon through mud: messy, slow, exhausting. The kind of exhaustion that ravages you and you feel in your bones and your soul. Sleep was now shallow and fraught with fear. And rest was something to which I no longer seemed to have bodily access.
The days grew long and lost rhythm. What day is it? I would hear myself ask. “What time is it?” I would blurt out in panic, checking our dear girl’s meds schedule. Yet, when Friday came each week, I knew it was Friday. For all I knew the day before, it was Monuednesday, but Friday was certain. And I had plans. Friday is my Sabbath and it doesn’t move. Through the mud and slog of the six other days, all still seemed to settle on Friday, or at least not matter with the same intensity. On Fridays, I move slowly, but not because I’m stuck in the thick of it all. I move slowly because I’m waiting for Him to lead.
The habit of Sabbath is one that began years ago for me, and I am certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that this summer would have been my undoing without the anticipation and expectation of Friday each week. But that expectation was learned. And what I learned in the light, when the need wasn’t such a spiritual chasm, would serve me, no minister to me, in some of the darkest hours of my life.
Sabbath is the intentional setting apart of a day of rest. It is many things, but optional isn’t really one of them for me anymore. While it is a choice (as it is to walk with Jesus), I learned to choose into the rhythm of rest before I really “needed” it. What I have learned about needing rest isn’t that I need a break, it’s that I need Him. I need Jesus. And the way to Him is to show up. Ever since I chose to show up for Sabbath once, I understood what I was missing if I didn’t.
As the walls began to close in and the days consumed me, I still had Fridays. And oh, how I longed to be in His presence, to allow Him to minister to me, to sit with the Scriptures and let Truth talk sense to my chaos. His rest gives me space to cry, to ask questions, to curl up on His lap and see the vista from His vantage point. His is the seat at the table that gives eyes to all the others. The sufficiency of the companionship of Jesus is overwhelming and generous–lavish–and is the only thing that could satisfy the kind of question I was often being asked in this season: “What do you need?”
So here’s what I would want you to know about His rest, so that you know it in the desert with as much confidence as you know it in the Promised Land of His Presence:
1. What you learn in health will serve you in crisis.
Healthy rhythms are not often acquired under pressure. They need wide open spaces to try, to reimagine, to make room. They need permission within the privileges of flexibility, wonder and curiosity. When we are healthy, we have room to grow and flourish. And if you’re not sabbathing in your flourishing, I can only imagine what God would do in six days for/in/through you that you cannot do in seven without Sabbath rest. Just saying.
2. Rhythm is meant for momentum. It is trustworthy. It also gets you back on track when you trip or fall.
If you’re a musician like me, you know the significance of rhythm to hold a piece of music together. Sabbath creates a time signature where you play six beats and Jesus plays the seventh. In order to keep rhythm, you have to trust that He will do His part. You not only don’t have to play the seventh beat, you could ruin the melody if you do and you get to hear His sweet note, written just for you, if you don’t.
3. Rest is a promise, a covenant, a gift. It isn’t the chore. It is rest from the chores. But it does require effort to keep.
“Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy,” God requires. God created for six days and didn’t on the seventh. Why? He tells us that He stopped, looked around at all He had done, and saw that it was good. When was the last time you did that? Have you thought about Sabbath as an opportunity to declare God’s goodness? To truly look around and say “it is sufficient”?
What this kind of pause requires is the belief that all that you have done in six days is not only sufficient as a contribution, but that He will provide on the seventh beyond what you could have done if you hadn’t stopped and declared His goodness.
4. Sabbath isn’t optional. Sit with that.
While you have a choice, I wonder if you have heeded God’s call to Sabbath the same way you have to not murder or worship an idol. It’s quite blindsiding when you choose to see it listed among the same commands as not sleeping with someone else’s spouse or stealing. This matters. Giving God one of your days each week matters to the heart of God so much that He esteems it as equal to the other commands.
But we have a list in our minds, don’t we, of which ones we are comfortable with, and which ones seem optional. Keeping the Sabbath seems to sit with honouring our parents or coveting in the “yeah, but” camp. There are caveats to these ones, aren’t there? Exceptions to the rule? I daresay no.
5. Sabbath is a testimony of obedience and trust.
Here’s the thing: if you believe that God is who He says He is (and I know you do), and you believe that you are who He says you are (and I know you want to), then He will do what only He can do when you do what He has asked you to do. That’s the thing about “trust and obey”: you can’t know the abundance of God’s Kingdom until you engage with it on the terms set out before you. And God’s terms are this: He longs to take care of you, to give you gifts (and His are the best–there are no bad ones!); He delights in hanging out with you, listening to you, comforting you, celebrating with you and cheering you on.
AND He also has things to say and would very much like you to take the time to listen. In order to do that, you will need to set other things aside and trust that He’s not only worth it–but that his sufficiency is beyond need. He is more than enough. Sit a while. And whatever you give up to be in His presence, I promise–promise–He’ll make it worth your while and take care of the things you’re fretting about (or at least adjust your perspective).
6. It isn’t a box we tick. It’s a thing we long for, and a thing we miss if not observed.
What if you just skipped Christmas morning? Or someone ‘s birthday? What are the chances you are just checking out of every family celebration for the next year? What would you miss if you did? That’s the heart for Sabbath I want you to consider. That it is the heart of celebration, worship, anticipation that we are invited to on the set-apart occasion of the Lord’s Day. This is holiness: preparing your heart to enter His presence and being flattened by His goodness, grace and mercy, and your invitation to it.
7. Rest doesn’t have to mean stillness. (Thank goodness!)
What does restoration look like for your soul? Is it play? Maybe it’s physical activity or time spent in nature. It could be a visit to your favourite cafe or a drive to that spot you’ve always wanted to see.
Has the very definition of “rest” or some impossible picture of meditation and stillness kept you from exploring what it means to spend a day with God saying “it is good”? So redefine rest! How do you best reflect His image in work and in play? What brings you joy, delight, reprieve? Do that. Do lots of that, with Him, and thank Him for the way He made you to uniquely celebrate Him.
8. Your family and friends will get it. Eventually.
Just like the beginning of a new school year, two things are always true: when it comes to settling into a new schedule it is worth it and you’ll get used to it. You’ll even stop apologizing for saying no to things on your Sabbath that you would have previously said yes to (in the “before times”: before boundaries, before rest, before Sabbath).
Your “yes” to Jesus quashes any fomo of what you may be missing. And your “no” is a really good teacher. So much of what we learn from Jesus was taught in His walk, in His ways, not only in His words. And if Jesus kept the Sabbath, I have to believe there is something in it worth practicing. He is in it. He sees you, He loves you, He is with you.
As you make space for Sabbath, those who are discipled by you will grow curious. When you say “I’m hanging out with Jesus today…” few will contest that. But, they may ask you the day after or later in the week what you meant by that. And if we are to bear witness to the gospel in our lives, it will show up in our ways more than our words, too.
As I was on leave from my job, navigating trauma, crisis and new normals, I wondered if it mattered that each week still had a Friday when I seemed to be pulling on our Father’s pant leg every hour. I assure you that the dark hours of each day could not hide from the Light of the Sabbath (John 1:5). You are children of the Light. Let your light be restored for one day, so that He may shine brightly through you, even in the darkest of places.
Christie is impassioned by the imagination and faith that is hardwired into kids. Her own childlike faith enables her to believe in God’s promises, see in technicolor and celebrate God’s creativity. She’s excited to ignite sparks in adults and blaze trails for kids to step onto with kingdom purpose. Christie spends the rest of her time with her charming husband and three (mostly) delightful kids.