This week we’re continuing our series on Spiritual Practices for Weary Moms, and this week's discussion of Sabbath rest is one that’s tricky to nail down in this season.
Depending on your spiritual upbringing, Sabbath rest may feel like a foreign concept for you, or it may hold connotations of legalism or rules, or it might be a comforting and familiar rhythm you already hold.
This last year I’ve done a lot of studying on the concept of Sabbath rest, mostly because I read and heard some perspectives on the Old Testament tradition that intrigued me. This is not the place where I will outline all of that learning, but this week’s Thriving Friday email will include some amazing biblical perspectives and resources I’ve gleaned over the last year to better understand Sabbath rest and its role in the Christian lifestyle. If you’re wrestling with what Sabbath could mean for you as a Christian right now, I encourage you to start with this article.
Regardless of where we land on the concept of Sabbath, we can talk pretty definitively on our need for rest as mothers.
And all the mamas said, “Amen.”
My first daughter was born almost 2 years ago, and as I think back to all of the advice and encouragement given me in those first days I remember it all centered around one topic: rest.
“Sleep when the baby sleeps.” -Literally everyone
“Make sure you have 4 weeks of help around the house.” -My midwife
“Have plenty of freezer meals so you won’t have to cook.” -Everyone else on the internet
“Don’t lift weight heavier than the baby for the first 2-3 weeks.” -My midwife
You get the point. I am a pretty independent person in general, but I surprisingly found it relatively natural to settle down and accept help after my daughter was first born. I was so enamored with her that I welcomed the extra moments to sit and hold her, breathe in her new baby smell, and ignore the daily tasks of keeping house.
Imagine my surprise, then, when these days of rest joined up into the days and weeks of mothering a fickle infant, which joined up into months of learning how to mother, which quickly joined up into days and months of parenting not one but two babies after Tobias joined the fold…
Though I took to heart the advice to rest, I did not often feel rested but rather continued to be tired, irritable, cranky, and quite frankly a bit depressed.
As I have voiced these concerns, I have been met with questions about sleep training, nursing, and other things that imply that the issue continues to be physical rest and needing to sleep.
The problem was, it wasn’t simply the physical exhaustion that was bothering me, but the internal sense of chaos and disruption, and the unrecognizable nature of my internal spirit and relationship with God.
After doing some studying on the topic, I tried diving into Sabbath as an attempt to find some recognizable traits of my pre-mothering relationship with God, but unexpected disruptions continued to keep me from scheduling and planning rest in the way that I really wanted to.
To me, Sabbath rest was supposed to include long bible studies, maybe a couple extra cups of coffee, and time in stillness and alone time. Find me a new mama that has time like that regularly and we’ll get her on the blog to share all the secrets…
As a therapist, friend, and mama myself I can attest that I am not alone in these feelings.
Spiritually-minded mothers everywhere find themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted with little energy to sort out what it is that’s draining them. They turn to physical rest, time away, self-care, or “me-time,” only to come back to the hurried and disorganized task of mothering not having been filled with the Spirit of our Father God who is the only bringer of order and shalom to our chaos.
I’ve already outlined here how my mindset had to shift to accommodate Sabbath more appropriately as a mom, but today I thought I’d give some practical steps to engage in Sabbath as a restful and peaceful spiritual practice– even on the days that seem to go sideways.
Let’s start with a little background to the conversation. Like I said previously, I won’t attempt to dive fully into the Biblical basis for these revelations here, but I will be sending out a Bible study this week if you’re interested in going deeper yourself.
But, here are a few things that Sabbath has always been intended to do for our spiritual lives:
- The Hebrew word for “seven” parallels the Hebrew word for “complete or fullness.” Sabbath rest is intended to look forward to the promise of complete rest in the fulfillment of the kingdom
- Sabbath is intended to interrupt our natural patterns of grasping and hoarding control, to bring us to the remembrance that God is our true source of provision.
- Sabbath reminds me that my efforts to secure my own existence are not the actual thing sustaining me, but rather it is the sovereignty and rule of God.
- Sabbath is inconvenient on purpose. It disrupts our habitual thinking, and requires us to be intentional and purposeful about our ceasing.
