1. What is Sabbath, and what is its purpose? What do you mean by Sabbath Simplicity?
Sabbath, first and foremost, is a gift from our loving God. He invites us to take a day to rest from our labor, so that we might engage in relationship with him and with others. Its purpose is to refresh us physically and spiritually, to celebrate our freedom, to draw us close to God, and yet to remind us that we are not God.
God commanded us to Sabbath, to stop. But Sabbath-keeping is also a spiritual practice or discipline. All disciplines, (like prayer, solitude, etc.) create some space for God in our lives. Just as we have a lot of latitude in other practices (we can pray any number of ways, for example), we have freedom in how we practice Sabbath. My book offers a lot of ideas, and real-life examples, of how to approach this life-giving practice.
Sabbath Simplicity is a sanely-paced, God-focused life. It’s a lifestyle that includes the practice of Sabbath-keeping, but goes beyond just taking a day off. IN a way, it’s living out what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 6:33: See first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Sabbath Simplicity seeks God first.
2. What are some simple steps anyone can take to seek Sabbath Simplicity in their own lives?
The first step is to assess the current pace of your life—what activities have you and the people you live with said yes too. How hurried are you? You can’t figure out your next step, really, until you know where you are starting from. You may have to get very concrete and write down your schedule and look at it. Because your activity level during the week is going to affect your Sabbath.
Second, choose a day that you will keep Sabbath. I recommend Saturday or Sunday, and go from sunset to sunset. The Old Testament Sabbath was from sunset on the 6th day of the week to sunset on the 7th day—although as I explain in detail in the book, their ancient calendars were different from ours.
Third, choose one thing to refrain from, one thing to engage in. For example, refrain from housework and running errands, and engage in reading a spiritually challenging book. Start with small steps, and think about building your Sabbath Simplicity life a little at a time, gradually. After a few weeks, add another thing you will refrain from, and another thing you’ll engage in. Pray and listen, let God shape your Sabbath practice. Make your relationship with him the focus. Allow yourself flexibility.
3. Why did you start the practice of Sabbath? Why did you decide to observe it? How has your life and your family changed as a result?
Sundays in my house when I was growing up were mostly a relaxing family day, even though we didn’t call it Sabbath. But when I had my own family, I found myself getting very busy—not just with kids’ stuff but also getting over-involved at church. I tend to have a work-a-holic approach to life. When the kids were small, God brought a couple of books that mentioned Sabbath across my path. The idea of Sabbath stirred a longing in my soul, which is one way God speaks to us, through our deep desires. So I started, on my own, to set aside my normal work. It was very gradual, and it took my family a while to even notice. It’s a mysterious practice, in a way, because you it is simply resting—and yet it brings you into the presence of God. It’s been a profound part of my spiritual journey. And my children know that Sunday is a peaceful day at our house. They also have learned that I am available to play, to listen, to cuddle. It’s given us a day for quality time, and I think it’s helped me be a better parent. It also silently affirms to my children, you are loved, apart from your accomplishments. It is okay to just be.
4. How does practicing the Sabbath in today’s busy society differ from the ancient concept of the Sabbath? Why is it so different? Why is it still important?
The ancient Jewish Sabbath had very strict boundaries, but within those boundaries, there was freedom and relationship. The Torah and traditions prohibited what was known as melachah, work that is creative or exercises dominion over your environment. There were 39 specific tasks, such as reaping, lighting a fire, etc., that correlated to the 39 tasks needed to build the temple.
Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath, gave us a new way of following the ancient law. Jesus reminded us that the law was originally meant to invite us into relationship with God. While the Bible makes it clear that we are saved by grace, and not by the law, God’s law still remains a great way to live—as long as we don’t get legalistic or think keeping certain rules will save us.
It’s important for many reasons, which I cover in the book. But here’s just one key reason: it allows us to experience the unconditional love of God in a physical, tangible way. It’s one thing to say he loves us even when we are not accomplishing or performing. But if we never actually stop performing, how can we experience that unconditional love? It allows us to say yes, with our bodies and our schedules, to Jesus invitation in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Sabbath is not so much something you “do” as a gift you receive.
5. You say the Sabbath made you learn flexibility. In what ways? How does Sabbath change throughout different seasons of our lives?
