Redeeming Our Full Schedules with Sabbath

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I wear a lot of hats. Not literal hats; metaphorical hats. I’m a wife, friend, professor, pianist, mentor, writer, volunteer at my church, and occasional speaker. And then there are my hobby hats: reader, hand letterer, Target deal finder…I think you get the idea. I love to do things, and when I’m not doing things, I’m doing other things.

How do I get it all done? My favorite two words are “productivity” and “efficiency.” I don’t procrastinate or dawdle. I manage my time and focus. I carry around books and things to work on in my purse. I stay busy.

Busyness is like a security blanket for me.

But a life of busyness isn’t sustainable. Without rest, busyness ceases to be productive. The quality of our work diminishes, our efficiency wanes, our relationships suffer, and our souls begin to feel empty. I don’t want busyness; I want abundant life.

We are to be productive with our lives, but we aren’t made for constant work and no rest.

“We can squander today by feeding two different sins: laziness or busyness. Both the lazy person and the compulsively busy person subtly reject the God-ordained boundary of time…Busyness believes that the time God has given is not adequate. We must redeem the present by leaving time to observe the practice of stillness and precept of Sabbath, taking on the trusting posture of one who sits at the feet of her Lord.”

(Jen Wilkin, None Like Him)

Keeping the Sabbath is number four in the Ten Commandments.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

(Exodus 20:8-11)

But even before the Law, Sabbath was built into creation.

And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

(Genesis 2:2-3)

Jesus modeled rest—He even slept on a boat in the middle of a storm!—and taught His disciples the importance of rest.

“The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. Then Jesus said, ‘Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.’ He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone.”

We need Sabbath to be a regular part of the rhythm of our lives just as music needs rests in order to have breath and movement.

When we don’t observe Sabbath rest,

  • we decrease our productivity and efficiency by wearing down our bodies and minds,
  • we neglect our emotional health,
  • we cease to produce good fruit,
  • and we miss opportunities to experience the presence of a God who loves to show off, to hear His voice, and to enjoy His creation and beauty.

Now, there’s something a bit sticky I want to address:

Jesus got into trouble with the religious leaders of His day for healing people on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-14, John 5). Most of the times when I’ve heard these passages preached, the message is that we shouldn’t use the Law as an excuse to not help people. I totally agree with this. At the same time, if the speaker isn’t careful, they can give the impression that the principle of Sabbath rest is outdated and unimportant. No wonder so many pastors and church volunteers easily get burned out!

So let me talk directly about Jesus healing on that Sabbath. I believe one reason Jesus healed on the Sabbath is simply because that’s what God does: God heals on the Sabbath. He heals our weary bodies, stills our unsettled minds, and soothes our raw emotions.

In another passage where Jesus came into conflict with the religious leaders because of the Sabbath, he said, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27, NLT)

The heart of the Sabbath is not a law to bind us. The Sabbath is a precious gift from the God who loves us and cares about the big and small details of our lives.

If you’re feeling drained, maybe the solution isn’t to quit. Maybe you need to rest and make Sabbath part of the rhythm of your life.

Redeeming Our Full Schedules

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I recently wrote about needing a nap in the midst of a very busy season, so I wanted to bring balance to the conversation and discuss full schedules.

Being busy isn’t necessarily bad. If we’re pursuing God-sized dreams, we can expect our schedules to be full. The problem comes when we’re so busy it depletes us and flows out of a dependence on ourselves instead of God. He is our true source of energy, ability, and resources.

On the other hand, I’ve seen what happens when people prioritize rest without prioritizing work: things don’t get done, deadlines get missed, those who pick up the slack get stressed, and things that could be excellent don’t reach their potential.

Work and rest are meant to go hand in hand—not one or the other. We can redeem our full schedules by cultivating Christ-centered rhythms and using our time well.

How can we do that?