So, how do we embrace this lifegiving rhythm in a season where rest and peace seem to be so fleeting? We do it a little differently, of course!
First, we notice.
Notice whatever is within you that is grasping. Are you grasping at baby sleep schedules? Financial concerns? Your husband’s parenting practices? The cleanliness of your house? Stress over balancing work and mothering duties? … Whatever it is, just notice it.
For me I can locate places of grasping by pinpointing what topics revv up my emotions quickly. Some days it’s been baby sleep– feeling like I need naptime to survive the day… Some days it’s been the opinions of other people. Feeling lonely when I desire to feel connected. Some days it’s clinging to the way things were working with my kids as I start to feel our rhythms and norms shift with their development.
My spirit begins to clench and grasp to my desired order of things, and I get frustrated when I realize that I have less control than I desire. I cannot force my kids to sleep. I cannot control the opinions other people have of my mothering. I cannot freeze the fleeting moments with my kids when I feel like everything is “firing on all cylinders.”
So, on the day I deem my Sabbath, I start by noticing those graspy places. The goal here is not to inject judgement for grasping; judgement and shame just incite more of that “fix-it-myself” nature within. Just notice. Pay attention. Write it down if you can, or speak it into a voice memo on your phone.
Next, we release it.
My favorite Hebrew word is not actually a word, but rather a letter. “Kaph” is its English spelling, but it carries the connotation of being bent, concave– like a bowl. It’s used in a riddle-like phrase in the book of Ecclesiastes, which will be our next series here on the blog.
This is the posture into which I try to shift after I’ve noticed where my spirit is grasping. I don’t try to release it fully, as in drop it to the ground; but, I try to loosen the grasp, opening my hands, and lifting my expectations upward to the Lord.
I realize this might sound vague and a bit impractical, but I invite you to take a minute to try the physical act of opening clench fists, and raising them, palm-upward, toward heaven.
This act is the internal reminder that I don’t need to control it all. That I can take the day as it comes, and release all of my efforts to secure my own identity, schedule, or even well-being.
Then, we lean-in.
To whatever the day before us brings. Kiddos don’t nap? Lean in. Faucet on the shower breaks? Lean in.
So often we don’t get a rest from mothering– that’s truly holy service– but we can lean-into the chaos of the day and choose rest from all of the things that distract us from simply enjoying unity with God, creation, and each other (including our kids).
Because we’ve taken time to internally release our grasped expectation, perspectives, desires, we can be free now to feel the Spirit’s prompting and take the day as it comes– 4 am wake-ups and all (hello, sleep regression!).
Some days, I have to repeat this process several times. From the early days of pregnancy, I realized that mothering would be a regular exercise in releasing my control-seeking habits. Sanctifying, but difficult.
I think mothers are blessed with so many moments that have Sabbath undertones— no matter what day of the week we are in. But, I do think we can learn from the Biblical pattern of injecting rhythm into our lives to teach ourselves how to bend to the will of God more fully. So, I do choose a day each week to be very intentional about this posture.
On my Sabbath days, I don’t get hours of uninterrupted Bible study and prayer time. I don’t often get extra sleep. I don’t get to sit and color in an adult coloring book with instrumental hymns playing behind me. The active parts of mothering don’t end on my Sabbath day, and they are always filled with nursing, changing diapers, managing temper tantrums, and cooking meals.
But, what I do rest from is the internal stress of trying to control it all. I rest from any true “work.” I rest from social media which drives my internal locus of shame and comparison. I rest from hurry.
One day, mama, we’ll get to steal away and find linked hours of physical and emotional rest while the kids stay with grandparents, friends, or spouse.
But if that’s not where you’re at today, you can still experience rest that allows soul to breathe and Spirit to ignite within.
Notice the places of grasping.
Practice physical release.
Lean in to what the day brings.
This is the rest that endures. The rest that welcomes God into the chaos of our real, everyday lives, and gives us peace that leads not only to spiritual surviving, but thriving right in the thick of it.
Scriptures for further study:
Matthew 11:28-Matthew 12
Has your experience of Sabbath rest changed since becoming a mother? I’d love to know how, let me know in the comments!