Towards Sabbath, Part 1: Utter failure, but a small step forward

This year I am undertaking a journey of learning how to practise Sabbath. By Sabbath, I mean, I want to build a regular, completely work-free, 24-hour period into my week when I focus on God and on rest and restoration. I want to take the Sabbath seriously.

I use the word “journey” – though acutely aware of its cringe-worthy hipsterness and general contemporary overuse – because I know it is an apt metaphor. I know it is going to take a while for me to truly build the practice of Sabbath into my life. And the road is likely to wind a little.

For some reading this, that will seem like an excuse. You are the type who make a reasoned decision and then follow it up with the necessary changes and that is that. The people who get from point A to B in a straight line, as the crow flies.

My husband is like that. I am glad you are, too. Unfortunately for me, I am not. I can manage to mimic being such a person for a few weeks, of course. But lasting lifestyle changes, for me, take small incremental changes made at a slower pace. And since I want Sabbath to stick, it’s going to take a journey.

My first attempt at Sabbath is an unmitigated disaster.

This weekend, I have blown it already. I’ve taken two steps backward from the starting line, I guess. (Insert face-palm emoji here).

For a start, I’m writing this story *on* my actual Sabbath. Worse, I’m going to send it to my editor when I finish and disrupt her Sabbath too!

In addition, I am in no way prepared to have a Sabbath today. I’ve been in Canberra since Friday night visiting my newly-married daughter so none of the chores of real life got done yesterday. I have all the week’s laundry to be done today – including sheets and towels, a bunch of school notes waiting in my inbox to be actioned, a back courtyard with dog poo waiting to be cleaned and my bedroom is a mess. My husband leaves for business travel this week and I can see that if I don’t get organised this week, I will be chasing my tail for the next fortnight.

Plus, I’d really like to get my dog washed and bathed because every time I pat him, I end up with a handful of hair. Which reminds me, I have a full centimetre of grey roots visible in my own hair and need to plan a hair appointment into my schedule and budget soon. And I need to remember to drink lots of water this week starting today because I am donating plasma on Thursday. Plus, I’ve been hobbling around with back pain for a few weeks now and my husband is trying to get me to make time for a massage. What I really should be doing is more daily stretching and I feel guilty about not doing that.

You see how all this weekly nonsense has crowded its way into my Sabbath? Silly, isn’t it. And on top of all of this the fact that I know I am getting caught up in an “achievement addiction” mindset when it comes to Sabbath – which is definitely not how it’s supposed to be. (Listen to this podcast if you don’t know what I mean by “achievement addiction”). My first attempt at Sabbath is an unmitigated disaster.

What I really want to be doing is working on my latest project. You see, I love to do up old furniture and I have the sweetest little cabinet waiting downstairs for me to get started on. It’s a small buffet with a rounded hutch and I plan to repaint it with duck-egg blue chalk paint and replace its black handles and hinges with something matte gold. I think it’s going to come up beautifully.

In the past few years, doing up old furniture has become a meditative activity for me. When I’ve been really stressed, I have put my AirPods in and listened to an audiobook while I scraped away old layers of dirt and grime and stripped away layers of varnish. I would get lost in the story – the gift of another writer’s labour – and emerge feeling refreshed.

But if I have been in a calmer place mentally, I haven’t needed the audio distraction from my thoughts. I have been able to just let myself think as I work.

These times have ended up being a kind of wordless conversation with God. I have found that recently-read scriptures and familiar Bible stories have sprung to mind and settled into my spirit. I have found myself asking God to show me what he wants me to understand. Sometimes I have then found a podcast to play to help me think more deeply on a subject, or texted friends to ask their insights.

I find that thoughts that have been clamouring for my attention in recent weeks seem to settle. I can think more clearly. There’s a kind of inner stillness, of knowing God is God, that happens. My scraping tools and sanding block become a bit like a rosary, keeping me on track with meditating on the Lord. A little patch of Sabbath-ness that – dare I say it – leaves me more loving of the Lord my God and my neighbour.

So today, I am going to let the rhythmic movement of my hands over an old cupboard lead me to a couple of hours of Sabbath in my failed Sabbath day.

And yes, it will be squeezed in between laundry and school notes and will fall far short of the 24-hour Sabbath I am hoping to practise. But like I said, this is going to be a journey and this is Part 1.