I have long believed that we should enjoy a day off each week from work. In the past it has allowed me to be rested, social, creative and freed from feeling stuck on a hamster wheel where the everyday tasks just circle back round to me again.
Believing this and actually committing to it, however, are not inevitable. It is not always easy to relax, let go, and trust things will be OK without that extra busy day, the extra few hours, the potential of beginning a new week ‘ahead of schedule’.
As a parent this is also complex; because by weekday vocation of looking after my two lovely girls is the same work I have at the weekend. Feeding, clothing, and caring for them does not fit into a 9 to 5 workday, nor does it allow me to ‘leave work at the office’ because come Saturday morning I will still hear the patter of tiny feet creeping through the door to make sure I understand “it’s morning!” and the importance of immediately supplying breakfast. Whereas Bear has our kids engagement as a (mostly) welcome novelty in comparison to a job he leaves home for each morning, my ‘job’ doesn’t stop. My life is filled with laundry, cleaning, cooking, planning, play, feeding, and generally racing around mini people who have twice as much physical energy as I do with a fraction of the responsibilities.
Add to this that I work freelance; I get jobs here and there and mainly this means that although my hours are ultra-flexible, they are also targets of the super-efficient pushing-work-into-the-gaps. I juggle deadlines, expectations, and a real joy in helping people and creating with the very real truth of exhaustion and parental responsibility. It is not easy and means that more often than not my weekend, which would traditionally include my Sabbath, feels more like a chance to allow my husband to play with the girls and grab a few spare moments to feel productive in tasks that ideally I need two hands for (in contrast to my one free hand pretending it’s imbibed with the skills of an octopus)! Recently, that has included editing, designing, gardening, painting, as well as catching up on all the jobs that got pushed back throughout the week, and on the rare occasion that I am actually completely unable to push through the feeling of being dead on my feet I might just try to squeeze in an hour in a bath with a book… although honestly, the maximum I’ve managed recently is still only 15 minutes and even that was once our super-energetic toddler was already in bed asleep.
Even now, I am writing this at 05:48 after an early morning feed of my 4 month old baby knowing that I won’t get a chance to in a couple of hours. Ideally I have a cake to decorate, a fence to paint, a meeting and meal to plan, and church to get to early as Bear is on the rota. If I can mould enough of those jobs into this morning then I might feel more capable attending a tasty lunch with our friends. This is my life.
Of course, I am aware that I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself, that people tell me not to take on so much, and that I don’t need to do some of these things; I am instead allowing my often-negative mind to twist external requests and suggestions into duties and necessities. I have high standards of myself that I rarely meet, low-self-esteem mixed with high ambitions, and the unfortunate feeling of being more mentally and emotionally stable when I have also been (what I judge to be) productive. Tallying up my activities of the day just past can either help me feel useful and appreciated, or pointless and forgotten.
What I am coming to understand, bit by bit, day by day, is that God doesn’t require the same things of me, that pride is found just as much in embarrassment as in arrogance, and the Sabbath was intended as a gift to a workaholic humanity. I don’t believe God needs me to have the Pinterest-perfect cake prepared, the interactive-sustainable-permaculture garden of my dreams, or even a solid and profitable freelance business alongside an Oxbridge-standard of children’s entertainment and education running simultaneously. He doesn’t expect me to have the arms of an octopus, speed of a cheetah, or the nocturnal skill of owls. This was not His plan, and is not the way Jesus led. His Sabbath is one of healing, freedom and love which is often sacrificed by those trying to be closest to Him – is it surprising that so many ministers and pastors have breakdowns when they are pushed to their limit and we equate Sundays with the Sabbath?
How do I bring this together? It seems almost impossible but I do feel as if I am able to interpret the Sabbath generously. I’m pretty sure that preparing a drink for my child is not going to bring the wrath of God upon me, but neither should I allow myself to push away the importance of Sabbath with excuses.
Firstly, I may need to admit that Sabbath was not originally a Sunday, but in fact ran from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. The specific day may not matter but the weekly nature of it probably should as a routine nature of rest and freedom is naturally useful and edifying.
Secondly, whereas my work as a parent doesn’t stop just because the clock strikes, that doesn’t mean that my attention to other paraphernalia couldn’t. If I simply asked myself to give myself a day off from the things that I don’t want to do, the pieces of my life that are out of necessity rather than a place of joy, it reflects the freedom I’m sure God is nudging me to embrace.
Thirdly, my mental health may be managed by coping strategies of productivity and control, but I may find healing in a different kind of productivity: one in which I am producing happy memories, a bond with my family, and sense of the Spirit in my very soul which can flow out to those around me.
A recent suggestion of the 40 acts campaign for Lent has been a kind of weekly fast of social media or technology. For me this makes a lot of sense. Although it may often, truthfully, offer me a little connection with those far away whom I love and miss, it doesn’t need to take up mental space all the time. A buzz in my pocket or beep from another room is not actually a divine command to answer, it is just a notification and as such can wait. I don’t need to know every horrific news story or participate in every online debate to prayer about it the next morning. Those who love me do not expect immediate answers, and if they do the chances are they know of a number of alternative methods of reaching me (and that they are loved and welcomed wholeheartedly). My family does not need the comparisons, drama, or even unicorn inspiration social media bombards me with; they just need me, in all my flawed rough-around-the-edges ways, just to be with them fully.
This is my aim: to stop myself using social media, and technology for the most part (embracing a little grace and freedom here), on the traditional Sabbath once a week. My hope is that I will renew my spirit, my life, and feel God’s love in the sacrifices and space I’ve made.
First though, back to sleep for 30 minutes… the cake can wait!