Wednesday, March 1, 2023
Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest: From Sabbath to Sabbatical and Back Again by Ruth Haley Barton
Lenten devotional by Lori Duncan
“Sabbath-keeping is a way of ordering all of life around a pattern of working six days and then ceasing and resting on the seventh. It helps us arrange our lives to honor the rhythm of things—work and rest, fruitfulness and dormancy, giving and receiving, activism and surrender. The day itself is set apart, devoted completely to rest, worship, and delighting in God’s good gifts, but the other six days of the week must be lived in such a way as to make sabbath possible.”
Sabbatical is “. . . time set apart for the . . . holy purpose of allowing the soil
of our souls to lie fallow and to experience the new life
that dormancy eventually produces.”
Ruth Haley Barton’s ministry, Transforming Center, focuses on leaders. It stands to reason, then, that her book about sabbath and sabbatical is targeted toward leaders. While that might seem to exclude most of us, the truth is that, at the very least, we are the leaders of our own souls. It also invites us as members of the community of First Lutheran Church to consider how we might encourage and support our leaders, whom we appreciate and love, as they themselves move toward healthier rhythms of work and rest.
As we engage sabbath-keeping for our own lives, it is good to remember that it will look different in the different seasons of our lives. Caring for small children or for aging parents will dictate certain aspects of our sabbath-keeping practices. But regardless of what season we are in, we can lead our own souls and any communities in which we have been given influence by cultivating rhythms of work and rest so as to make consistent rest, worship, dormancy, and delight possible on a regular basis. Again, it’s not easy, but it is healthy, and it is God’s ongoing pattern and invitation.
According to Barton, sometimes longer periods of sabbath—sabbaticals (not to be confused with the term used in academia for times for participants to research, write, and produce)—are necessary for leaders’ restoration. She says, “In Christian ministry [leaders] are on the front lines of a spiritual battle all the time, and in any real battle there are wounds that need healing, victories that need celebrating, learnings that need to be captured, and new approaches to consider.” We as a congregation can support our leaders by being flexible about who is in the pulpit on any given Sunday and with who responds to our requests for ministry, by being generous with our finances to help fund restful time off, and, of course, by offering our prayers and verbal encouragement when they choose to take time off to care for their souls. While I hope and believe we already do a decent job of this, we can always grow in our capacity to be generous to the ones God has given to lead us, helping free them from “the tyranny of the urgent,” as Charles E. Hummel says.
It is my prayer that, through this Lenten season journey with sabbath, we as a community can more fully come to both appreciate and practice the astonishing gift that God has given us in the sabbath. Rather than a legal requirement that must be obeyed, it is a generous invitation, as Ruth Haley Barton says, into “sane rhythms of work and rest,” into “a way of life that works.” Let us say Yes to God’s gracious offer.
Jesus, Lord of the sabbath: As we continue to journey deeper into the incredible rhythm of work and sabbath rest that you give us, help us to be willing to be led into green pastures and beside still waters for the restoration of our souls. As we take our rest in you, please come take your rest in us, that we might turn and freely offer to the world the restoration you have so freely offered to us. In your name, Amen.
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