Before having children, our ideal day of rest would look a little something like this : sleep in until ten, have some leisurely morning coffee, maybe Josh would run out and get pastries for us. I would make eggs and bacon. We’d lounge in the living room reading books and Country Living magazines. Maybe around noon we’d decide to get out of the house and out of our pajamas for a walk. At one o’clock we might be ready for a little nap, so we’d rest some more, make love, make some afternoon coffee, then spend some time apart working on our own hobbies until dinnertime, when we’d try out a new restaurant, talking late into the evening over wine.
And then we had children; three of them in five years. And there were no weekends, no days of rest of any kind. We work from home, running our own business, and I homeschool. My husband has various responsibilities at our church, and he’s a touring musician, so sometimes the weekends andor evenings mean work. The lines between work hours and family time are blurred, all week long. Until recently, weekends mostly meant shuffling the kids between one parent and the other, so one of us could have some “alone time”—a few hours to pursue a hobby. Weekends were not restful, meaningful, or life-giving, to us or the kids. Monday would arrive and we would still be exhausted from the week before.
At first the idea of giving up a day, letting go of our productivity, enforcing one day of no-work, sounded preposterous. It didn’t feel like we could afford to give up a day. There was simply too much that needed doing.
Our road to finding rest began with some friends, last Fall, who talked about how much life they’d found in observing/celebrating a weekly Sabbath—Shabbat. Keeping the Sabbath “holy”, to me, had always meant going to church on Sunday. But there was nothing particularly sacred or restful about that. I started looking into Hebrew traditions, the roots of our Christian faith. The rules of keeping the Sabbath, the dynamics of the evening meal, and the following day of rest. I came across a verse I’d never read before, in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, where we are promised the joy and blessing of the Lord if we can delight in a day of rest. It didn’t simply command that we take a day of rest. It said, “if you call the Sabbath a delight…” Hmm. That sounded intriguing, hopeful, and just what we needed—a whole day to delight in.
It began a little clunky at first. There were some trial and error moments along the way to making it our own family tradition. Written prayers that weren’t heart-felt, a lengthy time at the Friday night dinner table as we tried to fit in an evening service, too much work on Friday to make a day of rest possible, etc. It has since become such a precious day that I hear “Mama, how long until Shabbat?” every day of the week.
Thursday night I do my grocery shopping for the weekend ahead so that Saturday meals will be easy, with little prep and clean-up. I try to go to bed that night with all the rooms in the house tidy and in order so that only the deep-cleaning remains for Friday. Friday is housecleaning day, with help from the kids, and meal prep for our evening meal. We pick up fresh flowers from the florist. By 6:00 (hopefully) the house is clean, the meal is ready, even dinner prep is cleaned up in the kitchen. The table is set with candles, wine, grape juice, two loaves of challah bread and our fanciest stemware & plates (even for the kids), the hot evening meal waiting in the kitchen until communion is over. Grandma and Grandpa are usually here, and sometimes Aunt Alli, too, or maybe another family or some friends visiting from out-of-town. We mingle and enjoy appetizers before sitting down, catching up on our weeks, filling the kids’ bellies a bit before they have to endure some wiggle-free time at the table.
We sit down, and I begin lighting the candles while reading a simple prayer. We then pray blessing over each other. Traditionally, this is a time for the parents to bless each other and the parents to bless the children, but the children have started praying, too. It is also a time for thanksgiving rather than petition, a time to enjoy the plenty of what we’ve already been given rather than asking for more. We share the challah bread and wine and talk about the symbolism of it while we sing a little song that Grandpa Garrels wrote, called “Take, Eat.” And then it is feasting time, with music and chatter. I switch out the challah for our evening meal, and we enjoy long conversations, usually initiated by our four-year-old son Shepherd saying, “Grandpa, can you please tell a story of your’s [sic] life?” Soon Shepherd and Heron will curl up on our laps while we tell stories by candlelight around the table. If we have guests, the kids will ask to hear their life stories of faith, adventure, and courage. I will head upstairs and put the baby to bed, but the big kids get to stay up late this night, enchanted by the peace and light of the evening.
Saturday morning arrives, and the leftover challah bread becomes french toast, sliced up like little clouds on the griddle, guiding us through our day. Maybe there will be a morning hike today, or maybe a day at home in family togetherness, perhaps “working” in the garden, but only if the whole family agrees that it is restful. Fifties tunes will be wafting from dad’s backyard studio, Heron will be leaping from the play structure, Shepherd nailing some scraps of wood together with a stone, Peregrin toddling around getting into mischief, Josh watering the plants, and I, stitching on the back stoop. We will probably all take naps, and there will be no hurry, no worry, no talk of work or homemaking decisions (indeed, the kids can even correct us if we begin to talk work or house projects, decisions, or concerns). Generally there is no screen time and no spending of money. This day is for snuggling, playing, feeding our souls and our family relationships. Sunday can be the day to think & plan for the week ahead, to tackle projects that we can’t get to during the week, but not today. Today is sacred.
Over these past eight months we have been learning the discipline of rest. That it must be worked for, planned for, and given a place of honor within the family timeline. Rest, true and deep, gives us strength for the coming week. It fuels and motivates our long & diligent weekdays. And at the week’s end, we delight. We all do.
(originally appeared in grounded magazine, autumn 2014)