This is a question I’ve struggled with since becoming a mum. On the one hand, the Sabbath is Biblically commanded, and there’s no exception made for mums. On the other hand, most of the writing and teaching about Sabbathing seems to come from those who are able to walk away from their normal six day labours and so setting apart the seventh day as holy seems relatively straight forward. As a stay at home mum, my house is my office in a sense, and everywhere I look there’s always something I should have done but haven’t. It’s got to be possible to Sabbath as mums, because it’s commanded of us, but sometimes it seems impossible.
So I set out on a bit of a project to work out what the Sabbath could look like for a stay at home mum. I expected to be able to put together a nice ‘top 10 tips’ or ‘how to’ guide which I could easily follow, but what I ended up with was something quite different. I suspect this is for several reasons. The first is that, in Jesus, we are no longer under the law – and indeed Jewish Sabbath laws by the time of Jesus had spiralled away from being recognisable to the laws laid down in the Old Testament at all. This isn’t to say that there aren’t rules and guidelines for living in the Kingdom of God, but these are not what define us or what justify us. They may be a means for our sanctification, but they are certainly not a means for our salvation in any way at all, and so a ‘rules for Sabbath’ list is probably not what God intended for me to find.
Secondly, there is quite some difference between ‘Biblical principles’ and ‘methods’. The principles we find in Scripture should be unwavering and our constant plumb line – they should be consistent among Christians. The methods that we then build out of these principles can differ depending on our contexts and circumstances – and so whilst two families may have the same Sabbath principles, their methods may look different, and so long as both families have followed the Scriptural Sabbath principles, and sought the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in discerning their methods, neither one should judge the other (Col 2:16).
So here are the things that God has taught me as I’ve been exploring what it means to Sabbath as a stay at home mum.
My Children Are Not a Job
Part of my problem is that I had been working under the premise that, in order to have a day of rest from six days work, I needed to be able to have time away from my children. In essence, I needed to stop being a mum for a day, because, in my mind, being a mum had become synonymous with a job. But that’s not true. Being a mum is a huge blessing and a gift from God – it seems a little counter intuitive to suggest that to have refreshment from God we need time away from the gifts He has given us. Please don’t think that I’m suggesting we never have time away from our children to ‘refuel’ for the simultaneously massive privilege and challenge that parenting is, but I’m not sure that the Sabbath day is that time.
I’ve blogged previously on the ‘Myth of Me Time’, which looked at some of the dangers and misconceptions that come with the notion that we need ‘me time’. As an introvert, I definitely value some time to take a slow breather, but I am a mummy, and this is a part of who I am. We see in Scripture that God created the world in six days and on the seventh He ‘rested from all the work that He had done’ (Gen 2:2). But, though He rested from the work that He had done and this is established as the grounds for our Sabbath in the Ten Commandments, God did not stop sustaining the world. He is Creator and Sustainer of all creation – they are two of the many aspects of what He does as God. So on the seventh day He rested from the work of creating, but He did not stop being God. He did not stop sustaining life. And as mums, we have the awesome privilege of partaking in that sustaining of life in caring for our children – and that doesn’t stop on the Sabbath.
Moreover, Jesus seemingly went out of his way to heal on the Sabbath and considered it an important day to heal, as it showed that the Messianic Age had come, and it was a tangible way to show that mankind was no longer in the bondage of sickness and death and Satan (for example, Luke 13:10-17, though there are many others). In the way we love our children and care for them, we are able to play a part in pointing them to Jesus who inaugurated the Kingdom of God. Because we are secure in the grace and love of Jesus, we can parent them with grace and love. Because we parent in the freedom that comes from Christ’s sacrifice we can parent sacrificially, and hopefully show them some glimpse of what they have in Christ. This kind of ministry and calling is not restricted to ‘six days of labour’. It is a privilege and an honour that we have been blessed with, and which we are called to embark on every hour of the day (and night!) for our children, and perhaps most especially on the holy day of the Sabbath.
It’s Not About Me
The Sabbath day is as much about my rest and refreshment as it is about everyone else’s – being a mum does not make me superwoman (and, in fact, makes me ever more aware of what a selfish sinner I am), and consequently I need the rest and refreshment that comes from the Sabbath as much as everyone else. But it’s not necessarily about rest and refreshment as I might see it. I might believe (and rightly so) that I’ll feel better and rested at the end of the day if I’ve completed a project (being quite a task focused person) and spent a few hours at a spa (being an introvert – oh, and a woman!). But I don’t think this is the refreshment that is being spoken about.
The Sabbath is a day that is Holy: it has been set aside and blessed by God. Anyone can feel boosted by completing a project and going to a spa, but only Christians can receive the rest and restoration that comes from knowing God. The peace of Christ who will carry our burdens is far greater and deeper than the peace of a massage. This isn’t a day about ‘feeling good’, but is a day set aside for us to dedicate to finding that deep refreshment that comes from God. This isn’t at all to say that we cannot rest in Jesus the rest of the week – as mums we know that the chaos of parenting needs the peace of Jesus all the time, and we need to be turning to Him and resting in him constantly. But the Sabbath provides a day for perhaps more sustained and dedicated time with God, being refreshed by Him. What this might look like will differ depending on our family situations, and for those with very young children any long sustained period of ‘quiet time’ may seem like a far off dream, but I suspect that there are things from the other six days that are labours and distractions that we can cut out to allow for more focused time with God.
