Living out Sabbath: 7 Practical Ways
By Naomi Bosch
In my previous post, I talked about how I rediscovered the principle of Sabbath while working on an apple farm. The abundance in nature, in fact, is only possible due to this divine principle. It’s not magic, it is pure logic, instituted by a creative, intelligent Mind.
In the Jewish Torah, we read that God prescribed sabbath rest for people, animals, (Exodus 20: 8-11) and nature (Leviticus 25:1-4) alike! Just like nature needs rest to produce abundant fruit, our body, mind, and soul need rest, too.
Often, we realize it when it’s already too late. When we have a headache or a spinning mind, when our body is sick and our soul tired. We live in a fast, stressful world. Much is expected of us, even more we expect of ourselves and our bruised bodies and souls. If you take a look at the kind of books that fill our bookstores, you’ll see one book after the other that deals with psychological advice, yoga, mindfulness, burnout… not to mention all the health problems that we seek help for.
In our modern world, we are facing an epidemic of restlessness and discontentment. Yet, the solution is as simple as powerful!
Setting an example
God modelled it for us from the beginning by taking a day off after six days of creative work. The Creator of all needs to rest, too! How much more do we need to rest?
The One who created us knows how easily we get worn out and tired, and how badly we need such rest. But in the New Testament, when we see Jesus live out this principle, it becomes evident that the Sabbath is about so much more than following a set of rules and sitting idly for one day per week.
Sabbath rather means to have a mindset that knows how and when to stop. That knows how to truly enjoy life and all its riches. That knows when to work and when to rest. And that values people, animals, and nature above the urge to be “efficient” and to do “what is expected of us”.
In Jesus’ time, people were expected to follow the strict sabbatical rules imposed by humans, not God. But Jesus knew very well that God didn’t create rules to entangle and limit us. As he remarked, “The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath.” He knew we needed rest and freedom from all of life’s expectations!
Today, people expect us to always be productive, efficient, well-mannered, and healthy at the same time. Our mainstream economy expects us to exploit nature and to believe that never-ending economic growth is possible and necessary. But this divine principle, that we see so clearly in nature, calls us to let go of these expectancies and to rest in a way that nurtures our strength and gives us joy, regardless of what society expects from us. And, as you’ll discover, it sets the frame for social and environmental justice in a broader sense!
So, how then do we put the principle of sabbath into practice? Here, I want to give you 7 practical ideas on how to live out sabbath.
1. Take a day off
It seems so simple, but we often overlook it: we really need to have at least one day off per week! That’s in our DNA, that’s what we were intended to need. For most of us, this will typically be Sunday, but even if you have to work on Sundays, you can probably take off another day of the week. If we don’t take a day off and relax at least once a week, we will soon feel the consequences on our body, mind and soul.
And then, what to do on the day of Sabbath? That very much depends on what you enjoy doing! Because as I’ve stated before, sabbath was made for us to enjoy and regain strength. For me personally, it is also a way in which I want to honour God as the author of the Sabbath. It’s a time for me to reconnect with my Creator, to spend time in nature, to do things that I truly enjoy doing and to spend time with my loved ones. And most importantly: I don’t have to feel guilty for not “being productive” on Sundays! I do whatever I can and need to do from Monday to Saturday, but from Saturday to Sunday evening* I’m completely free and off of social media. And I love it!
In the end, the Sabbath is really a day of celebration. And what better way to celebrate sabbath than with a good meal eaten with friends? I love to take the time on Sundays to cook with friends or to even eat out at times. A good meal is a blessing from God, a reason to be thankful and to celebrate with family, friends and neighbours, even if it’s just a “normal” Sunday!
2. Slow down
Sabbath is also a time to slow down and to reflect. Funnily, I’ve found that a good way for me to slow down is to walk! Usually, you will never see me without my bike when I’m outside. I want to reach my destination as quickly as possible, always slightly in a hurry… Until one day, I discovered the blessing of relaxed walking. So, instead of biking, I consciously decide to walk on Sundays, if possible. It helps me to literally slow down and observe more closely what surrounds me.
This has worked really well for me – for you, slowing down might look a bit different. What’s important is that the Sabbath doesn’t yet again become a set of rules to follow, but rather an attitude that infuses our soul and allows us to be more mindful and present in the moment.
3. Sabbath for animals
As I’ve stated above, sabbath in the Torah was also a gift to the animals that people kept for themselves. Chances are that you are not a farmer and that you don’t have control over how farm animals are treated. But as a consumer, you have the possibility to choose meat, dairy and eggs from farms where animals have been treated with dignity and respect. This is yet another way to live out the principle of sabbath!
