When I was pregnant with my fourth child just over five years ago, I had a doctor tell me I needed rest. I laughed. I told him I couldn’t stop—that I had asked for help but I had none. I remember that feeling of helplessness as I tried to rest but didn’t know how. I also remember how quickly that prescription of rest expired for me and gave way to panic attacks and anxiety after we nearly lost our daughter in the delivery room. She was born blue, the cord that was supposed to give her life entangling her neck, choking her. But she breathed and came to life that Easter weekend. And we celebrated and gave thanks for God’s salvation!
Still, I was back to work two weeks later on my own volition because there was no one to take my place (true in one sense, but also, not really). Few people knew the level of overwhelm or the traumatic memories that haunted me for the next year and a half. Not one really saw the way noise from my children, lots of questions, feeling rushed, or just being in a crowded room would start my heart racing and make me feel like I couldn’t breathe. I used to thrive in those high-stress adrenaline moments, but now, they were debilitating for me.
Then came my rescue in the late fall. One thing necessary. Sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to what He said (Luke 10:38-42). He took me to peace, not like the world gives, but true, deep peace of the soul. He taught me to be still like soil and let Him work the message of Jesus into the soil of my heart which was riddled with sin, greed, pride, fear, and anxiety. I started learning to live at His pace—to try to do what I see Him doing and say what I hear Him saying. He healed me over the course of 18 months. The panic attacks and anxiety were completely gone.
But something has been bothering me even after all this healing. I still get very overwhelmed at loud moments, or with lots of people, when presented with too many choices to make, when I have not had a minute to myself in three days. When I feel overwhelmed, the first thing I notice is that my emotions heighten and then turn off. I don’t get panic attacks anymore (thank God), but I still feel this emotional rise and shut-off like a switch (like a surge protector). My frustration and overwhelm is compartmentalized (put in a box and closed!) and I am functional but not genuinely there as a whole person. It is a self-protective measure my body developed and if you know me well, you’ve probably heard me try to put words around it. It’s called disassociation. And it’s terrible. Not only do you feel nothing emotionally about anything, but you feel guilty for not feeling anything and so you have to fight the temptation to be fake as you just hope for everything to go away, and you heroically continue to speak truth that you know is real (even though you can’t feel it) so as not to hurt the feelings of those you love. But you don’t feel it. You are too overwhelmed.
About a month ago, God invited me into a Sabbath season. He said, “Enter into my rest.” And something is happening to me. Something really good. And if you think this is just something you don’t know how to do or seems too complicated, just read a little more because if I can do it, trust me, so can you.
Hear me, friend. There is a Sabbath for you.
God stopped on the seventh day and rested. He stopped because the work was finished. There was a clean break between work and not working. Every week, there is a time set for us to rest from all our works. To consider them finished for now, even if just for a day. To be done. To think that when God rested, it was the sigh of His pleasure that all creation heard. It is finished.
This used to stress me out because I thought of it as needing to get everything done before Sunday so I could “rest” but it never felt restful because resting was an obligation. So I couldn’t enjoy it. Also, everyone still needed me and that felt like hard word. Sabbath became a heavy requirement I couldn’t figure out how to meet.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Sabbath and it has come up in a lot of conversations with friends this month. Sabbath is a time to feel, to think, to enjoy our families and friends, and drink deeply from the river of delights God has given us. To enter into that rest is when we sigh in pleasure and contentment at God’s provision, in Christ, in the Holy Spirit, in community, in life abundant forever. Is my life abundant? Sabbath is a chance to ask that question and confirm it by letting our brains and minds and hearts unwind and unpack enough to see and assess and process what we have felt, thought, and perceived.
About my relationship with the Father. Do I still perceive Him as good and kind or do I assess that He has left me unprotected, unprovided for, or unloved? Do I delight in Him and believe that HE delights in me? If not, what’s blocking that and how does God want to heal my view of Him?
About my relationship with my friends and family, especially my husband and children. Are their hearts ok? Can I invite them to let some heaviness from the week go and really be known by me? Do I understand them and what they think about their life journey this week? Can I share my heart and be fully known? If not, what’s creating that distance between us and how does God want to bring us close again?
About my relationship with people at my work, and the work itself. Was my attention on making disciples and building the kingdom of God in the hearts of people and in my interaction with the world? Or was I distracted building kingdoms for myself or other people? Is my work on the “front lines” of the kingdom? If not, what needs to realign
If I look at my life as a whole, can I sigh in contentment? Are these things “good”? Sabbath gives us a minute to ask this question and let Him work us all the way back to peace and rest, a place from which we might learn to live all the time.
Do we need to reprocess painful and hurtful things so that we can see the goodness and beauty in them? All of this heart-work, this soul-care (which is different than self-care), can happen in Sabbath. When we rest on one day and set it apart as special, God begins to show us His beauty and goodness and His desire for us to be a peaceful, quieted (but still exuberant), rested, renewed people.