There Does Need To Be Planning and Rules
I’m not suggesting a list of rules that we have no flexibility about and which bind us to legalism. But, if we are to be able to set aside a day each week to more fully know the peace and restoration found in Christ, we’re going to have to do some planning – because life certainly doesn’t lend itself easily to this. Exodus 16:22-30 talks of how the Israelites are to collect and prepare manna for two days on the sixth day, because they’re not to collect any on the seventh. I think this perhaps at least gives some indication that one of the things we can be doing as homemakers is to prepare as much of the food for the Sabbath day as possible in advance, so that this practical task doesn’t eat into our day (pun intended!). Whether that might mean making a large meal to start the Sabbath so that we can have left-overs on the Sabbath day, or preparing as much of the meal in advance, or planning to have a ‘freezer to oven’ meal, there does seem to be some Biblical mandate for reducing the more practical tasks.
I suspect this could easily apply to making sure there are clean clothes (I nearly said clean and ironed, but who am I kidding!), that bags are packed, that dishes are done and so on before beginning, so that these tasks that can be forsaken for a day without impacting on our families. I guess in part it’s a case of working out what is ‘sustaining’ and what is ‘creating’ – the creating of meals and clean clothes and dishes need to be put aside for the day, but the sustaining work of nurturing and loving and raising our children need not. But let’s be sensible, nobody is suggesting you don’t change your baby’s nappy, or bath your children who are coated in mud – this is not about rank legalism! Jesus certainly had no time or place for that and was more than happy to heal on the Sabbath and have his disciples pick grain to eat! (Mt 12:1-13:3)
Work For Six Days
So this might seem obvious – if you’re resting on the seventh day then clearly you must be working on the other six. But something that I’ve been convicted about during my time trying to understand the Sabbath, is that I don’t really do this – at least not diligently. There are six days for working and a seventh for rest, and whilst this doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be times of rest within these six days (including sleep), it does mean that getting by doing the bare minimum in these six days is not God honouring either.
Our roles as homemakers are God-given, and we should be striving to execute them the best we can, using the gifts that God gave us; the people he gives us to help us grow; and ultimately relying on His strength which shines through our weaknesses. We have the opportunity to lovingly serve our husbands and children in the way we minister in our homes and complete the tasks necessary, or we can cause stress and chaos through allowing clutter and disorganisation to reign. And I very regularly fall into the latter! Essentially, I am learning that one of the reasons I struggle to rest properly on the Sabbath is because I fail to work diligently through the rest of the week – I slob! I (just about, mostly) get done what absolutely needs to be done, but I don’t honour God through creating a loving sanctuary for my family where they can find peace and rest. Sabbathing is Biblically commanded and deeply important, but it cannot be understood in isolation from the other six days of the week.
It’s a Community Event
This surprised me, though it probably shouldn’t have. We live in a very individualistic society where we often see ourselves in isolation from a wider grouping, and consequently find ourselves often thinking that, so long as we take 24 hours out to rest, then we have Sabbathed. But I think that, perhaps, the Bible seems to suggest something different. Again, I stress that it is important to take time to refuel alone – even Jesus withdrew from the crowds. But, when the Sabbath is outlined in the Ten Commandments it is to include everyone – even the sojourner in the land. I’ve often laboured under the misconception that it’s ok to shop or have takeaway on a Sunday because it’s relaxing for me and if people chose not to have their Sabbath on the same day that’s fine. And if they’re not Christian then there’s no reason they should have to Sabbath anyway. Now, it’s not my place to insist that everyone Sabbath on Sunday and no-one work, but it is my responsibility to ensure that I make it as possible for this to be the case as I can by not using shops and takeaway services on Sunday.
Given that as I’ve talked about above, the Sabbath is about finding peace and rest in God, and having a more dedicated and focused time (as far as is possible) worshipping God, the idea that it is a community event probably also suggests that there is to be some kind of corporate worship. The form this takes can differ massively and we very much need the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in working out what kind of corporate worship we partake in and it should not be assumed that ‘standard church’ is the only way for this to take place, but we probably also ought to be careful that we don’t become too insular and individualistic in this too.
So What About My Methods?
I’m not sure yet. It’s definitely not something that I can work out on my own and is definitely something that my husband and I need to spend time seeking God about. There are still so many practical questions I have – technology or not? Phones or not? Day trips out or not? To insist our children come to church if they don’t want to or not? And my guess is that these will change as our family changes and our circumstances change. But they are just methods – they are ways of helping us honour the Sabbath, they don’t get to define what the Sabbath is or should be. The Sabbath principles we find in Scripture and the discernment of the Holy Spirit have that role, and what my Sabbath ends up looking like will probably be very different to another family’s, even though we may share Sabbath principles – and that is absolutely fine.