4. Sabbath for nature
This was a central principle in ancient Jewish agriculture. And today, it is experiencing a renaissance. Sabbath meant to let the land rest for a certain time so that it could regenerate itself and provide food and habitat for wildlife. Since the 1970s, 60% of all wildlife on Earth has been lost! Clearly, this is due to the fact that people have neglected the principle of sabbath for the land. Wildlife needs space to thrive, and fallow, wild space is becoming increasingly rare. Today, we are thankfully becoming aware of these issues and farmers are encouraged to give more thought to wildlife as well.
But even if you are not a farmer yourself, you can once again choose food that has been produced sustainably and in harmony with the rest of nature, such as food from organic or regenerative agriculture.
If you have a garden, you can put this principle into practice by setting apart portions of your land on which weeds and other flowering plants are encouraged to grow and provide food and shelter for birds, insects, and other animals. By integrating a fallow into your crop rotation, you can even enhance the fertility of your soil!
5. Sabbath for workers
As you can read in the commandment about the Sabbath in the Jewish Torah (Exodus 20:10), sabbath is not only for us, our animals, and our land. It’s meant for all people – including those who work for us. So living out the Sabbath also implies promoting social justice!
Did you know that there are slaves working for you now? There are 27 million slaves in the world today, manufacturing our clothes, mining for ores that go into our electronic gadgets, digging for our diamonds, silver, and gold, and producing our chocolate and coffee. I took the ‘slavery footprint survey’ and found that there are 29 slaves working for me! I encourage you to take the survey at https://slaveryfootprint.org/ because we can end slavery through our consumer choices!
While we think of the exploited workforce in far-away countries, we should also remember all the underpaid workers in our neighbourhood. That cashier who has to work Sundays, the waitress working for less than minimum wage (and who often doesn’t even receive the customer’s tip), the exploited pizza delivery boy who has no choice but to do undeclared work and is thus being paid below minimum wage.
For me personally, observing the Sabbath has also meant not going shopping on Sundays. If I can take this day off, then why should cashiers at the supermarket or bakery have to be working on Sundays… Admittedly, I compromise on this when it comes to restaurants and cafés. Decide for yourself what you do or don’t want to do on Sundays.
6. Don’t worry, be happy
I bet you’ve heard this advice before: Don’t focus on your worries. Just let go of what you can’t control anyways! While this certainly is good advice if we want to get rid of stress and all of its associated illnesses, I find it extremely hard to put into practice. I still do, at times, but I figure it to be so much easier to hand my worries to a personal, loving God than to just tell myself to stop worrying.
Jesus invites us to this fulfilled, restful, and good life:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
It’s up to us how we will respond to this invitation. But what is clear is that Jesus is always loving, affirmative, and patient with us. I sincerely believe in Him and this relationship has changed (and still is transforming) my life.
7. Rediscover the rhythms of nature
Perhaps the best way to live out sabbath is to go into nature and see all of her beauty and intricate design. To feel her peacefulness and power.
There’s something wonderfully soothing about the rhythms of nature. I love to experience the change of seasons, sunlight, and tide! It shows me that there is order and intention in nature.
The change from day to night, from winter to spring to summer to autumn also reminds me that life is finite. It puts things back into perspective, as I grasp that I’m here just for a short stay and that all of life is simply grace from God.
Nature has all the answers. Not because they happen to be there coincidentally, but because the Creator lovingly put them there for us to find. Ultimately, they invite us to find true rest in Him who can give us perfect peace.
Wrapping it up
These 7 ideas for living out sabbath have really enriched my life. Of course, it doesn’t always work smoothly for me and I must confess that I often struggle with actually living them out. The way is the goal, as they say… But it’s a goal totally worth pursuing! The goal of living in harmony with nature, people, and God and of discovering rest and abundance through sabbath.
I hope you find your very own way to celebrate and live out sabbath. Tell me in the comments: Do you celebrate sabbath? How do you live out this principle in your daily life?
*According to the Jewish tradition, a day starts in the evening and ends with the next evening. This gives me the freedom to enjoy Saturday evenings with friends or family, and to gently prepare for the week ahead on Sunday evening.
Naomi Bosch grew up in Croatia, having a garden & nature close by. In 2017, she moved to the north of Germany to study agriculture. She has worked on various farms since. You can read more from Naomi on plentiful-lands.com