Does the world need one more blogger? Probably not. So let me explain why I’m doing this.
I have begun practicing a new spiritual discipline that has enriched me more than just about anything else I’ve done over the last 10 years. It’s new to me, but definitely not new to God’s program. In fact, it’s as old as the seventh day of creation. I have become a Sabbath-keeper.
Let me explain how I got here. First, you should know that I have always been an advocate of the day off. In a vocation where some see vacations and days off as somehow suspect, I have always pushed myself and my colleagues in full-time ministry to see our lives as a marathon rather than a sprint, and to pace ourselves along the way. In each season of my ministry, overseas and stateside, it has been rare for me to go even a couple of weeks without a day off.
We all know that days off tend to fill up quickly with bill-paying, errands, and home-based responsibilities, and on the occasion when I didn’t have lots of those on my plate, they tended to become opportunities to “veg” in front of the TV. Although they usually provided a valuable break from the day-to-day ministry, and could even be physically restful, they didn’t provide spiritual refreshment and rejuvenation. I wasn’t disappointed in that, because that was not my expectation for my day off. My spiritual refreshment tended to come more from corporate activities like worship services, and maybe from the occasional personal quiet time (which was rarely an area of my life in which I was especially satisfied). I had a vague sense that something needed to change, but didn’t know what to do about it.
I was first challenged about this when our church sent me and my wife to a pastors retreat center in 2008 as we grieved the loss of four family members in 6 months. The Sabbath Rest track at this self-directed retreat caught my eye and seemed to be what we needed, and some reading during that week brought me to an important conclusion: while I was good at taking days off, I was lousy at Sabbath. I returned home determined to change things. But predictably (and sadly), I fell quickly back into the same routines.
We went to a similar retreat center last Fall, and once again I was challenged about the lack of true Sabbath rest in my life. I felt like I was being given a second chance to take action. I couldn’t be guaranteed a third one, and since I was on sabbatical and knew that it would never be easier for me to establish new habits, I came home determined to embrace Sabbath in ways I never had before.
I am now five months into what has so far been a successful (and unexpectedly exciting) rebuilding of my weekly schedule. I have been intentional about Sabbath observance on a weekly basis since last November. I’m not overly attached to a specific time period – I rarely have a full day, and tend to be satisfied with a half-day (though my current reading is challenging that idea, and I may change my mind). Nor am I attached to a specific day of the week – I try to make it happen on Saturday or Sunday, but have used Monday several times after full weekends that don’t provide the necessary time.
My Sabbath so far has taken the form of Sabbath Hikes, an idea I got from a book by Eugene Peterson called Working the Angles. I pack a lunch in a backpack, bring along my camera and an IPod with over 400 worship songs, find a trailhead near our home in Santa Clarita, CA, and basically take a walk with God. I find that either the music or nature, or both, bring me to a place of worship and communion with God on a depth that I rarely find in the rest of my life. These worship walks have become a place for me to meet God, enjoy Him, revel in what is true and good about Him, remind myself why I love and serve Him, and basically revitalize my spiritual life. I find myself looking forward to them the way a kid looks forward to an outing with his dad!
As I’ve shared this discovery with others, I’ve noticed that it resonates – we all need this, we yearn to have it, and we wish it were possible. I’ve decided to start this blog to highlight what I learn as I walk this path, in the hope that others will get some benefit from it as well. Some posts will be about Sabbath itself, others will be about stuff I learn during my Sabbath moments. I’m purposely starting it early enough in my own pursuit of Sabbath that I will not be tempted to sound like an expert, but will be content with my status as a learner, a beginner, looking forward to a new way to connect with God.
I hope it helps, and I hope you’ll take this walk with me.