Sabbath vs. self-care

Rebecca Gresham reflects on the difference between sabbath and self-care — and how some activities can be both.

Photo by Irene Dávila on Unsplash

“If you work with your hands, sabbath with your mind; if you work with your mind, sabbath with your hands.” — Abraham Joshua Heschel

I recently read this quote, and I’ve been thinking about it for weeks. Practicing sabbath does not come easily for me. I find it hard to sit down if my to-do list is not done. Rest feels like laziness. This is no doubt magnified by a culture that tells us we need to be constantly producing, providing results, and earning more. To rest is absolutely counter-cultural. Perhaps sabbath has always been a radical practice, one that looks in the face of culture and says no thanks, rest is more important.

A cake made by Rebecca Gresham. Contributed photo.

Therefore, I really like the idea of sabbath being a work of my hands — a work that generates rest. As I reflected on this quote, I realized that this is often how I engage sabbath. When I was in seminary, I took a cake decorating class at a craft store instead of a January class. I knew I desperately needed to work with my hands and not my head for a while.

For me, the act of working with my hands almost always involves some sort of creative endeavor. I work in my garden, letting the soil remind me of the very breath of God. I work on some sort of craft project, allowing my creativity to flourish in the creation of something new. I find my center as I prepare a meal, chopping, stirring and sprinkling in flavor. When I pick up my pen to write or my camera to take photos, I am reminded of the continuing creation at the hands of a loving God. It is in these moments that I find true sabbath rest.

There is a fine line between sabbath and self-care. Both take time away from daily responsibilities, but the focus of self-care is on paying attention to your needs whereas the focus of sabbath is on the sacred. Many of my favorite sabbath practices are both. I find my time at the salon for a haircut to be a breath-taking moment of sabbath and self-care. The same is true of moments at the beach or over dinner with loved ones. These rituals help me to care for myself and to find rest in the presence of God.

We so often think of sabbath as a whole day practice, which is fantastic if you can manage to do that! Most of us simply do not have lives that are conducive to this practice in a full-day form. I find that there is power in daily sabbath — finding periods where I can find rest and renewal in the presence of God, places where I slow down, and notice God is there even in the midst of an otherwise chaotic day.

To slow down, to rest, to seek out the presence of God is to live in a way that goes against what our culture teaches us about the value of time. Yet, rest also breathes new life into the soul, body and mind. We need rest to thrive. We need rest to be who God calls us to be. We need to seek out the presence of God so we can faithfully follow that call upon our lives. It is radical to do such a thing and yet so very worth it. May you find moments of sabbath and encounter the creative God of love in your daily living.