I want to explore the idea of relationship and its connection to Sabbath rest. What is it that keeps us from taking the freedom to rest and enjoy life together as family and friends one day a week? Is it not the pressure and exhaustion of not feeling we are ABLE to stop? Somehow we thought we could stomach the hurt, turn the other cheek, and forgive our way through things so we wouldn’t ever need to stop the family and ask for help to understand things. But some of our families (mine included, sometimes) are so dysfunctional we barely look one another in the eye anymore we’re so busy, much less really pray and work through things that well if we are honest. What if we did a full-stop once a week and did soul-care for our spouse and kids? Somewhere our hearts and minds got so wound up that we think the world will fall apart if we stop moving with it. Some of us even think it’s admirable to never stop. Well. That’s just not true. You can take a break and sit down. Jesus models this for us (Mark 1:35, Mark 16:19). This does not make you lazy or irresponsible (even if others might make you feel that way). The world will not fall apart if you take a break. It just won’t.
What if we just stop trying to rationalize our busy life or “season” of life. Let me tell you what my doctor told me. You need rest or you will get sick. Your body, your mind, your soul were not made for constant production and service to others. God does not find us valuable based on a desire to “use” us the way humans use talented people, but He finds us valuable because He loves us—just because we are His. He wants to know us, let us experience His love, and let it pour out naturally through us as He places us strategically. It is not your job to get promoted to a position or platform of influence or to conquer the world “for Him.” He does not abuse our devotion to Him so that we end up exhausted and burned out. That is not who He is. Yield to God’s truth.
“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
Most of us don’t know how to rest well. We only know how to zone out. But I am talking about how to rest in a restorative way that allows thoughts to unwind, feelings to come to the surface and be dealt with in the love and power and presence of God and our family (both natural families and faith families), conversation to flow, experiences of the week to be assessed and surrendered to the grace and healing power of God.
We must ask God to teach us this. If you want to “feel” again, you have to take my doctor’s advice (also, and more importantly, obey God’s commandment) and learn to rest restoratively for one whole day of the week. Sometimes this means your projects are not finished and your time feels “sacrificed.” But guess what? Jesus said the Sabbath was created for you (Mark 2:27)! Isn’t that really amazing? He wants you to stop, breathe a sigh, and look around you and be able to assess things around you as “good” just like God did after creation. Stop seeing this as an obligation and instead see it as an invitation.
It’s not legalistic rules and regulations. Think about what is genuinely restful for you in a way that does not make you zone out or detached (detaching is not helpful). What lets your heart and body and mind run free, get perspective, and come back to the peace of knowing you are completely known and loved by your creator and your friends and family? Regardless of your personality, isn’t genuine soul rest found in some strange mixture of solitude and community-quality, healing, joyful time in the presence of God, sometimes alone, sometimes together? Pursue that.
We are able to rest from our striving, from our “good works” because they cannot save us or earn us the pleasure of God (Hebrews 4). Jesus has paid the price for our forgiveness and fellowship with the Father and qualifies us as righteous by His blood covenant. It is finished. He sat down at the right hand of the Father and rested because the work is done! Now, from that seated place of confident rest, He intercedes for us as our priest and waits with baited breath to come bring us to be with Him! We feast in remembrance of Him. We feast in a deep, restorative peace that looks at life, with all of its pain, sickness, heartbreak, and loss through the eyes of genuine forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation. We return to trust. We return to a confidence in knowing that God is redeeming this lost world somehow. And it is Him who leads us to still waters and makes us rest in a soft, life-giving space (Psalm 23).
From that place of trust, we become whole again. Integrated again. De-compartmentalized-no more boxes off limits. The overwhelm subsides in this act of obedience to stop and rest. No more disassociation. Our emotions have been worked through and aligned with God’s word. Our thoughts have had an audience and been reigned in by truth. Our pain has been recognized and heard by God and family and our wounds have been bandaged. Our bodies have rested and feasted on food and fellowship. Our cup runs over and we find ourselves exclaiming surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will live in the house of the Lord forever!
It is from this place of Sabbath rest we lock eyes with our Father and we follow His gaze. We see the world how He sees it. As sinful, deranged, twisted, and worn out as it is, somehow, maybe even miraculously, we sense Him saying “It is good.” He is not in denial of our pain. He is not ignoring the injustice or the dying and suffering. He is with us, right in the middle of it-weeping with us, walking with us, fighting for us. And so, it is good. Even now, with all the concerns in your life and in the world abroad, He is not worried or anxious or hurried. He is perfectly in control. And I am happily not. I can take a minute to heal with God and the ones I love and the world will not fall apart. From this place of total trust, we sigh and say, “It is good.” From that place we can still paint and write and sing and play like children inheriting a kingdom-ready to be surprised by joy at any moment.
I think that’s Sabbath.
I think we might be invited to live from that place all the time. Enter His rest?