Let’s start with my favorite word: efficiency. I remember a day when my husband and I were watching The Biggest Loser and there was a challenge where each team had to unload big bags of something-or-other from a truck and carry them to the other side of the field as fast as they could. (As you can see, I remember every detail impeccably.) The team that ended up winning had people in the truck placing the bags on other team members’ backs. The other team threw the bags on the ground to unload the truck, leaving the team members who were going to run across the field to first bend down and hoist the bags onto their backs, using up more energy and tiring themselves out faster. My husband laughed and said, “If you were their team leader, you would have started yelling, ‘What are you doing?! Why are you being so inefficient?!'”

If you can work more efficiently, you can get more done with less energy and in a shorter amount of time, thus giving you margin to rest, thus giving you the energy to continue to work efficiently! If you want to get a lot done in a way that’s sustainable, efficiency is the key. 

So let me give you a glimpse of how I make my work efficient:

I pray over my schedule. Yes, that’s right. Author and pastor, Mark Batterson, often says, “Pray like it depends on God, and work like it depends on us.” So I pray for God to help me to be productive and efficient and for anointing in each task I do.

Create momentum. I love to-do lists, but sometimes my lists can be daunting. When I feel overwhelmed, I start with small tasks to get a feeling of accomplishment and create momentum. No matter how large some of the items on my to-do list are, a shrinking to-do list is always encouraging. Some people prefer to do the opposite: complete the largest task first so the remaining tasks seem less daunting. Either way, start with something and shrink your to-do list.

Arrange the puzzle pieces. I think of each item on my to-do list as a puzzle piece. If I place them wherever willy-nilly, they won’t all fit. Just as we need to budget our finances (allotting set amounts from our paychecks towards groceries, bills, gas etc…), we need to budget our time (allotting time for each item on our to-do list).

  • Before the week begins, I write down what my puzzle pieces are—what I want to accomplish by the end of the week. As I do this, I’m mindful of what’s most important to me. Is this worth my time? Is this keeping me from fulfilling my Kingdom dreams? (And a word of caution: I don’t believe that God is against fun. He wants us to experience enjoyment, laughter, and beauty. These things feed our work, creativity, and even our worship. So if you’re the type that works constantly without regularly experiencing these things, I highly recommend finding ways to add fun to your rhythm.)
  • Next, using my planner/calendar, I decide when the best times to accomplish those tasks are. I use pencil because I may have to rearrange later. It’s typical for me to rearrange as the week progresses because…well…life happens. (No guilt!)
  • When possible, I group puzzle pieces according to categories for efficiency. For example, if I have multiple tasks that require me to drive to a certain part of town, I plan to do them in one day so I’m not making multiple trips. If I have multiple tasks that require the use of my computer, I try to accomplish as many of those tasks as possible in one sitting.
  • I don’t evenly distribute tasks throughout the week. I put a heavier load in the beginning of the week so that I have more room to work with later when unexpected things come up throughout the week.
  • I leave time open later for make up work. It’s important to be realistic and to plan for imperfection. Things happen. Computers crash, traffic backs up, cold and flu season hits, lupus flares…If I set up my schedule so there’s no room for error, I’m setting myself up to fall behind. (The great thing is that if I write in time for margin and it ends up being open, I can rest, get ahead on work for the next week, or do something fun.)
  • I don’t budget minute-by-minute; I budget according to segments of the day. (Examples: morning, afternoon, evening; before classes, after classes, after dinner.) Appointments need specific start and (usually) end times. But when it comes to tasks to be done, minute-by-minute rarely works simply because it isn’t realistic. And when my plan for the day doesn’t work, it has a way of making me feel guilty…and guilt is not very helpful for productivity. In fact, guilt has a way of slowing us down.
  • I budget time for rest. We’re more productive and efficient when we’re well rested. Chronic illness has made rest a non-negotiable for me, but as I look back to my life before lupus, it’s clear I was in desperate need for rest long before I got sick.
  • Procrastination is not an option; rearranging my schedule is. I don’t assume I’ll have time to complete something “later.” Some projects take longer than expected. Emergencies and interruptions happen. If I have time to do it now, I do it now. If, however, I end up not being able to complete a task when I wanted, I don’t get guilty; I get proactive. I simply make the adjustments necessary to get it done.

One last note:

I don’t let other people dictate how I manage my time. At the end of the day, I’m the one who is accountable for how I spend my time and what I accomplish.