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practicing the sabbath and learning to rest

practicing sabbath

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.  — Ecclesiastes 3:1 

After our trip alone to Taos this summer, my husband and I realized we needed more boundaries between work and rest. Our current season of life doesn’t naturally afford stops (apart from night sleeps), so we needed to intentionally carve out time to restore spiritually, physically, and relationally. We have always been intrigued by the idea of Shabbat (Sabbath), a traditional Jewish practice of rest, family togetherness, and spiritual attention, but with our Protestant backgrounds, this concept was intimidating and foreign. Over the last couple of years, we have talked with several friends about the ways they practice rest within their homes, and this summer, we took more to read and learn about importance of Shabbat.

I’ve always thought about time in terms of utility, something used for something else entirely. In his book, The SabbathRabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel describes time not as a commodity, but as something holy in itself. He refers to Sabbath days as cathedrals of time which create a sense of longing within us, and poetically notes, “[Shabbat] is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.” Sabbath is the enjoyment of time itself and the weekly recognition that time is a gift from God.

Last month, we began our own formal practice of Shabbat in hope of living deeper in Jesus together and not allowing our lives to be ruled by work. In just a few weeks of practice, already the Sabbath, especially the Sabbath meal, has become a place of longing and expectation for all of us, even the children. My husband let go of his Saturday work, and I have limited the amount of my own. It is helping us create the boundaries we have longed for, but more importantly, it is teaching how to trust God with our time, to know when to stop working and to celebrate. We are building the habit of saying enough to our work and the “acquisition of the things of space.” We are obviously still learning, but this is a good beginning. Below I have shared a little bit about how we prepare for this time as a family. Naturally, it will look a little different for everyone, but I hope there will be something to glean for you, something to help you treasure the holiness in time.

practicing the Sabbath | Shabbat mealpracticing the Sabbath | Shabbat meal

PREPARATION

On Thursday each week, the children and I write out our weekly meal plan and shop for groceries after school work is finished. On Friday mornings, we work through whatever schoolwork we can complete, and we stop at lunch time. Friday afternoon is for deep cleaning our home: putting things away, but also larger jobs like washing floors and scrubbing down the bathrooms. It’s shocking how dirty our home can become during the week. I often turn on loud, upbeat music for us to enjoy and we pause for an afternoon snack somewhere along the way. This cleaning period requires most of the afternoon, and then we transition to preparation for our Shabbat meal.

I begin by making our weekend cake, a rotating baked dessert we can enjoy all weekend. The children begin by setting the table with a large, white linen tablecloth; our china that we picked up at an antique store in Kansas City ages ago; cloth napkins; candles; and fresh flowers. They often make name cards, practicing their cursive on nice white paper, and position silverware and glasses near each place setting. We fill bottles with water to refrigerate for dinner and begin chopping vegetables or preparing meat. Since it’s still quite warm here, we’ve mainly prepared fish that we can grill for these dinners, although I look forward to oven roasts for colder days in upcoming months. We often roast some vegetables and make a complimentary salad. Although we’re hoping to make our own challah bread at some point, right now, we pick up a couple of loaves of baked bread from the grocery bakery for ease.

When dinner prep is complete, I fill two more glass carafes, one with red wine and another with Italian soda for the children. We quickly wipe down counters and wash the dirty prep dishes, although some weeks we run too close to dinner-time for this and clean-up happens afterward. We all get dressed for dinner, freshening up and putting on something nicer than our ordinary daily clothes. This dinner is special for us, and we want to dress accordingly. Our home is generally very casual and our family dining out is as well, so our Sabbath meal is also a great way to teach our children simple rules of dinner etiquette, such as placing a napkin in your lap, keeping your elbows off of the table, or requesting/waiting for someone to pass food to you.

My younger sister, Kristen, is married to my husband’s younger brother–I know, crazy! Brothers married to sisters. Since traditionally the Shabbat meal is intended to be a family event and they live nearby, each week, we all share this meal together.  Before grocery shopping, Kristen and I talk about which meal we want to make and divide up the dishes. Sharing the meal preparation is such a gift! They arrive to our home, dressed, and we all sit down in our named places. Everyone has a place at the table, toddlers included.The baby might be playing in her infant seat or on a palette of blankets on the floor near the table. When she’s restless, we all take turns holding her.