Jesus taught a whole new way of Sabbath, and I devote the entire first chapter of the book to just that. He showed us that Sabbath was for healing, reconciliation, valuing relationships over rules. But like any spiritual practice, we need to let God lead us, to be teachable. That requires flexibility. And it won’t always go perfectly. Again, we have to be willing to recognize that Sabbath Simplicity is a journey, and we’re learning as we go. Just as we learn other spiritual practices, like prayer or Bible study. We don’t have them completely figured out or perfected, but we keep doing them, and keep asking God to help us to do them better.
You also have to adapt your practice to the season of your life. I love that God gives a reason with the Sabbath command. Take a day off, he says, because you were slaves in Egypt. Slaves cannot take a day off, but free people can. Sabbath is a day to celebrate freedom, and to perhaps reflect on the gift of freedom, and to empathize a bit with those who are not free.
In certain seasons, though, we may feel like a slave—to our young children, our career, our needy friends, or aging parents. When I was in that season, it was hard. Ask for help. While you may, for example, still have to change diapers or feed your kids, you can refrain from other things. Don’t run errands on Sunday. It’s a nightmare with little kids in tow anyway. Do it another day, and save Sunday for just relaxing with your family. I have very specific suggestions on how to do this in my book.
6. You’re the parent of a 12 and 14 year old. What does Sabbath look like for them? Do you restrict their activities on Sundays?
I have never legislated Sabbath for anyone else in my home. My kids have freedom that day to rest or to play or whatever. They know that I am available to listen or to talk. Sometimes we will play a board game, go for a bike ride or a walk.
My daughter has played soccer for ten years, and she sometimes has games on Sunday. But we are never running from one game to the next, or from the game to the grocery store because she is not in more than one sport at a time. (so in that way, we do restrict—they can do one sport and one artistic pursuit at a time, no more). But the restriction is not just a Sabbath thing, it’s a lifestyle thing.
We sometimes have friends over for a meal, or the kids have friends over. Those kids often remark—your house is so peaceful. I think Sabbath is a day to extend hospitality—but not in a stressful way.
My son is more introverted, so sometimes his Sundays provide him the freedom to just spend time alone, playing Legos or reading or drawing. My daughter is more extroverted, so she often spends time with friends. Her youth group meets during the 11:15 a.m. service at church, and from there they go to “house groups” which are a meal and group time. So a big part of her Sunday is spent in community with other students from our church.
7. What is your favorite way to spend a Sunday?
It depends on the time of year. In summer, I love being outside: gardening, walking the dog, riding my bike. Some weekends, we are at my in-laws lake house, and we go sailing, water skiing, or just spend time with extended family.
In winter, my best Sundays include a walk or a workout, and then some time on the couch, drinking coffee and reading (The Sunday tribune or a good book), with a fire in the fireplace and Mozart on the stereo. If I feel creative, I might cook but I always plan ahead enough to have leftovers available for dinner.
8. How did you balance busy Sundays full of soccer games and other activities with the practice of Sabbath? What advice do you have for parents trying to juggle hectic schedules? What about parents of small children?
While we sometimes have a soccer game, we don’t have other things, because we’ve placed limits on our activities. So we don’t have busy Sundays. My son has often opted not to be in sports, but this year, played football. Thankfully, his games are on Saturday.
Advice: Let your kids pick one sport plus one other activity (say, piano lessons) at a time. An important life lesson you need to teach your children: delayed gratification. You can’t have it all, all at once. You can try lots of different sports, one at a time. The more kids you have, the more crucial this is. Four kids in two sports each often translates into eight games per weekend, not to mention a least a dozen practices per week. Choose sanity.
Schedule housework and errands for weekdays, so if you do have sports, you’re not trying to squeeze in other work around games.
Substitute whole family activities for individual activities. Going for a bike ride or walk together, attending church, serving in your church or community together—these are ways to keep kids active but not running in different directions. It builds your family’s cohesiveness.
Do the housework together with your family the day before Sabbath to get ready. The day is more restful if the house is clean. And everyone should help keep the house from getting trashed—not just on Sabbath but every day.
Those with small kids—I’d say talk to your spouse. See if they are willing to take over things like diaper changes or middle of the night crying for just that one day. Your first Sabbath Simplicity step might be just deciding that one night a week, you’ll get a full night’s sleep.
One Jewish tradition is a family meal, which begins with lighting candles, prayer and saying a blessing over your children. Kids love rituals, and prayers of blessing can re-align our hearts.
