The Sabbath for Introverts
By Lynne M. Baab
Originally published in www.BuildingChurchLeaders.com, a publication of Christianity Today.
Jim is an introvert, and he loves his Monday Sabbaths. He goes for a long, leisurely run first thing in the morning. He spends much of the day reading. Then he enjoys a casual dinner with friends. The time alone, coupled with a relaxing time with friends who don’t expect him to lead or serve them, gives him the refreshment he needs to start the week with energy.
Like Jim, many leaders and ministers are introverts and so, like Jim, they enjoy significant blocks of time alone on the Sabbath day. But it’s trickier for these men and women to establish healthy, life-giving Sabbath practices when a spouse and children are a part of the picture. Their work week may hold so many interactions with people that, even when they deeply desire to spend time with family members, it’s hard to enjoybeing with them on the Sabbath.
My husband is an extravert and I am an introvert. When we had young children, our different Sabbath needs were very visible. I craved time alone, and we found that if at some point I could get out for a one-hour walk by myself, then for the rest of the day I could relax in the midst of family activities and enjoy our kids.
The Hebrew word “Sabbath” comes from a root that means cease, pause, rest, desist, or stop. To figure out what Sabbath practices will be healthy and life giving for us, we must first reflect on what forms of work we should abstain from on a day of rest. Do I need to stop talking? Multitasking? Trying to shape other people’s lives? Using technology?
Ron, the minister of a small, aging congregation, decided he would stop several things on Sundays, which he considers to be his Sabbath. He stops racing around the church building. He walks slower on Sundays, and he finds it makes a world of difference, putting him in a reflective and worshipful place. He has stopped conducting church business at coffee hour. Instead, he simply tries to enjoy his parishioners. During the afternoon and evening, he doesn’t try to correct his two young daughters or teach them anything. Instead, he tries to enjoy them for who they are, rejoicing in their unique gifts.
And he tries to serve his wife as much as he can, doing dishes and helping with meals, so that she can have a restful day too. Because of the size of his congregation, Ron spends a lot of time alone during the week. He doesn’t need to stop talking or interacting with people on Sundays, but he does need to set aside the administrative tasks of church leadership, as well as the teaching and shaping tasks of parenthood. His slower pace and focus on enjoyment of the uniqueness of each individual gives him rest and restoration to start another week.
When we had young children, my husband and I made a Sabbath commitment to enjoy family life without doing the work of taking care of a family. No home repairs, no housework or laundry, and no shopping. That gave us freedom from the multitasking that so often filled our week, trying to care for our children while getting something else done.
Multitasking can be stressful for anyone, but because of their ability to concentrate so deeply, introverts may find it especially taxing. A day with conversations and family activities can still be restful if it is free from multitasking.
Technology is another source of stress that some people try to avoid on the Sabbath. One of my friends, an introvert with a contemplative outlook on life, does not check her email, voicemail, or text messages on her Sabbath. That practice frees her to concentrate on her family with undivided attention.
Most ministers who serve congregations find it most helpful to have a Sabbath day other than Sunday. Eugene Peterson has often described the way he practiced Sabbath when he was a pastor. He and his wife would set out every Monday morning for a hike. They would walk in silence for the first half of the hike, then stop for lunch, and chat on the way back. The hike built intimacy between them and gave them time for silent reflection.
I don’t know if Peterson would describe himself as an introvert, but his Sabbath pattern seems very attractive to me as an introvert —a simple pattern of time with a spouse, time to reflect, and the opportunity to experience God’s creation. No complicated plans or structures, just a weekly practice that involved stopping weekday activities and replacing them with some silence and intimacy.
Sarah and Tim, who share a position in campus ministry, have come up with a creative plan that honors their own needs and the needs of their children. Whenever they don’t have a student conference on a weekend, they observe a two-day Sabbath. On Sunday, they spend time together with their two young children, trying to create the kind of day that will stay in the children’s memory. Church, then some Bible stories and prayer as a family, then something fun together. On Mondays they split up. One of them stays with the children in the morning, while the other gets a four-hour block of time for silence, journaling, and reflection. In the afternoon, they switch roles. Sarah and Tim’s pattern may be attractive to introverts who desire to balance time with family and time for reflection.
Learning to Rely on God
Over time, the Sabbath impresses on our hearts that God runs the universe and we don’t. Over time, the Sabbath helps us learn at a deep level that every breath we take depends on the abundant provision of a generous God. Over time, the Sabbath clarifies our vision of what exactly God has called us to do. We learn those truths primarily by stopping our productivity and allowing ourselves time to rest.
When interviewing people for my book Sabbath Keeping, I found that getting out into God’s creation was the most common Sabbath activity that brought rest and restoration: hiking, walking, gardening, playing Frisbee with a dog on the beach. One very busy minister said that working out at a gym on the Sabbath connected him to God’s creation of his own body. Journaling was mentioned by some Sabbath keepers as a helpful way to reflect, clarify thoughts, and hear God’s voice.
Some books and articles imply that we will receive the gifts of the Sabbath most profoundly by focusing on spiritual activities, such as contemplative prayer, journaling or Bible-centered activities with children. Laying on the burden of more activities, no matter how spiritual they are, is not at the heart of the Sabbath. The long-term Sabbath keepers I interviewed reported that the joy of the Sabbath comes primarily from the discipline of stopping work, productivity, multitasking, technology, and so forth, leaving space for low-key reflection and relaxed enjoyment of God’s good gifts.
In the Jewish tradition, intercessory prayers are too much work for the Sabbath; instead, prayers of thankfulness are viewed as appropriate and restorative. Stopping weekday activities creates the space to notice God’s good gifts, and a thankful, receptive spirit brings Sabbath joy.
Discuss or ponder:
- Do you take a Sabbath, formally or informally? If not, why not?
- If you’re married, do you have a good strategy for making sure both you and your spouse have opportunities to recharge?
- During the course of a week, what kinds of activities do you most need to take a Sabbath from?
(To access six other articles I've written about the sabbath, click here. My book Sabbath Keeping: Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest is the most popular of my books. I also wrote a Bible study guide on the Sabbath.)