 

THE MEAL

practicing the Sabbath | Shabbat mealpracticing the Sabbath | Shabbat meal

The first part of our meal time is quite formal. My husband wrote down several Messianic Jewish prayers on a notecard that we use, including a blessing of the meal, lighting the candles, sharing of communion, a formal hand washing as a posture of our hearts, and a formal blessing of sons, daughter, mothers, and fathers. Communion and the blessing of the family parts is by far my favorite portion of this time in our meal. Although brief, it celebrates and recognizes each family member and declares noble truths over each person.

After the blessing and prayer time, we pour drinks, serve plates, and eat. This part has been the greatest surprise for me. The adults and children slowly enjoy a nice meal and conversation together, even the youngest ones. It is not rigid or dogmatic but a natural enjoyment of all of our work and effort. As the children finish their meals, they head off to play, while the adults linger and talk together.

After the mealtime when Kristen and Tim leave with their family, our own family piles on the couch for a movie night together. Bedtime is pushed back due to our movie night, a pleasure for all the children, with the intention that everyone can sleep-in the next morning. From the moment the Shabbat meal begins, work ceases. We do not check emails or any other work related thing (unless an emergency) until after sundown on Saturday. This can be the most challenging part, especially since I work from home, So I usually tuck my planner and notepad away and stay clear of the computer during those hours. Although difficult at times, this has been the most restorative practice for me.

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The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. — Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath

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THE SABBATH DAY

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Sleeping-in on Saturday morning is highly respected by everyone in our home (a perk of older children). Our youngest child is six (and often one of the last to wake up), so everyone is old enough to entertain themselves quietly until everyone is awake. During the Sabbath day, our routine is not open and flexible. We usually begin with fresh fruit pancakes my husband and Burke make together, and after that we relax as it seems fit for the day.

As the weather cools more in the next few months, we hope to make day-trips to hike, but until then and while we’re indoors more, we tend to read or play games with sporadic walks or trips to the park during cooler parts of the day. I often let the kids have time playing video games (since we rigidly limit this during the week).  Whatever we do, the point is to do it together and enjoy time without the obstacles of home projects or work.

I hope to have more to share about this part the longer we celebrate this day.  I’m curious, do you practice the Sabbath or another time period of regular rest in your home?

Recommended readings on Sabbath: || 1 | 2 | 3

 

 

 

27 replies
  1. Hallie
    Hallie says:

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful Sabbath practices! I recently started following you on instagram and I noticed in one post you wrote about advent and Sabbath. I am an observant Jew, so I was curious what you meant by Sabbath. I think it is wonderful that you and your family have adopted this tradition. Sabbath (or Shabbat) is truly a sacred time for me, my family and my community. Every Friday night we gather with friends or family for a special meal. Typically salt is sprinkled on challah for several reasons, one reason is that the Shabbat table is akin to the alter at which meat was sprinkled with salt before being offered to God. There is also an explanation that salt is used to indicate preservation for eternity.
    During a couple’s first year of marriage, honey is often used in place of salt (honey is also used during the Rosh Hashana (the New Year)). My husband and continue to use honey in place of salt because we like it better and honey holds special significance with it’s connection to bees and nature. I try and buy a special honey every once in a while for Shabbat.
    In addition to having long meals with friends and family, we refrain from using all electric devices, machines and things with motors. That means, no phone, computer , cars, buses, we also don’t use writing utensils. The lights that we want to have on during the day are set before sundown Friday night. If we want warm food on Saturday we use a warming tray or crockpot that is left on.
    -Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach was a singer/song writer and Jewish leader worth checking out.
    These 25 hours are totally and completely devoted to rest, community and nurturing the spirit. Shabbat is what sustains me and rejuvenates me. I hope it brings your family joy and peace.

    Reply
    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      Hallie, I apologize for the delayed response, but I appreciated your comment so much! Thank you for sharing your story, resources, and practice here. We have not yet moved to an entirely electronic-free 24 hours, but perhaps we’ll try it this year? I am also so grateful for this Shabbat meal and Sabbath rest. It feels significant for so many reasons I am still learning, a much deeper meaning beyond the day. Thank you again, and much goodness to you in the new year. x

      Reply
  2. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    Hello,

    I am in the process of starting this rhythm for my family. I would love to read the blessings you use – children, parents/spouses, and family. As well as what you read during the candles and hand washing. I’ve seen a few examples before and I’m still tweaking things for us. As I read of others who are already on this journey, I love the glean from their wisdom 🙂

    Hoping you see this message since this post is a little older.

