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 ESV
by Catherine Miller
Recently, my husband and I participated in an online Soul Care Cohort led by Pastor Matt Alexander. I was introduced to Matt by a mutual friend from Miami. Matt has been a church planter in Miami, FL and now serves there as a church planting coach. When the pandemic hit, he started hosting soul care cohorts online.
Matt’s path to soul care coaching grew out of his own journey. A series of changes in his personal life and ministry hit in quick succession. Matt soon realized that if he didn’t make changes to his life, he was not going to make it. As he describes it:
That put me on a journey of digging deeper into my emotional health, living into a weekly sabbath with my family, having realistic contemplative rhythms and practices, working with a spiritual director, and having a monthly desert day for prayer, journaling, and reflection. It also led me to start eating better and having an exercise plan. It led me to work with a counselor in different seasons and unpack areas where I was emotionally stuck. It has led me to developing deeper friendships with a few others that I can be transparent with about the highs and lows of life.
I can relate! When the pandemic upended my normal routines, I started on my own soul care journey. Some of the rhythms Matt describes are similar to ones that I’ve been folding into my life. Prayer, for example. Every night for the past several weeks my husband and I have prayed together. I’ve been trying to have moments of rest and meditation throughout my day. I have also been exploring what it might look like for me to have a Sabbath day and “keep it holy” as it says in Exodus.
Trust in God
Sabbath, at its core, is about trust. We have a tendency to set ourselves in the place of God, imagining we are in control. We delude ourselves into thinking that the fate of the world sits on our shoulders. So when we rest from our work, we fight against such delusions by establishing an embodied discipline of trusting our Creator.
An embodied discipline is a regular, intentional practice that works our faith out in the physical world. Intentionally resting from our work is an act of faith. It’s saying that God is the one who keeps the world spinning, not us. In keeping Sabbath, we work out that faith by giving our bodies a chance to rest.
In the Old Testament, the Sabbath was a dedicated day of rest and worship from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Matt Alexander advises people that we need one day set apart for God:
I don’t think that Sabbath has to occur on Sunday. In fact, for most ministry leaders this isn’t possible because Sunday is a day of work and leadership for most of us. Practicing Sabbath helps us to enter into a deeper layer of rest, because we are choosing to trust God with our lack of productivity for 24 hours. It is an act of trust and worship to surrender our schedule and addiction to productivity in this way.
As human beings, we have limits. We are designed for these rhythms of rest. “Being well rested obviously helps us physically,” says Matt, “but there is relational, spiritual, and emotional rest as well. Experiencing rest is holistic. God wants to restore our whole selves and uses a rhythm of rest (Sabbath) to help us experience his wholeness.”
Establishing Sabbath Rhythms
I had one pastor who would take a ‘family day’ once a week. This was a day to be with his wife and children (if they weren’t in school). He would silence phone calls, ignore his emails, and limit his texting to a minimum. He and his wife would try to go outdoors on a restful adventure. Matt Alexander suggests:
I encourage ministry leaders to think about daily, weekly, monthly, and annual rhythms of rest and renewal. A daily rhythm might mean 20-30 minutes of silence and stillness. A weekly rhythm might include a 24-hour Sabbath that is a mixture of prayer (time with God) and play (time doing life-giving stuff). A monthly rhythm might look like a short retreat or a weekend getaway. An annual rhythm might mean a multi-day retreat or long vacation.
I am having visions of eating fine chocolate, playing Nerf wars with my friends, and making beautiful music. Or perhaps a songwriting retreat? Matt continues:
Think about what is feasible with your schedule and time commitments in this season of life. Work with what you’ve got – don’t try to hit the ideal, because you probably won’t hit it and will get discouraged. Think about what brings you life, joy, and delight – those are good things to lean into more proactively. Experiencing rest doesn’t necessarily mean an absence of activity. Sometimes we experience the most rest when we are engaged in something that pumps joy into our life.
Early in the pandemic, my husband and I tried to have agriventures with our kids as a Sabbath, but found that we needed simpler rhythms that included our children, and that we needed to build them in each day as well. Sometimes we don’t go anywhere! I try to have leftovers we can eat over the weekend available so that I don’t have to cook and cleaning is minimized. The changes we have made to our lives have been gradual. I started meeting with friends twice a month to write songs, and I have a few friends that I’ve been meeting once a month for coffee, a phone call, or dinner.
From Burnout to Thriving
“You don’t have a soul, you are a soul,” is something I’ve heard Matt say. His premise is this: healthy ministries warrant healthy leaders. He says soul care encompasses spiritual rhythms (upward), relational rhythms (withward), and physical and vocational rhythms (outward). Establishing healthy rhythms and paying attention to our emotions enables us to be better leaders. I believe it also helps us with our creativity as artists. We need times of rest and renewal to think of new ideas, regain energy, and spend time with God and friends. A pastor friend would frequently say that we work from rest. I asked Matt: What happens if we don’t rest?
You’ll probably get tired! Most ministry leaders I know run off of adrenaline rather than rest. And adrenaline doesn’t last forever. If we’re not able to find a sustainable rhythm of rest then we will likely overextend ourselves, skim the surface spiritually, and struggle with joy in our leadership.
We have limits. Limits are both God’s gift and a grace to us. As we establish disciplines of rest, we will grow in our awareness of what our limits are. It might be challenging at first, but I believe it will help us grow closer in our relationship with God. In Sabbath Keeping, Lynne M. Baab writes,
The sabbath teaches us grace because it connects us experientially to the basic truth that nothing we do will earn God’s love. As long as we are working hard, using our gifts to serve others, experiencing joy in our work along with the toil, we are always in danger of believing that our actions trigger God’s love for us. Only in stopping, really stopping, do we teach our hearts and souls that we are loved apart from what we do.
In stopping, I would add, we also can take time to rest in union with God. When we slow down, we can sense the weariness in our souls. We can notice places in our souls that need repair and attention. God’s love for us is not dependent on our work. He models for us rhythms of rest for our own benefit.
Caring for our Souls: Together
Matt has another Soul Care Cohort starting soon. If you would like a coach to walk with you on that journey toward health, consider it. He facilitates four-month long cohorts, with a group for ministry leaders and another one for laity. Meeting on Zoom, participants can be from all over the world. He walks people through establishing healthy rhythms in their lives. Fill out the interest form link for more information. Over the next few weeks, we will be exploring rhythms of rest, renewal and reflection as we continue to explore what it means to ‘Care for the Soul of the Artist’.