As the New Year approaches, many of us will soon be making resolutions. While lists of particular objectives are great (and I make these, too), my favorite method of making yearly goals is to pick a word or a theme for the year. I find the one theme easier to keep in mind throughout the year and useful in helping me evaluate what I have accomplished or how I have grown overall.

In addition to considering next year, I like to reflect on how well I've followed my theme for the present year. This year (2022), I chose the words “jump in”—that is, go all in, do the thing, say yes. As a person who craves and values my free time, my default response is often, “That sounds like too much of a time commitment. I think I'll pass.” I wanted to challenge myself to do more and push myself out of my comfort zone, and, well . . . I think I accomplished my mission. Between homeschooling, co-op responsibilities, a part-time job, church commitments, and social activities, I am feeling busier than ever before. My natural tendency is to waste time, but now I don't have any time to waste.

In many ways, this has been good for me. I enjoy everything I'm doing and have had many great experiences. I've been forced to improve my time management skills, which have always been rather poor. But I am also discovering that there is value in the quieter times that I so often crave, and that being busier is not always better. One particular thing I'm learning is the importance of keeping a Sabbath.

What do I mean by keeping a Sabbath? Many of us are familiar with this Jewish observation of a day of rest. The Ten Commandments say, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God” (Ex. 20:8-9). Jews traditionally have a period of no work from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, while Christians who observe the Sabbath typically do so on Sunday.

 Jesus, of course, challenged legalistic views on the Sabbath, which were extremely picky about what was considered “work.” He said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” implying that a Sabbath is intended to be a help rather than a religious burden (Mark 2:27). He also healed multiple people on the Sabbath, “breaking the Sabbath” and outraging religious leaders in doing so. Christians may tend to interpret these challenges of the Jewish law as Jesus saying that the Sabbath is not all that important. But I don't think that's what Jesus intended. While he was saying that Jewish additions to the Sabbath laws were overly burdensome, I believe he was trying to teach about the heart of the Sabbath as opposed to trying to undermine it altogether.

Jesus certainly gave us examples of the importance of rest and retreat. Even though there were crowds of people waiting to be taught and healed, he often withdrew into desolate places to pray (Luke 5:16). During a storm at sea, he laid down in the boat and took a nap (Mark 4:38)! And despite his examples of “breaking the Sabbath” with his disciples, he apparently taught them to observe it in general, because his followers rested “according to the commandment” on the Sabbath after Jesus' crucifixion (Luke 23:56).

So while strict rules surrounding the Sabbath are probably excessive, I do think God had an important purpose when He established a day of rest, one that goes beyond religious application. We as humans have many physical and mental limitations, and scientific study confirms our bodies and minds benefit greatly from one day of rest out of the week. As this article mentions, our brains need regular breaks in order to operate more productively. Even exercise enthusiasts strongly advise a “rest day” for our bodies to recuperate and our muscles to repair. We can function more effectively and prevent burnout if we allow these periods of rest.

For me, this means trying to take one 24-hour period out of my week where I don't do any significant amount of work—including homeschool planning, co-op prep, and even most household chores. The day of the week varies somewhat, as well as what time of day I begin, but I do try to stick with 24 hours. I try to spend some intentional time with my family, as well as simply doing things that I find relaxing. And while taking extra time to focus on God can be a great application of the Sabbath (and I should probably do it more), I mainly allow my body and my brain to rest and refocus.

On weekends when I do not do this, I can easily be exhausted and my brain fried by the time Monday morning rolls around. Observing a day of rest has been helpful in preparing me for the week ahead and (I think) in making me more productive and purposeful. It's very possible that I have overcommitted myself this year (maybe my theme for this coming year will be “just say no,” ha!), but for now, remembering a Sabbath has helped me to keep my life in balance. So regardless of your religious beliefs, I highly recommend taking a day of rest.


Photo credit: iStock.