    Reply
    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      What a gift this will be for your family, even on the days it feels difficult to carry out. As for blessing, my husband wrote down all of the blessings from this book on a large index card when we began, and we still mostly use it. I’m hoping this summer, when my husband has a bit more time, to sit down with him and tweak it more for our specific family. For the children, we bless them with character of of specific men/women in Scripture. During my blessing, the children rise, lay hands on me, and read Proverbs 31. We add our own prayers after the “Kindling the Sabbath lights” blessing and after the people blessings, and finally when we take communion. I hope this helps! Truly however you begin, you can always tweak as you go. Blessing is one of my absolute favorite bits about this weekly time. It changes us. Grace and joy to you and your family as you begin this new, beautiful practice, Stephanie.

      Reply
      • Stephanie
        Stephanie says:

        Thank you so much, Bethany. My husband and I sputtered and struggled with a Sabbath before having our daughter. It died out after frustration, not realizing at the time that this practice isn’t easy and beginning it would be much like a newborn fawn starting to walk. Now I’m at home with her as a toddler and our lives crave that tent pole of a rhythm of rest. I so appreciate your information and encouragement along the way.

        Reply
    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      Of course. There are weekends we are out of town or have an event happen and we skip our meal together, but we try limit those happenings to once a month. 😉

      Reply
  3. Ashley
    Ashley says:

    So I hopped over from IG where I found you and enjoyed ready what is fueling and serving your family well right now. I very much admire you making it happen…especially when so many people live without goals and structure around us. Do you find many like-minded people near you Outside your sisters family? May I ask how old your oldest child is? Do you also attend church on Sunday’s as a cooperate worship time or is your Saturday sabbath your religious practice time as well?

    Reply
    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      Hi Ashley,
      I’m so glad this was inspiring for you. This is all quite new for us, but really sweet during this busy season of life. We do have several like-minded friends, although many of them do not practice Sabbath in this particular way. My oldest is twelve, and we meet with other believers in a friend’s home every Tuesday night for a meal, corporate worship, and teaching. On Friday night and Saturday, we do set aside a time for reading the Bible as a family, but this doesn’t take a large part of the time. The larger focus for us is rest, a hard break from work. Feel free to email if you have any other specific questions!

      Reply
  4. Jen
    Jen says:

    I long to have a Sabbath day. We typically have a special family meal on Friday nights, but because we live in the country and go to church on Sunday’s, we have to get some yard work and projects done on Saturdays. I love what you describe here though, and would love to keep working towards taking a longer Sabbath, perhaps even working a bit on Sunday afternoons to prepare for the week in order to have some true rest on Saturday mornings.
    Shabbat Shalom!

    Reply
    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      When we have tried to practice Sabbath in the past using Sundays, I always felt frustrated by how many natural TO DOs there are in preparation for the new week. We now use Sunday for getting ready for the week and for yard work and such, which I feel freer to do after a full rest day on Saturday. I wrote the verse from Ecclesiastes because as it states there is a time and a season for everything. In our current season, it just works, although it might be more difficult someday. We’ll deal with that then, I suppose. I hope you have a day for longer Sabbaths someday, too. x

      Reply
  5. Kate
    Kate says:

    We’ve been practicing Shabbat for about a year now. Our kids are young (3 under 5) but we were already feeling the pull of weekend activities, sports, birthday parties etc and wanted to intentionally create that margin of time for our family and God. We haven’t incorporated a proper dinner yet but concentrate on having screen free days, special activities, serving favorite meals ( prepared in advance) and doing no work. My four year old regularly asks if it’s Sabbath yet so I think it’s making a difference even to the kids (and we should probably get him a better calendar.)

    Reply
    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      That’s so wonderful, Kate. I have been shocked at how much our children love this 24-hour period. I honestly anticipated a little kickback at the chores and formality of the meal, but it turns out they’re thriving. I think it gives them a greater sense of belonging and purpose. They love seeing that they have a part (however small it may be) and that it matters in the big picture. Thank you for sharing!

      Reply
  6. Michelle@myslowlivingadventure
    [email protected] says:

    This is a beautiful idea, to adopt the concept of another faith to help you slow down. I am a Christian, but lived with a Jewish partner in Israel for a year when I was younger. I loved the traditions surrounding Shabbat. His step Mother was from Yemen and the food we shared every weekend was phenomenal. I learnt so much, and it made perfect sense. I think now that technology has engulfed us, it would be great to incorporate a no technology day into the week for everyone!

