And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. Genesis 2:1-2 (NRSV)
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
Psalm 121:3-4 (NRSV)
I was sure I’d be back in church within one week of my daughter’s birth—not as a pastor, but as one of the faithful, gathered in the pews, free to worship God without fear.
No worries about the Sunday School program, the evening youth group
meeting, the prayer I was about to deliver, or the pile of emails
waiting in my office. For my six blessed weeks of parental leave,
Sunday would once again be Sabbath, a day of rest and reflection, a day
to savor with my new little family, a day to relax in the good graces
of God’s satisfaction with creation.
And so, a week and half after her birth, with twenty minutes to go
before the service began, I found myself sitting on the couch with an
adorably decked out baby. I, however, was wearing my pajamas and hadn’t
showered in a few days. Getting to church was not going to happen. I
never made it back to worship services consistently until I returned to
full-time work six weeks later.
As I began ministry, the idea of Sabbath was important to me. It was
easier for the first few years after I was ordained because I was in a
Monday-Friday para-church position. Sunday was Sabbath. I went to my
church, I relaxed a bit, I prepared myself for the week of ministry
ahead of me.
Three months after beginning a new position in congregational
ministry, I was pregnant. As a new mother and a new congregational
pastor, I began to wonder how this whole Sabbath thing was going to
work. Not only did I face the task of carving out a day other than
Sunday, I had to guard this day with my life, keeping back the tasks
and worries of ministry to allow for some open space. Plus, many of the
ideas I’d had for my Sabbath seemed completely impractical with a
newborn. Long walks in the woods surrounded by the glories of creation?
Not if it interfered with nap time. A strict interpretation of “no
work”? It sounds great, but try telling a new mom that breastfeeding or
formula-mixing, not to mention changing diapers, does not count as
Although my husband was an incredibly helpful and attentive
stay-at-home dad, when he wanted to take a day off, he could take a day
off. Even if I was away from the baby, I was hauling a breast-pump. I
began to wonder if much of the thought about what it means to Sabbath
was developed by men who, by design, are much more capable of being
physically detached from the needs of their infants.
In fact, it’s impossible for Sabbath to mean complete removal from
the daily tasks of being a mother. Even the idea of preparing for the
Sabbath the day before (meals prepared ahead of time, clean the house,
get the laundry done…) sounds like extra work to me. With committee
meetings, on-going planning and projects, and a kid from the youth
group in crisis, who has the time? Plus, when I returned to work full
time, exhausted as I was, I wanted that Sabbath day to be the day when
I could just be my baby’s mama.
If we are supposed to rest in God’s grace on that day, what does
that look like in the middle of diapers and feedings and the nap
I’ve begun to realize that many of my ideas about Sabbathing missed
the point of the day. It is not just a day to be with family. It is not
just a day for personal pampering and recuperation. It is not just a
day to stay away from church for the sake of personal sanity. It is
really and truly God’s day. Fortunately, God cares about my family, my
recuperation, and my sanity, so those things play a role. But it is
ultimately the day when I may get to know God.
When God rested on day seven, God rested surrounded by the work of
days one through six. When I rest on the Sabbath, I rest surrounded by
my work: my daughter, my life with my family and friends, and my life
with my church. The God who rested on day seven is also the God who
neither slumbers nor sleeps. When I rest on the Sabbath, I may not fit
in a nap, but I can reflect on God’s constant care as I feed, diaper,
and care for my child.
I no longer look for a whole day of mind-blowing Sabbath experience.
Sabbath is a day set apart, but still a regular day. And amidst the
regular daily tasks of the Sabbath, I am finding moments of deep, pure
connection with God. On a walk in the spring woods, the baby falls
asleep in the stroller and she is as beautiful as any plant poking its
head through the soil. A recording of African monks singing the Creed
stirs me to praise God for calling a diverse church and blessing us
with some commonalities. Somehow, I manage to find the time to take a
nap. And, even standing at the changing table, I realize that in this
hard, messy work of mothering is the hand of a God who is not afraid to
get dirty with the things of the world, even on a day of rest.