If you have ever frequented the Free From aisle of your local supermarket you will have noticed that what sets it apart from the others is that the labelling of each item puts a huge amount of emphasis on what it does NOT contain. It’s a genius tag for the aisle – it isn’t that the food is regrettably, but necessarily devoid of x, y, or z, but rather it is free from such constraints, it has no need of them whatsoever and as a consequence you are free to enjoy it.
Various things have prompted me recently to consider how I can better sabbath – not really a verb, but let’s run with it – and I am currently trialling a Free From approach.
The impression I have of a traditional sabbath…
– by which I mean the Sundays experienced by the likes of Anne of Green Gables, the March girls or the Bennet sisters as opposed to an orthodox Jewish sabbath –
– is of a ‘Devoid Of’ kind of approach. The emphasis, in my imagination, is on what was not allowed. A day devoid of the elements that would normally make a day pleasant, and instead filled with rather second rate substitutions. In contrast, I am aiming at the more appealing idea of a Free From day.
As a mum of 4 children and a wife there are many things that my day can not be free from. A weekly sabbath is not going to look like a retreat or a spa day. But it can look different to the other 6 days of the week. Previously I have always focused on the elements of my day that I can’t be free from.
If my day is a shopping trolley and a sabbath day is an empty shopping trolley then I am always going to fail. There are always going to be items that automatically appear in my trolley, and there will always be items that get put into my shopping trolley by others when I am not looking.
So I have abandoned the idea of an empty trolley, and identified the things that I can take responsibility for keeping my trolley Free From. For me those things are:
- Anything to do with laundry – putting it in the machine, taking it out, hanging it up to dry, moving it to the airing cupboard, folding it, giving it to the relevant person and thinking/worrying about.
- Looking at my Email Inbox
- Listening to the news
- Shopping – including mulling over and researching possible new purchases, and anything to do with meal planning or picking up things we have run out of or adding things to my online food order.
- Meeting up with people or going out and about. This in turn frees me up from having to get the BF in the car, pack the nappy bag, get my timings right, being presented with things I could buy and worrying over what the person I met up with thought of me and whether I did a good job.
- My phone – it isn’t totally banned – but it stays in my room and isn’t a constant part of my day.
- Cooking – we have something from the freezer.
Which basically removes a massive number of choices from my day and a lot of the multi-tasking/juggling/time pressure and therefore immediately makes my day mentally much quieter and more restful.
Interestingly, by not doing these things for a day, it has also helped me to see that I do accomplish things within my week. In order to make my sabbath a Free From day I have planned and broken down some of these tasks a little and so I am much more aware of achieving and completing tasks rather than it all rolling into one unending blob of not quite managing. By not ‘working’ on my sabbath day I am seeing the value of the work I do throughout the week and feel more satisfaction and motivation around it.
All of which (with the help of the NTV) leaves me free to put a few treats into my trolley: a nice walk, consciously choosing something nice to wear, brain space to enjoy playing with the BF, to read and to pray. To consciously leave things in God’s hand and not take on every burden that flits into my mind.
In terms of the other stuff in my trolley – I trust that God will give me the love and strength I need to be who he has called me to be. After all nothing is getting into that trolley without his approval – so I’ll leave that job with him. So when there was a spillage and a stain incident on my recent sabbath of course I put the item to soak. BUT it was much less stressful because I didn’t let that be the first domino in a chain of moving all the rest of the washing on a stage. In other words it is right to help the ox out of the ditch! I doubt that my ox will fall into a ditch (given that I do not have an ox, or indeed a ditch) but when the equivalent happens of course I will jump into action. BUT I won’t then phone up someone and hire them to fill in the ditch, wash the ox, mend all the fences and fill in a report on how awful I was to let the ox fall into the ditch.
As well as my Free From approach I have also cut my sabbath free from family day – Saturday and church family day – Sunday. However, on those days I do want to be intentionally available to my husband, my children and my church family over those two days and so am applying an element of the Free From approach to those days too. Although personally my ideal ‘day off’ would tend towards being alone in a silent white room I do realise that an important element of sabbath is gathering with God’s people. And so I have chosen to have my personal sabbath on the day we have our church prayer lunch. In my situation this a low maintenance, but fellowship-rich experience of being church together.
Is this the answer to all questions about the sabbath? No way! It is a very messy, and possibly slightly ‘dodgy’ take on the whole matter. There is a lot that is not ideal and possibly even wrong in this plan. For example – I think maybe the very phrase ‘my personal sabbath’ is some sort of oxymoron or at least the sort of statement that makes wise people’s alarm bells start ringing.
Is it a way forward for everyone? No way! I can only do this because I don’t go out to paid work during the week and have a husband who works from home with some element of control over the timings in his day. And even in my particular circumstances it is very much a season.
But I believe that God calls us to sabbath rest, to avoid one day running into another without a change in pace or tone, to carve out some brain space and life space to allow our thoughts and hearts to dwell on him and rest on him and to be intentional in laying down our work as a recognition of our reliance on him and a testimony to who we are in him. And I believe that in the Lord’s mercy I have made some progress in this by coming at it from a slightly different angle. And I look forward to letting you know how it goes.
Soaring not Striving