In Part I of this series on Embracing the Sabbath, we examined how God laid the foundation and road map for our lives. The Creator modeled a pattern of work and rest for the created. In Part II, we’ll dive a little deeper into what it looks like to practice Sabbath and how you can embrace a culture of rest in the workplace.
If there is one thing that employees in the U.S. understand, it’s how to hustle. We know how to work hard, and most of us place a high value on productivity. It’s no wonder then that we sometimes struggle with finding time to genuinely rest. Even when we intentionally schedule time away from work, our ability to turn away from distractions like technology or social media feels limited. So, what does it look like to rest?
Ceasing normal weekly activities is one of the hardest Sabbath practices. It’s tempting to get extra work done or to schedule all the appointments and social engagements that can’t fit into a weekly schedule. There’s nothing wrong with doing a little planning or tying up some loose ends on the weekend, and some seasons of life demand extra hours. But the call to stop–to cease–isn’t some arbitrary, legalistic law. It’s meant to serve a purpose. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, we need time to recharge, but it's difficult to do that when we stay plugged into work or overdo it socially.
What is rest? It might seem like a silly question, but think about it. What comes to mind? Catching up on social media? Netflix? How about sleeping? Many use the words “sleep” and “rest” interchangeably, but are they the same thing? Psychotherapist Sarah McLaughlin highlights the flaw in this thinking: “If the brain is in a constant stress-state during awake hours then, in many cases, it is losing or has lost connective pathways that tell it to decrease or stop the stress response.” Potential consequences of this failed process can even result in the stress hormone cortisol being released during sleep. If it's the case, what does rest mean? The key lies in embracing the totality of ceasing, in being and not just doing. McLaughlin calls this “restful awareness.” It’s about being engaged fully in the experience of resting. It doesn’t do much good to lay around on the couch if our minds are still overwhelmed.
This restful awareness is something we all have experience with, and it’s why so many embrace practices that rest body and mind. The key is to find something that allows your whole self to cease from laboring and find some joy in life.
With all of the discourse surrounding the idea of rest, it’s important to remember that the Sabbath is ultimately about connecting with God and remembering who we belong to. It’s so easy to slip into secular ways of thinking about the Sabbath that it becomes just another footnote in the work-life balance discussion rather than the sacred spiritual practice it was meant to be.
Genesis 2:3 tells us that when God rested on the seventh day, he blessed it “and made it holy.” The first thing that the Lord sanctified as holy and set apart is time–specifically time spent at rest and in communion with him. Jesus echoes this in Matthew 11:28-30, reminding us all that our Creator is the source of true, redemptive rest.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.Matthew 11:28-30
Sabbath doesn’t have to be a legalistic or rigid set of practices, and what it means to rest might look different based on your current circumstances or background. At its heart, Sabbath is our chance as a community and as individuals to find restoration and peace in the presence of our Maker.
As leaders, we have an incredible opportunity to cultivate Sabbath practices and ideals in our workplaces. In a culture obsessed with productivity (and suffering from the rise of burnout), Christians can demonstrate a healthier way to move through the week.
One of the best ways to encourage a culture of rest is to model it. Leadership sets the tone in these discussions. If workers see their leaders prioritizing rest on the weekends, not putting in unnecessary long hours during the week, and taking a break from work emails/communications, it’s a signal that it’s okay for them to follow suit. Transparency plays a big role here, as well. Don’t be afraid to share how rest is a top priority for you as a leader. Share your own practices and how you structure your own boundaries around rest.
Too often, discussions around rest can feel emotionally charged. According to a study conducted by OnePoll, nearly 62% of American workers fear that requesting time off for mental health will lead to judgement from their higher ups. More than 56% of workers also feared their employer would doubt their ability to do their job if they requested time off for mental health, and many reported avoiding medical appointments at least four times a year.
As Christian leaders, these statistics should give us pause. Part of loving our neighbor is acknowledging the wholeness of a person and realizing that emotion shapes people’s behavior at work. Restfulness is extremely difficult to achieve in environments where fear and anxiety thrive. It’s time to acknowledge that emotion has a place at work and that workers are not merely intellectual cogs in a machine.
The pandemic showed that traditional 9-5 schedules aren’t the only way to work. Hybrid schedules became a necessity during quarantine, and have remained a viable option for many even as organizations begin to transition out of the pandemic season. Flexible schedules and the ability for employees and leaders to adapt is a valid tool when it comes to embracing restful Sabbath practices. Recognize that your team’s needs may shift or change in new seasons and be open to those shifts. Work from home, hybrid schedules, satellite offices, and four-day work weeks are just a few of the strategies that businesses have embraced during the pandemic, and many workers and employers alike have discovered that some of these systems serve them better. There’s a good chance some of these strategies are here to stay, and it’s worth exploring how some of them could be adapted to encourage a restful culture, as well.
Being intentional and ceasing is ultimately an act of humility; we trust that if we take time off, the entire world won’t erupt into chaos while we aren’t looking, and we acknowledge that our lives are about more than work. Honoring the Sabbath transforms us from the inside out, reminding us that ultimate renewal and rest comes from Christ, the only one who can fulfill our needs.