Some families have a box of toys that only comes out on Sabbath, so that they are special. I have an entire chapter on “playing” which I think is a very important part of Sabbath with small children.
The most important part with little kids is to think of it as what you “get to” do on Sabbath, rather than what you “can’t do.” Reframe Sabbath in this way and your children will love it.
9. How can someone who has a job that requires them to work on Sundays practice Sabbath-keeping?
Pick a different day. Many people I interviewed for the book (and some who gave me their unsolicited opinion) believe that Saturday is the true Sabbath, because the Bible says the “seventh day.” My question is, the seventh day on which calendar. Because the calendar we use now is not the one used in ancient times. In fact, there were many different calendars. I detail this in the book. I think the key is, pick one day a week, then keep that consistently, don’t change it week to week. If you work a job with an irregular schedule, say like a firefighter or a pilot, you can be a bit more creative. Look at your schedule for the month and schedule in four Sabbath days, ahead of time. Keep those as if they were sacred—which they are.
10. You have a chapter in the book about how Sabbath connects Christians to the Jewish roots of their faith. Why is that important?
We live in a culture that forgets history so easily. Our faith roots are in Judaism. Christianity is “a branch grafted in” to the tree of the Jewish faith. We cannot understand the New Testament fully without the context of the Old Testament—also known as the Torah. The Sabbath is a picture of god’s grace—we don’t work, yet God provides. Jesus is our peace, our Shabbat Shalom. Plus, we are followers and disciples of Jesus. As should, we should live as he lived, practice what he practiced: prayer, solitude, Sabbath. IN the book, I note: “The cure for our isolation and disconnection is not simply more relationships but deeper ones, and a deeper connection to our shared past.”
Also, a pivotal ritual in our faith—communion, is based on a Jewish Sabbath meal, the Passover. Sabbath meal always includes wine and bread—again, the communion elements. Even though they have different meanings, the Sabbath meal was a foreshadowing of Christ’s sacrifice for us.
11. Didn’t Jesus set us free from the law? If so, do we even have to
practice Sabbath at all? What did Jesus say about the Sabbath?
By that argument, it would be okay to kill or commit adultery, because we are free from the law. What Jesus set us free from is being saved or in right relationship with God through the law. We’re saved by grace, not by law keeping.
So we won’t be saved by Sabbath-keeping, but it is still how God invites us to live.
Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for people. If God makes something for you, it’s a gift. He said it was not about the rules, but relationship. It’s a spiritual practice that brings us close to God.
I have a whole chapter in the book that talks about what Jesus said about Sabbath. Researching that chapter was very interesting. I noticed that Jesus often taught by saying “you’ve heard it said…but I say.” For example, he’d say, “you’ve heard it said, don’t commit adultery, but I say, if you look at a woman with lust, you’ve already committed adultery.” But he didn’t use that particular style of teaching on Sabbath. But the thing he seemed to get in trouble with the Pharisees and teachers of the law for most was breaking their Sabbath rules. I think that in the breaking of the rules, he was saying to them, “you’ve heard it said…but I say” with his actions.
He healed on Sabbath, restored relationships, taught and confronted, and defended those choices vigorously. He called us to a new understanding of Sabbath—and clearly stated that legalism is not his way.
Rest: Living in Sabbath Simplicity provides practical ways to slow down and simplify. It offers the gift of Sabbath, as a lifestyle and a spiritual practice. If you’d like to be included in a drawing for a free copy of Rest, leave a comment or question below. If you leave a question, Keri will be glad to try to answer it. We’ll select a winner on [fill in date here]. If you want to order the book, it’s available on amazon.com. This link will take you right to the page:
For more information about Keri Wyatt Kent, visit her website at www.keriwyattkent.com.
Keri worked as a reporter for 8 years before writing her first book and is the author of several books, including Breathe: Creating Space for God in a Hectic Life (Revell) and Listen: Findingin the Story of Your Life God (Jossey-Bass). When she’s not busy traveling around the country to speak and lead retreats, she’s writing. She’s a regular contributor to several magazines, including Today’s Christian Woman, MomSense and Outreach magazine, as well as several websites and blogs. She’s a member of Willow Creek Community Church, where she has taught, led groups and volunteered in a variety of ministries over the last 21 years. Learn more about her ministry at www.keriwyattkent.com.