    Reply
    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      What a beautiful way to experience another tradition, Michelle. Although I’m not sure how this tradition will ebb and flow for the duration, at this point in our family life, it is such a gift. Since so much of my work is online, the limitation (or elimination) of technology during those hours is beautiful. It gives me clarity to again see myself apart from the crowd, something precious in our growing electronic communities. Wishing you the richest depths in your own journey.

      Reply
  7. Kari
    Kari says:

    Hi. I’m new to this blog. What I’ve seen so far has been wonderful. This particular post has been especially meaningful for me. As Christians, we celebrate Sundays, rather than Saturdays. But they are not the day of rest they should be, what with teaching Sunday school and trying to finish off last minute jobs. I’ve often thought about making our Sundays more of a Sabbath and a day of rest. I just wish I’d done it when the kids were still at home (they’re away at university).

    Reply
    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      Welcome, Kari, and thank you for sharing! When we first tried to practice a longer Sabbath a couple of years ago, we tried to use Sundays, but it was so frustrating for us. We naturally have so many things to do to prepare for our weeks and it seemed to always seemed to creep in. Flipping the celebration to Saturdays has been so much more peaceful for us. I hope you find more intentional ways to make your Sundays restorative for you and your family. The rest truly is such a gift.

      Reply
    • Alicia
      Alicia says:

      In Acts 18:4
      Paul encouraged the gentile believers in Yahshua to come back the next Sabbath to hear him teach the gospel.
      The day of rest has not changed from seventh to first day of the week.
      It has always been the seventh day and always will be until Yahshua returns.
      Matthew 5:17
      Yahshua did not come to abolish law or the prophets….
      Praise Yahshua for truth!

      Reply
  8. Erin
    Erin says:

    This is lovely!

    We don’t practice Sabbath. Our lives are entirely unstructured & work and play filter from one moment to the next; however, we only have one child, and I’ve often thought that, as our family grows, we’ll need more structure to safeguard our sanity.

    I love the model of rest, family and togetherness that you model here!

    – Erin
    (Aka: ekwetzel online)

    Reply
    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      Thank you so much for your honesty, Erin. Although we had a little structure based around our children’s schedules, our early family years were quite similar to yours. There’s something about waking up at all hours of the night that makes day routines feel surreal and unnecessary. I shared the verse from Ecclesiastes for this exact purpose. We all have to build life around the season we’re in, and each season will require something a bit different. We had more flexibility early on as a family, and now as more things seek to fill our time, we have had to form more boundaries to protect, as you say, our sanity but also the values we prize most. Grace to you in your own family’s journey toward rest. x

      Reply
  9. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    We observe Sabbath in our home; thank you for sharing your experience. This post has inspired me to put more thought into preparing for, anticipating, and celebrating our family’s Sabbath experience!

    Reply
    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      What a beautiful testament to your family. I know the details aren’t always necessary, but I am a detail person and really enjoy adding beauty to that element of our meals. I’m so grateful it inspired you. Thank you for sharing.

      Reply
      • Tamar
        Tamar says:

        Shalom! I’ve so enjoyed reading your blog posts. Takes me back to the years when I homeschooled my brood. I especially love your frankness -and your discussions on Shabbat. Two resources I’d like to share with you: The Sabbath Table published by First Fruits of Zion/Vine of David is one of the siddurim( prayerbooks) we use. Although we have set “order” we change up the songs and readings occasionally to keep things fresh. Also, I just finished The Bride by Channah Bardan. It’s essentially Hebrew Catholic, but is very rich in explaining the history and traditions of the Jewish Shabbat and how it forms the basis for Christian liturgy and traditions. And if I remember correctly, she is a homeschool mom too! Available on Amazon. We, too, love and read Heschel, and sometimes include it at table. Also, after the Eshet Chayil where the husband (& kids) recite Proverbs 31 over the wife/mom, I pray the Ashrei haIsh, Blessed is the Man Psalm as a tribute to my husband. It’s truly a sweet oasis in a hectic time to celebrate Shabbat.
        Thanks for your posts, and keep up the fabulous work. Love, prayers & blessings to your beautiful family.

        Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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