I am writing to you because I care deeply about you and about the work of pastoring that we share. But to be honest, I’m also writing to you in order to put my own convictions on paper so they’re harder to ignore.
I first want to acknowledge that you are doing really hard work. In the early days of the pandemic, I felt a surge of pride as I looked around and saw you teaching yourself how to edit and upload videos, host board meetings on Zoom, and offer worship services on Facebook Live, Church Online and YouTube. And since you’ve resumed worshiping in the building again, I’ve seen you preaching two, three, even four times a weekend.
I’ve watched you work tirelessly to care for the oldest and loneliest in your flock while you also check in on the young mom fighting anxiety while she stays home with three kids. I know you took that voluntary pay cut when you saw the layoffs ripple through your congregation. I’ve seen you rethink weddings, funerals, children’s ministry, youth group, camps, and literally everything else the church does.
And now that screen fatigue and email fatigue and social media fatigue and every other kind of fatigue has set in, I’ve watched you bend over backward to send individualized communication to the emailers, the phone callers, and the texters so you can be sure no one is left out.
I’ve watched you in all this, and I am proud. But I’m also really worried for you. I know it all started from a place of love, creativity, and an eagerness to serve. But sometime between then and now, it feels like we turned a corner. What started as a joyful sacrifice of love has turned into a grueling, unrelenting, and exhausting enterprise. There are not fewer demands in this season, there are more. And yet for many of us, it feels like we have fewer resources than ever before.
I’ll confess to you that I have felt the drumbeat of the empire pounding in my ears: “Not enough. Make more. Not enough. Make more. Not enough. Make more.” Maybe it’s in your ears, too. It’s the Egyptian slave masters saying, “Make double the bricks, with no straw!” It’s the mantra of Pharaoh and every other oppressive force throughout history. This unrelenting demand for production and accomplishment pays no regard for human need or societal crisis that would suggest a slower pace or an actual break.
The empire’s ways are insidious, and they creep in to create exhaustion and resentment before we even notice. But thankfully, God has been leading his people out of the empire and into his kingdom for as long as we’ve known his name. And long ago he prescribed exactly what we need in this moment: it’s a gift called Sabbath. Sabbath is the sacrament of time that reshapes our lives to a different rhythm, a different mantra, a different drumbeat.
Sabbath is not the break we reward ourselves with when all our work is done. It is not something nice for those who can afford it. It is not an outdated legalistic practice that has no meaning in current life.
In case you, like me, need to be reminded, Sabbath is a radical, subversive, and theological statement about God, ourselves, and the world. It’s a 24-hour practice of unproductivity. It’s a day without work, without pressure, without deadlines. It’s a day to receive the gift of rest and to be reminded that the world operates on a power greater than our work. Sabbath is learning to live in the abundance of God’s kingdom rather than the fear of scarcity. God’s people are freedom people, and Sabbath is the gift that free people get to receive.
Sabbath is learning to live in the abundance of God’s kingdom rather than the fear of scarcity. God’s people are freedom people, and Sabbath is the gift that free people get to receive.
But Sabbath is not only something we do for self-care, as important as self-care is. Sabbath is a deeply theological practice that states what we believe and shapes us into that belief. When we practice Sabbath, we declare that everything does not depend on us. When we practice Sabbath, we declare that we trust God enough to provide for us—and for the people we care for—while we rest. When we practice Sabbath, we are reminded that we are human, that we have limitations, and that God does not ask us to be anything else. When we practice Sabbath, we give God space to speak, move, nurture, and heal. When we practice Sabbath, we declare that Jesus is Lord. When we practice Sabbath, we submit to doing ministry with Jesus, joined in his “easy yoke.” And, Pastor, when we practice Sabbath, we teach our people to practice it, too.
This is not an option for us. It is a mandate, always. But in these days of pandemic, practicing Sabbath is imperative for us to be the people of God in the world. In the midst of a global pandemic, when we’re all experiencing rising anxiety, social disruption, economic fragility, more demands, and fewer resources, now is the time to take seriously our practice of Sabbath.
This is not an option for us. It is a mandate, always. But in these days of pandemic, practicing Sabbath is imperative for us to be the people of God in the world.
It’s possible that right about now, you can’t imagine how you can create a 24-hour space of nothingness in your week. I am not an expert at Sabbath. But this is something I have found I can do and need to do. Here are some ideas that have really helped me:
– Spend 24 hours away from some or all of the following: social media, email, texts, phone, computer, Zoom, news, television.
– Spend time doing only what restores you—being outside, taking naps, eating good food, having fun with kids and family, reading a novel.
– Notify people in advance that you will be not be available during your Sabbath.
– Sabbath does not have to be Saturday or Sunday. Choose the day of the week that you can have free of distraction and interruption.
I fear this letter has already been too long, and yet there’s so much more I could say. But I hope it is enough for you to begin the necessary conversations with the Spirit to walk into freedom, hope, and truth in your own spirit. I pray you know the joy and freedom of life in the way of Jesus, even (maybe especially) in the midst of a global pandemic. I pray that the people you lead will grow in confidence of our Savior as they watch you follow him. I pray that we will not become weary and that we will continue to live into our prayer that his kingdom come, his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
May you know the abundance of our God’s grace and peace.
Your friend and fellow pastor,